It’s still over a month before we know whether President Donald Trump will get reelected or whether challenger Joe Biden will become the 46th President of the United States. What is known, however, is that this election has the potential to push the country into a severe constitutional crisis, as the president has continuously questioned its validity.
The actual result could perhaps never precisely be determined, according to Trump. It is a message that aims at two particular goals.
Why is Trump Highlighting Doubts About Electoral Integrity?
Trump has repeatedly expressed doubts about the election results due to the new and unprecedented number of unsolicited ballots sent to voters this year. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a massive increase in postal votes is expected in the elections on November 3. Mail-in voting is considered to be very safe and established — after all, it has been used since the times of the Civil War. Republicans, in particular, have had extremely positive experiences with the procedure. In the 2016 US election, almost one in four voters voted by post without any noteworthy irregularities.
Because of his repeated attacks, Trump has been accused of sowing doubts about the election’s legitimacy, which could lead to an unprecedented test of American democracy. In line with this, Trump has repeatedly left open when asked by journalists whether he would concede defeat — most recently in the first debate against Joe Biden on Tuesday, September 29. If he wasn’t to concede, anything is possible afterward. And what Bill Maher insinuated two years ago — namely that Trump would not leave the White House even if he were defeated — has become a conceivable scenario. This is despite all this taking place in a country in which constitutional checks and balances have long been regarded as a protection mechanism against authoritarian elements.
Trump is Likely to Lose the Election
A loss against Biden is quite likely and in all the relevant polls, the incumbent is trailing. Thus, Trump has been preparing the ground for a possible defeat not to be recognized by already questioning the legitimacy of the election results. Trump’s message to his supporters is clear: either he wins on November 3, or the election was rigged. It’s a similar strategy to what he utilized against Clinton in 2016 also.
The President likes to refer to momentum and the support his base provides. His supporters would go to the polling station, but his opponents might forego it, and only cast their vote for Biden if it can be done conveniently by letter. So Trump fears that it could be made too easy for Biden voters. He seeks to keep voter turnout as low as possible because he expects a low turnout to be advantageous to his potential victory. The Constitutional crisis he is conjuring up due to his rhetoric seems to be irrelevant, collateral damage in his quest for reelection from his perspective.
What Will Happen on Election Day?
If the result on election night is close, one can expect that the election outcome will be contested. The American electoral system has a two-step counting process. In a first step, the 50 states plus the District of Columbia capital district determine the presidential candidate who received the most votes. Then, in a second step, the electoral votes are distributed to the respective winner. According to the relevant law, all electors meet on December 14 to choose the formal winner of the presidential election in the Electoral College. Hence, Trump would have enough time to sabotage the process between election day on November 3 and the Electoral College meeting.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court could step in. In a dispute over the outcome of the election, it could take on the arbiter’s role if the conservative majority agrees. The last time this happened was in the 2000 presidential election year when George W. Bush ran against Al Gore.
In any case, Trump has already weakened confidence in the system to such an extent that he will present himself as the winner no matter what happens. Even if Joe Biden wins and moves into the White House, a large number of Trump voters will consider him illegitimate and believe the election was rigged.
The damage currently being caused will be difficult to repair no matter what the outcome is on election day.