Election experts game out the chaos that could unfold after the last ballot is cast

By | October 23, 2020

Garrett M. Graff writes:

North Carolina and Florida, two key bellwethers, both will likely report results relatively quickly on election night itself; early victories for Biden in either or both states will hint that Biden might be the clear winner within a day or so. And while a Trump win in either or both states wouldn’t necessarily foreclose an eventual Biden victory, it would likely mean that the nation would be in for a long period of uncertainty. And the longer the uncertainty, the greater the risk of, well, a lot of other problems cropping up.

The pandemic has raised numerous concerns this year about the threat from armed right-wing militias—groups more accurately described as domestic terror threats—that are primed to see Democratic or deep-state conspiracies in any results that don’t go their way. How—if at all—this threat manifests itself both during and after the election depends, in part, on where controversy erupts. Michigan and Arizona have particularly active histories with such groups, whereas, for instance, the threat is considered less in North Carolina or Pennsylvania.

Activists on the left have their own “Stopping the Coup” guide floating around online, urging quick action if Trump tries to claim a false victory or shut down an extended vote counting period. “As these scenarios play out it is our job to engage in action that is calibrated with the scale of what is happening. As attempts to defraud the vote count escalates, it is our obligation to shut things down and demand a true reckoning of the democratic process,” the document says.

Once street protests over the outcome of the election begin, they may be hard to turn off—particularly if Trump seizes on the civil unrest for a heavy-handed federal crackdown akin to this summer’s protests in Washington, D.C.

The good news is that state and local officials have strong legal foundations to confront and shut down such groups and gatherings should they choose to do so. A Georgetown University team led by Mary McCord, a former top national security official at the Justice Department, has examined the nation’s anti-militia laws and prepared state-by-state fact sheets about how officials can confront armed groups. “I am seeing bright spots,” she says, as local and state officials have urged calm and emphasized they’re prepared to confront armed groups that may try to intimidate voters at the polls or protest post-election. “The vast majority of Americans don’t want a civil war or violence.” [Continue reading…]

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