By Gemma Levy ‘23, Staff Writer
We vote. We anxiously await the election results on the eve of November 3rd. Around 2 AM, the fate of our country is sealed. We rejoice in the election of our chosen nominee, or lament the loss of the individual we voted for. On January 1st, our president is inaugurated and begins their term.
America, the international model for democracy, has always taken pride in its stability, something citizens have found comfort in for decades. We implement processes that assure an equal balance of power and help keep our society intact, and these systems are strictly followed. However, this election year, Americans, regardless of their political affiliation, are especially nervous and uncertain about the outcome of this pivotal election. People wonder: Will there be a peaceful transfer of power? Will the outcome of the election be determined by the Supreme Court? Should we expect violence surrounding the election?
For nearly 250 years, since the election of George Washington, presidents of the United States have abided by the Constitution, leaving office when their term expires. Now, for the first time in history, a president of the United States might not accept a peaceful transfer of power, the cornerstone of our democracy. When asked by reporters at a press conference about his readiness to leave office in the event of his loss, President Trump said, “Get rid of the ballots and there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation.”
If Trump does try to overstay his term, the policy set up in this country requires his removal as head of state. Upon the expiration of their term, a president immediately and automatically loses their authority. Trump would thereby be unable to direct the U.S. Secret Service or other federal agencies to protect him. If necessary, his successor would also be able to forcibly remove him from the White House on the grounds of trespassing. Therefore, it seems pretty unlikely that Trump would decide to overstay his term, and even if he did, he would be unable to remain in power.
This is not to say the election will be a peaceful affair. According to Seth Jones, a former U.S. counterterrorism official, “The threat of political violence after an election has never been higher in modern American history.” Jones claimed that the most likely manifestation of violence will be protests contesting the validity of the election’s results, with “people from all sides coming to these protests armed.” A group of nonpartisan experts brought together by the Transition Integrity Organization simulated what may happen after election day. In all possible outcomes of the election, the group’s simulation concurred that the American people should anticipate violence. In their study, experts found that the most harmless scenario would be a Biden win in both the popular vote and in the electoral college. However, they also asserted that “The potential for violent conflict is high, particularly since Trump encourages his supporters to take up arms.” In the same vein, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Homeland Security Committee that “extremists—mainly inspired by white supremacist ideology—are the main cause of terrorism in this country.” He sees these patriotic militia groups as the biggest threat to a peaceful election. However, others believe that it is the radical left that is most likely to employ violence if their candidate loses the election, and Trump himself has repeatedly stated that “Antifa is the leading instigator of violence in this country.”
The constitutionality and morality of the presidential election being decided by the supreme court is another contentious issue in our country. With so many unknowns and allegations from all sides of the political spectrum, a contested election is a very real possibility. In the words of Edward Foley, an election law expert, “Uncertainty breeds litigation.” One ‘uncertain’ aspect of this election, according to President Donald Trump and other conservative leaders, is the reliability of mail-in ballots. They have claimed large-scale fraud operations are threatening the legitimacy of the election and are ready to contest the election on these grounds in the Supreme Court. In a press conference in early October, Trump said, “I’m counting on them [the Supreme Court] to look at the ballots, definitely…with the unsolicited millions of ballots that they’re sending, you’re gonna need nine justices.”
By delegitimizing the mail-in ballot system and rushing the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Trump has led his Democratic rivals to believe that he is manipulating the election process to satisfy his own political agenda. In response, Trump argues that it is his constitutional duty to nominate Supreme Court Justices. Experts have advised that Barrett, who was confirmed by the senate on October 26, rescue herself from any cases involving Trump’s re-election. “The unavoidable fact that Barrett would be deciding the political fate of the president who nominated her only weeks ago, and President Trump’s call for Barrett’s swift confirmation so that she can be seated in time to decide the election cases are unprecedented pressures,” explained former United States Circuit Judge, Michael Luttig. Indeed, when asked whether she would recuse herself from cases involving the election, Barret responded vaguely, saying she could answer “in the abstract.”