Arvanitakis on American politics: The uncertainty of election night

| September 12, 2020

What a time to be alive

We are now less than two months to the November Presidential election. While in recent American history, most elections have been a point of particular interest, the 2020 election has its own very special set of circumstances.

To begin with – and as we all know – it is set amongst a global pandemic in which a significant section of the US population refuses to believe is real. Within this, the rise of conspiracy theories, including QAnon and Boogaloo, that see Covid19 as either false or a result of the emerging 5G technology.

More so, QAnon’s conspiracy theory alleging that a cabal of Satan-worshiping paedophiles are running a global child sex-trafficking ring has taken over the Democrats and plotting against President Donald Trump (who is battling them).

While many of us have dismissed the supporters of such ideas as the ‘tinfoil hat brigade’, research shows that conspiracy theories actually stimulate political engagement.

This may explain why President Trump has not only been comfortable with allowing conspiracies to spread, but actually indicated support for the Republican candidate who subscribes to QAnon, Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Not only Greene defeat fellow Republican John Cowan in the runoff for Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, her victory in the solidly Republican Georgia district means is certain to find herself elected to Washington.

If we combine this with a rapid decline in levels of trust towards politicians generally, the fear of interference by foreign actors from China and Russia, the American political establishment is finding itself with a challenge unthinkable even 12 months ago: how we will convince people to accept the election result?

It won’t be over on 3 November

US elections are schedule for the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November every four years. This year’s election will be held on 3 November.

While most election winners are declared on the evening of election day, like everything else in 2020, this is not likely to be the case this year.

Delays will likely be caused by both the rise in postal voting as well as the closeness of many of the states. In a recent podcast, the team at FiveThirtyEight argued that a delay of between two to four weeks was likely.

American voters have been here before. In the year 2000, the entire US presidential election result was decided by a few hundred contested votes in the state of Florida, after ballots were scrutinised and sometimes rejected, and the process dragged on for weeks.

While President Trump has stated he wants a clear result on election night, his refusal to offer additional funding to the US postal service means that not only will delays occur, but a number of legal challenges are also likely.

Both sides seem to be preparing for massive legal challenges – meaning that additional delays will further increase uncertainty. If the delay continues, uncertainty and chaos will follow – and if we know something about the Trump Presidency, it seems to thrive off chaos.

What will happen next?

The one unknown is what happens next. There has been much speculation that if he loses, Donald Trump may refuse to leave the Whitehouse.

At the base of it, the US Constitution assumes good faith. As such, the laws intended to regulate voting outcomes are vague.

What could happen is that Trump continues to consider himself President though Biden may consider himself the victor of the race. According to the Constitution, if the Presidential race cannot be called, the Speaker of the House becomes the acting President – which in this case is Nancy Pelosi.

In his book, legal scholar Lawrence Douglas, has presented the case that in such a situation, we could see progressive Chief Justice John Roberts swearing in Nancy Pelosi as President while simultaneously conservative Justice Clarence Thomas administers the oath of office to Trump.

An alternative is that no one is sworn in and Trump and Biden and/or Pelosi claim the rights and responsibilities of the Presidency.

Douglas makes the observation that, “let us not forget that guns in this country remain in profuse supply and are largely concentrated in the hands of the president’s most fervent, distrustful, and easily unsettled supporters.”

No one is certain if this eventuates that the crisis can be contained. If Biden has an overwhelming victory, Trump is likely to blame the Deep State and undocumented immigrants for his loss. If Trump wins, Democrats are likely to point the finger at the lack of funding of the US postal service and Russian interference.

Regardless, the end of the Trump Presidency, if it comes, will be one of conflict, bitterness and resentment with little chance of an orderly handover or constructive transition.

Whoever wins will be inheriting a deeply divided nation – and it would seem that winning the presidency will be easier than running the country.