In almost daily tweets, interviews and speeches, he has been making allegations of postal voting for months leading to massive electoral fraud.
Democrats – and even some Republicans – say he is making the allegations, although he has produced no evidence, to undermine confidence in the election results in case he loses. His campaign team took legal action to stop an expansion in Pennsylvania this month.
“You must be wondering to what extent either of the actors … is trying to use the delay as a tactical advantage or chaos,” said Ned Foley, director of electoral law at Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University.
“Some parties might benefit, or think they will benefit, from rocking the boat because they think they’re going to lose or they think they want to create a narrative that the system is not trustworthy. “
Mr. Trump argues that mail ballots are vulnerable to fraud. Critics say he sees them as more likely to result in Democratic votes, although the evidence is mixed on this point. Some see the basics of questioning the outcome.
Norman Ornstein, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute think tank and a member of the National Task Force on Election Crises, another bipartisan body tasked with worst-case election planning, is concerned about the timing of declarations by results.
Normally, states have maybe four or five percent of their electorate voting by mail, Ornstein said, but this year that figure could be closer to 20 percent.
“We may have election results that don’t come for a week, 10 days or more after the election because it takes so long to count them,” he said. “We know that the president would not hesitate if he lost in these circumstances to cry foul and say that the election was rigged. “
Delayed counts could add to the confusion. One of the fears is that the media could call a state one way on election night, only to go back and hand it over to the other candidate after the mail ballots are counted, fueling conspiracies.
Another possibility is that Mr Trump could call on states to stop counting mail-in ballots because they were illegitimate – something he nearly did in a close race in the midterm elections of 2018.
“The Florida election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis as a large number of new ballots have arrived out of nowhere,” Mr Trump said at the time, checking the names of the candidates Republicans in the Senate and governor as the tally rolled on. He asserted that “an honest count of the votes is no longer possible”.
Prepare for “the unthinkable”
Some have already turned to lawyers for advice. Mr. Coleman, the former Republican congressman, was so concerned that he contacted a prominent constitutional scholar about the mechanism for forcibly removing Mr. Trump from office.
“For over 200 years, the above has probably never been thought of,” replied the researcher, according to Coleman. “But we don’t live in normal times, and Trump is certainly not a normal president. We must be prepared for the unthinkable. “
A sitting Republican warned that, with the postal voting changes, the coronavirus and the recent civil unrest, there was “a wave of witch uncertainty” around the election. “I fully anticipate that there will be legal challenges everywhere, just as there were in 2000,” he said.
Ultimately, none of this can happen. Mr. Trump can comfortably win and continue in office. Mr Biden could win comfortably – as his five or six point lead suggests – and the president can step down without protest.
Even so, the team behind the war games see the value of their work. They hope to share their lessons from the exercises with decision-makers in the electoral process, such as state governors, election administrators and broadcast leaders.
“The purpose of these exercises is not only to give people nightmares about America’s dissolution, but to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said Ms. Brooks, who co-founded the Transition. Integrity Project. “The hope was that these exercises could prevent these catastrophic results. “
In less than 130 days we will see if this has proven to be correct.
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