What if there are two winners of the US presidential election?
By Žikica Milošević
Even in the worst of times and in the most uncertain presidential races, there has always been something gentlemanly about the American presidential elections, and that is to admit defeat. Situations like in Belarus or Venezuela, where no-one is willing to admit defeat and everyone claims that they are legitimate winners, have not been possible in America until now.
WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN LAST TIME?
The last time when it happened that nobody could tell who was the elected president was in 1876, but that was immediately after the Civil War and the feelings between the North and the South were still negative, strong and vehement. Even in the year 2000, Bush Jr. won in the entire state of Florida by just 537 votes, thus securing presidential win against Al Gore. In 1876, the Republican, Rutherford Hayes and the Democrat, Samuel Tilden clashed over who had conquered the four key states – Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina. To make matters more complicated, 3 out of 4 of these states, except Oregon, sent two electoral delegations each – that is, all three were Southern. It was not clear who the Congress would deem as legitimate – the Democrats argued that Tilden’s electoral votes were “the real ones” and the Republicans claimed that Hayes’ were “the real deal”. As a result of the 1877 compromise, Hayes was appointed president, but had to order the withdrawal of the army from the former Confederacy, which exposed black people to attacks from white militia and slowed their integration. But no war erupted!
WHAT ABOUT 2020?
The Americans were divided into two large factions four times in their history. In 1776, some Americans wanted independence, and some were loyal to the British crown. As a result, a revolution happened. In 1861, the North and the South clashed and the Civil War broke out. During the 1960s, there was no war, but the conflict over integration in the South reached a boiling point with the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Still, there was no civil war per se, although white supremacists and Black Panthers paraded through the cities. But in today’s America, plagued by the coronavirus, a great dark cloud is hovering over democracy, which has been an example at least in that sense, and that is voting by mail. Because of the coronavirus, a large number of people asked to vote by mail. Postal services in America are feeble and neglected. Secondly, in some states, the Democrats have already managed to send ballots en masse to voters’ home addresses, even to those people who did not ask to vote from home. The possibilities for abuse are becoming enormous. Trump has repeatedly underlined that the results must be declared on the election night and has reiterated that in several of his threatening tweets. Hillary Clinton said she had advised Biden not to admit defeat on election night in any way and to wait for the postal votes to be counted. But Trump intends to declare himself the winner based on the votes counted on the election night, which will probably be the case in several so-called “swing states”. He will also consider all changes made in the days after the election night as illegitimate. But as the votes received by mail in the swing states are counted, the result can turn in Biden’s favour. If that happens, Biden will be declared the winner and we will have two self-proclaimed winners. The atmosphere will probably reach the boiling point.
WHAT DOES THE CONSTITUTION SAY?
Since the Republicans will win big in some states and the Democrats in others, the composition of the electoral delegations of those countries will not be questioned. But in the states where there has been a change in the period from the election night to the final count of votes received by mail, these states can send two electoral delegations to a session at which the president is elected. On January 6, 2021, the session will be chaired by Mike Pence, and he will convene the electoral votes to count. If there are two delegations, say, one sent by a Democratic governor, in line with the total number of votes in the end, and the other sent by a team of Republican lawmakers, based on the election night results, then both Congress and the Senate must decide which delegation is “the right one.” If the Congress and the Senate disagree, the Senate can annul both delegations from that state, and if there are more such delegations, then neither Trump nor Biden could reach the required 270 electoral votes. If this happens, the “how many states did each candidate win” approach will be used. Currently, Trump is leading against Biden with 26:22, which would suffice for him to win. If the Democrat-run Congress says it will accept only those electoral votes confirmed by the governors, and the Republican-controlled Senate rejects that option, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, automatically becomes acting president. However, this decision must be confirmed by the Supreme Court, in which the Republicans will have a 6:3 majority, so the decision will be annulled. When that happens, a real constitutional crisis arises, because, on January 20, the US army will not know who has the nuclear codes and who is the supreme commander.
STALEMATE IN THE MAKING
If Trump loses the total number of votes and wins 270+ electoral votes, 40% of the Democrats have said that they would reject the election results. If Trump has the lead after a direct vote count on the election night, and then loses it when the postal votes are counted, 30% of the Republicans have said that Trump should stay president. White supremacists, extreme Christians, the WASP elite, and various armed formations are avid Trump supporters, while Biden is supported by the BLM activists, leftists, and the liberal elite. The possibility of conflict is plentiful. And that gentlemanly quality of the US election we talked about earlier will evaporate. In the United States, overwhelmed by the coronavirus, BLM protests and economic crisis, we could well see the unthinkable happening; that is the same scenes from the streets of Belarus or Venezuela. And that is unimaginable. For now!