The current vote count in the US elections points to a likely victory for Joe Biden. The current US president, Donald Trump, has, however, disputed the reliability of the results and threatens not to grant victory to his rival, something that, if confirmed, will be unprecedented in the history of the country. Several scenarios are outlined if there is no smooth power transition: from Trump’s expulsion from the White House to an unprecedented constitutional crisis.
“The winner of the November 3 elections will open on January 20 . There will be an orderly transition, just as it has been every four years since 1792 ”. Written in a tweet on September 24, these words from Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate – one of the two legislative chambers of the US Congress – were published as a counterpoint to the alarming signals that Donald Trump had been giving in anticipation of these presidential elections.
Asked on September 23 for his openness to grant Joe Biden victory if he lost the election, Donald Trump refused to commit to ensuring a peaceful transition of power, diverting the issue to what he feared was a fraudulent election due to the anticipated strong presence of ballot papers by correspondence. “End the bulletins and we will have a very peaceful one … well, it will not be a transfer, frankly, it will be a continuation,” said the president, thus refusing a hypothetical defeat scenario.
It was in 1896 that the tradition of publicly granting victory to the opponent began, when William Jennings Bryan sent a congratulatory telegram to William McKinley and this has been happening with more or less acrimony among the competitors. However, given what was expected to be perhaps the most disputed election ever, the posture of the current US president anticipated a refusal of this recognition, something unprecedented in modern US history. Today, however, that hypothesis is closer.
With the most recent updates to the counts in the four decisive states – Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania – where votes are yet to be counted, Biden has outpaced Trump in two of them – Georgia and Pennsylvania. If these results are confirmed, the Democratic candidate will have more than 270 delegates at the Electoral College, guaranteeing him the presidency.
For Biden, not only has the Democrat launched his transition website – which anticipates a victory – but, according to the Washington Post, the US Secret Services themselves are already preparing a reinforcement of the security device for the Democratic candidate. Something that only happens when someone wins the elections and becomes “elected president”, until his inauguration, on January 20th.
The Republican candidate and his campaign, however, have maintained the same strategy that had even been revealed even before the elections: declare a premature victory if the results were positive for him (although incomplete) and contest the counts if they were advantageous for Biden.
It happened on the morning of November 4 and Thursday night, pointing to electoral fraud and counting of illegal votes in order to contest the elections – allegations that have been repeatedly denied – while also maintaining that this process will only have outcome in justice.
“These elections are not over yet. The false projection that Joe Biden is the winner is based on results from four states that have not yet been determined, ”said Matt Morgan, a lawyer for the Trump campaign, defending the existence of irregularities in Nevada and Pennsylvania, that there will be a recount of votes in Georgia and that Trump will be able to “turn” Arizona. “Biden is depending on these states to make a false claim to the White House. But when the elections are over, President Trump will be re-elected, ”he said.
Although his campaign has already seen several court cases denied to proceed to recount votes, the US president promises to take the case to its ultimate consequences, even to the country’s Supreme Court. According to CNN, Trump knows that his chances of reelection are mathematically unlikely but he does not intend to grant victory, preferring to drag the outcome of the elections through the judicial route. The Politico website even says that Trump is already preparing for a second term as if he had won.
Such a stance has been maintained despite the current president starting to lose support from various elements of the Republican party, fearful of being dragged into a dispute that could leave the country in a political crisis, including Mitch McConnell himself, re-elected to the Senate. For the rest, both Larry Kudlow, the president’s chief economic adviser, and Mick Mulvaney, his former chief of staff, have already made it public that the president will end up conceding. If you don’t, however, these are the scenarios.
From Trump kicked out of the White House to Nancy Pelosi as president
Although it is a tradition to publicly grant victory to the competitor, the truth is that there is no law that requires a candidate to congratulate the winner. As Quartz says, it’s just like an athlete refusing to shake hands with his opponent at the end of a sporting event.
The only fundamental rule is present in the 20th amendment of the United States Constitution, which explicitly states that the term of a president and his vice president ends on January 20, and that is the day when “the terms of the successors begin”. That is why, on this specific date, the inauguration of the (re) elected president takes place.
Before that, however, the process of choosing the new president goes through Congress, where, on January 6, the representatives, on behalf of the Electoral College (the sum of the Great Voters chosen in each State), must decide on who will be elected. As already explained by SAPO24, in the North American system, voters do not vote directly for the president, but for representatives of their state who, in turn, must respect their sense of vote in choosing the two candidates during this process.
Trump’s possible refusal to hand over power if he loses, however, comes to trouble this whole process. Anticipating this situation, a bipartisan group of more than 100 experts called the Transition Integrity Project outlined various scenarios as to what could happen.
In the simplest of perspectives, if the results are ratified by Congress and Trump does not accept them, he will in fact cease to be President of the USA, becoming just an ordinary citizen. If that happens, Joe Biden, newly installed, may order the Secret Services to expel the former president. This was, in fact, the scenario postulated today by the Democratic campaign spokesman, Andrew Bates, who said that it is not the candidates, but “the American people who will decide these elections” and that “the US Government is perfectly capable to escort invaders out of the White House. “
However, things can get very complicated if the results are contested. Vox writes that, if the counts are subject to legal proceedings, this will lead to the delay of the Congress decision and this may jeopardize the respect of the January 20 deadline. But this is just “the tip of the iceberg”.
As it is the Congress that officially ratifies who will be president, it is up to the “Big Voters” chosen in the elections to officially vote for the candidate. However, they are not obliged to respect their state’s vote and may be “unfair”. Furthermore, it is even possible that, if Trump asks, the governors of Republican states will replace or send additional voters.
In scenarios like this, it is up to the US vice president, who is also president of the Senate, to sort out if there are duplicate “Big Voters” coming from any state. In such a case, it may not even be possible to elect either of the two candidates, if both reach more than 270 votes.
If there are any contestation of results in some states, it will be the members of the House of Representatives who can make decisions, case by case, on the composition of the Electoral College that will determine the majority that elects the President. If in the following days, and until January 20, there is no political clarification in Congress, and while new votes are taking place in Congress, the majority leader – Democrat Nancy Pelosi – may be installed as interim President, as she is the third in the succession line (after the position of vice-president, whose choice will also be conditioned).
There is even an unlikely scenario that, if Pelosi wants to, he can prevent members of the House of Representatives from watching the vice president’s decision – in this case, Mike Pence – which has to be made official before the governing body of the chamber. If that happens, Pence’s decision cannot be ratified, opening the door for Pelosi to launch himself into the presidency.
Another scenario can also occur if the case is taken to the US Supreme Court. This judicial body – currently with a conservative majority, with three judges appointed by Trump – can decide in favor of the president. This, however, can happen after a decision in Congress. If that happened, the country would be facing an unprecedented constitutional crisis, with two opposing legal decisions.
It should also be noted that, in a situation of power struggle, the armed forces may have an important role to play. The leader of the American General Staff, General Mark Miley, however, has already clarified that the armed forces will not play any role in the transition of power, leaving it to the domain of politics.
The last time that the result of an election was seriously contested in the USA was in 1876, in a scenario of post-Civil War tensions, when Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden was defeated by Republican Rutherford B. Hayes by a single vote and did not accept his defeat until Hayes’ inauguration day, in March 1877. The solution to this case occurred by the appointment of an independent commission whose decision overrode the decisions of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
More recently, in the 2000 elections, results were also challenged. The case took place in Florida, between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore, delaying the announcement of the winner. The case was dragged to the Supreme Court, which took 36 days to rule on the recount of votes, denying it and thus giving Bush victory. Al Gore, who had already conceded the victory to Bush, reversed the decision when he advanced to the recount. With the decision of the Supreme Court, however, he ended up congratulating his competitor.