Cross Country Checkup·Q&A

Biden needs a 'decisive victory' to avoid contentious fallout after U.S. election day, says professor

Law professor Lawrence Douglas says that, in order to avoid Donald Trump refuting the upcoming U.S. election results, Joe Biden would need to decisively win the electoral college vote or else Trump will create enough distrust in the results that it could tear the country apart.

'If the election turns on the late count of mail-in ballots, then we're in for some ugly times'

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden accepts the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination during a speech delivered for the largely virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Voting by mail is not new in the U.S. In 2016, one out of five Americans voted by mail.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has created the grounds for an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots in the upcoming election.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called it a "roadmap to disaster" long before the results are in, claiming that mail-in voting will disproportionately favour Democratic candidate Joe Biden. 

Lawrence Douglas is a law professor at Amherst College, Mass and the writer of Will He Go: Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020

He spoke with Cross Country Checkup guest host Paul Hunter about what the Democrats must do in the upcoming election to avoid a potential crisis. 

Here is part of their conversation. 

What margin of victory do you think Biden needs to prevent Donald Trump from contesting the result?

I think I should just emphasize that, to the extent that we're talking about margins of victory, that also just represents the way in which Trump has kind of deformed the political process. Because, you know, majoritarian democracy doesn't stand for the proposition that: I win if I beat you 70 to 30, but I lose if I beat you 52 to 48. And that's almost kind of the way we're assuming things in the U.S.

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech as the 2020 Republican presidential nominee during the final event of the Republican National Convention. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

So I do think it is important for Biden to beat Trump decisively, and that decisive victory can't simply be in the national popular vote. The peculiar way we vote for presidents, we can obviously have the national popular vote lose and still become president.

I think it's going to be really important for Trump to lose decisively in the swing states and for that decisive loss to be apparent as close as possible to Nov. 3 as we can hope.

If the election turns on the late count of mail-in ballots, then we're in for some ugly times.- Lawrence Douglas

Meaning, "don't take your time counting the mail-in ballots," in other words?

Well, I think inevitably it is going to take a long time. But I think the faster ... we're just kind of tallying up the last votes and we're just trying to, finalizing our figures, the better off we will be.

I do think that if the election turns on the late count of mail-in ballots, then we're in for some ugly times.

Delays caused by an increase in voting by mail may contribute to public doubts about the results, argued Lawrence Douglas. (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press)

Let's suppose Trump is ahead at the end of Nov. 3; he's going to go up on stage and presumably claim victory. 

As I understand it, the majority of people who are going to be doing mail-in votes are Democrats. Therefore, it's much more likely that those will be the votes counted late. Is that correct? 

That's exactly right. In fact, I think a poll that was just conducted ... indicated that about 20 per cent of Trump supporters will be casting their vote by mail-ins, whereas 60 per cent of Biden's voters said that they would be using mail-in ballots.

I think it's kind of Trump's strategy right now to try to almost bootstrap any lead that he might enjoy on Nov. 3, because all these Democratic mail-in votes haven't been counted yet ... into an indication that he actually has been re-elected, and that we can also make sense of all these preemptive attacks that he's made on mail-in ballots.

Because you can say, look, I've been re-elected and whatever advantage the balance give to Biden, well, that's all a result of fraud and a hoax. 

And that's the payoff for Trump from weeks of saying it'll be rigged or mail-in is riddled with fraud? Plant those seeds now ... and then the payoff is that night. Is that right? 

I don't even think we have to say the payoff will be that night.

I think in another recent poll, a full 72 per cent of Trump supporters said that they distrust mail-in ballots.

In fact, we've even seen these kind of remarkable displays ... of Trump supporters very demonstrably burning their [absentee] mail-in ballot [applications]

A Republican and Democrat review their parties' conventions

2 years ago
Duration 10:23
Donald Trump and Joe Biden each made the case for why they should be elected U.S. president at their parties’ conventions, while taking aim at one another.

Given that the Constitution says that the president's term — and the vice president's — expires Jan. 20, what does that bring us to?

What is your biggest concern in all of this, given that there is that deadline that something else has to happen?

If we don't have for some reason a president-elect or a vice president elect come noon on Jan. 20, then — by the terms of this presidential succession act of 1947 — [current Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi would be sworn in as acting president.

But, what I think we have to bear in mind is thinking about that period between Nov. 3, 2020 and Jan. 20, 2021. We have this president who's going to be using his bully pulpit to insist that the radical Democrats are trying to, in a sense, stage a coup and steal his victory from him. 

It's possible that we would see all sorts of domestic unrest. We've seen very disturbing pictures emerging from this country in recent weeks.

So, even though I don't necessarily imagine the military needing to frogmarch Trump out of the White House come Jan. 21, I do worry that the election season really could turn very chaotic in ways that we really haven't seen in our history.

Written by Oliver Thompson. Produced by Kate Cornick and Kirthana Sasitharan. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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