The Red Mirage

By Steven Hill, The Globalist, October 13, 2020

What happens if Trump declares victory on election night, and tries to dispute any “late” uncounted ballots — both in the courts and in the free-for-all of public opinion?

So imagine this Nightmare Scenario: With so many more Biden supporters voting by mail in a close election, it is likely President Trump will be ahead on election night, based on partial returns in a number of battleground states (a scenario that has been called “a red mirage”).

President Trump already has furiously deployed his Twitter soap box to discredit mailed in ballots as fraudulent (even though he himself has often voted absentee). He also has hinted that he may not accept the election results.

During Florida’s gubernatorial and senate elections in 2018, as absentee ballots were counted and the Democratic candidates narrowed the vote gap to a sliver, Trump tweeted that “large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged…Must go with Election Night!”

So what happens if Trump declares victory on election night, and then tries to dispute any “late” uncounted ballots, both in the courts and in the free-for-all of public opinion?

Many Floridians?

Suddenly, the nation will be gripped in a replay of Bush v. Gore in the 2000 election — but not just in one, but in several battleground states. Recall the partisan clashes and low-intensity violence that occurred in 2000 on the picket lines outside the hand counts in Florida.

In late 2000, during the course of a five-week legal war over hanging chads and the rules for ballot counting, protesters in combat fatigues held aloft signs saying things like “Bush or Revolution,” with “revolution” in bloody scrawl.

Threatening letters were mailed to judges, including one with an illustration of a skull and crossbones. When George W. Bush was finally declared president on December 12, 2000, thousands of Floridians’ ballots still sat in piles across the state, not properly counted, because the US Supreme Court aborted the process.

A deep constitutional crisis in the making?

During the run up to this 2020 election, already four protesters have been killed — one by the police. This has all the makings of a constitutional crisis looming like a category 5 hurricane just offshore.

Once the election is thrown into the hands of a conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court, well — as the nation saw in Bush v. Gore — “five votes beats a reason any day.” The recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg tilts the court even more toward pro-Trump partisanship.

Preventing a constitutional crisis

How can we prevent this election meltdown? One important step is that voters in U.S. battleground states should forget voting by mail. Instead, those voters need to put on their masks and go stand in line and vote, either before or on election day.

Yes, it’s riskier for your personal health, but in the current climate vote by mail is riskier for our representative democracy.

Voting in person and U.S. democracy

It’s a terrible choice to have to make in the middle of a pandemic. But unless you have a compromised immune system, you should not mail in your ballot. Instead, you should show up to vote.

Fortunately, a number of states allow you to vote in person BEFORE election day. Spreading out voting over many days and weeks will cut down considerably on long lines. Other states allow you to drop off your absentee vote with election officials before election day, which is preferable to mailing it in.

But the problem with that strategy is that your absentee ballot may not get counted before the tally is released on election night. It all depends on the election procedures in each state, which vary widely.

American patchwork

For example, in the U.S. battleground states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire and Iowa, the counting of dropped-off absentee ballots cannot begin before election day.

By election night, many of those ballots will likely still lie uncounted. It depends on how overwhelmed the voting bureaucracy is, or even the whim of partisan election officials.

In those states, Biden voters need to show up in person wearing their masks and vote. Don’t even drop off your ballot before election day, because your ballot will not be counted until after the election, and that will contribute to the “red mirage.”

The madness of state rules for federal elections

But in other battleground states — notably Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona — election officials are allowed to count early absentee ballots before election day, and then release those vote totals right after the closing of the polls on November 3.

These states also open vote centers many days or weeks before the polls, where any voter can immediately vote.

In these states, voters with absentee ballots should drop them off early in an official dropbox or at one of the vote centers, rather than mailing them. Even better would be to show up early with your mask on and vote at one of the vote centers.

The mail-in ballot dead end

Some Democrats and their allies are starting to figure out the “mail ballot dead end” they have steered themselves into. Georgia leader Stacy Abrams and her voter empowerment group Fair Fight are encouraging voters to “get your vote counted as soon as you can.”

They emphasize voting early either in person, using an official drop-off box, or by mail. Also, the deal struck by NBA players with team owners to use their facilities as sites for early voting with enough room for social distancing is a step in the right direction.

But these efforts could well be ineffective for those voters who live in one of the swing states that will not count absentee ballots until election day. Those voters run the risk of their ballots not being included in the election night tally.

That, in turn, will contribute to the “red mirage” of Trump falsely appearing to lead and immediately declaring victory – profound U.S. constitutional crisis, 2020.

Hopefully we don’t realize on November 4 that the Biden campaign blundered by over-promoting vote by mail, and that this gave Trump the opening he needed to steal this election.

Steven Hill is the author of seven books, including “10 Steps to Repair American Democracy,” “Fixing Elections: The Failure of America’s Winner Take All Politics” and “Raw Deal: How the Uber Economy and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers.” He is co-founder of FairVote and former senior fellow and program director at New America and Berlin Social Science Center. Find him at and @StevenHill1776

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