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Commentary Election 2020

Opinion: Threats of Election Chaos Need Not Result in Disaster


Baseless claims of individual voter fraud are fueling worry that President Trump and his supporters will try to steal the election. Labeling voting by mail as inherently fraudulent in the absence of any evidence has created alarm in every nook and cranny of our society.

Republicans have been crying wolf for years, leading to voter ID laws and wanton purges of voter rolls, but the rarity of court convictions, even under Republican prosecutors, makes their voices sound more like shrill electoral cheerleading than pleas for integrity.

In June, a bipartisan group of more than 100 experts met to explore different election scenarios that could play out between Election Day (Nov. 3, 2020) and Inauguration Day (Jan. 20, 2021). Participants included high-ranking Republicans like Michael Steele, former chair of the Republican National Committee, and Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff under Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Here is the group’s conclusion:

We assess with a high degree of likelihood that November’s elections will be marked by a chaotic legal and political landscape. We also assess that … President Trump is likely to contest the result by both legal and extra-legal means in an attempt to hold onto power.

The scenarios laid out by this and other groups who have been war-gaming the upcoming presidential election are terrifying to some, but action and organization, rather than panic, are called for by all who are determined to defend our democratic republic.

People can stand up for the rule of law and defeat a coup attempt. A familiar example occurred in July 1991 when a group of hardliners detained Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev because they objected to his policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets and went on strike. The coup leaders were forced to release Gorbachev, and his democratizing reforms continued.

People all over the United States of America are organizing right now using these principles:

  • Widespread mobilization
  • Alliance building
  • Nonviolent discipline
  • Steadfast refusal to recognize illegitimate authority

Count Every Vote! Maryland is organizing a campaign and has signed up 40 religious and civil society groups as of Oct. 7. We are asking elected officials to agree to the following five principles:

  • Vote and publicly encourage my constituents to vote.
  • Insist on the counting of all lawful ballots under applicable state law before agreeing that election results are legitimate.
  • Inform my constituents that I will take all measures available to me to contest any results that do not include the counting of all lawful votes.
  • Publicly support people who peaceably demonstrate in favor of all votes being counted.
  • Insist on a peaceful transfer of power if that is what the vote count requires.

Although problems could possibly crop up in Maryland due to a spike in coronavirus and resultant shortage of poll workers, we are more concerned about prospects for mischief in other states. Our work will reinforce the work of many similar groups all over the country, including in states where threats are more severe.

We are organizing now to get religious and civil society organizations and elected officials to endorse the five principles. Our governor, Larry Hogan, could be an important influence with elected officials in other states where the prospect of undermining ballot-counting is all too real.

The bigger and more diverse network we build before Nov. 3, the more deterrence power we will be able to exert against illegal attempts to cut off vote tallying.

The test of our organizing will come after Nov. 3. Trump’s star power enables him to spread his message: “Get rid of the ballots.” But we plan to organize tens of millions of citizens to magnify our message: “Count Every Vote!”


The writer is an activist with Count Every Vote! Maryland, an ad hoc campaign to assure that every lawful vote cast is counted according to the respective states’ laws.


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Opinion: Threats of Election Chaos Need Not Result in Disaster