President Donald Trump won’t commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election. He’s said that over and over in recent days, so it’s not a slip of the tongue.
Given that, how worried should voters be about the state of democracy in America?
First, some background. President Trump’s reason for his stance isn’t based on evidence.
Study after study has shown voting fraud isn’t a problem at the federal level. Mr. Trump’s own FBI director, Christopher Wray, told the Senate that just days ago.
“We have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise,” Mr. Wray said.
Yet Mr. Trump insists that 2020 voting will be a “big scam” because of a rise in mail-in ballots due to the pandemic.
Second, there are weaknesses in the system the president could exploit. What if he leads in key states on Election Day, then Democratic mail-in votes begin to erode his margin? Baseless charges of fraud and attempts to shut down counting could cause a national political crisis.
But third, the odds are against this. If election trends are clear relatively early in the counting process there is much less chance that Republicans – or Democrats – could overturn a result by resorting to the courts or trying to appoint their own Electoral College electors, or some other questionable maneuver.
The “hanging chad” Florida election of 2000 was an aberration. The chance that 2020 hinges on a recount, with candidates only half a percentage point apart in one or more decisive states, is only 5%, according to FiveThirtyEight’s election forecasting model.
“The overwhelmingly likely outcome in November is that the winner will be recognized in short order and the margin will be great enough so that none of the loser’s fulminations will matter,” writes Daniel Drezner, professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, in The Washington Post.