By Julia Pucci
Threats to the 2020 Presidential Election were discussed in a media briefing webinar hosted by the Dayton Law Democratic Transition Working Group and Keep Our Republic Tuesday.
The webinar outlined potential issues in voting and harmful maneuvers from different branches of the U.S. government as reasons of concern for the fairness of the 2020 election.
Former U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential nomination candidate for the 1984 and 1988 presidential elections, Gary Hart, called the 2020 presidential election “a high alert election.”
Along with Hart, other speakers at the event such as Mary McCord, former Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and Mark Medish, former senior White House and U.S. Treasury official, emphasized the complexities and legal issues this election could encounter because of the state of the country in 2020.
Depending on how voting and the election play out, moderator Dan Friesen questioned the panelists on how legislation regarding the process of an election might come into question.
Medish explained that in the case of a tie in the Electoral College vote that is to take place Dec. 14 and be counted by Congress Jan. 6, the presidential election would be given to the future House of Representatives to vote.
If the House is unable to reach a decision, the vote then goes to the Senate to pick a Vice President to serve as the acting president. If the Senate is unable to reach a decision, then the Speaker of the House becomes the acting president. In this case, Nancy Pelosi would take on that role.
If either the Vice President or Speaker of the House are placed as the acting president this means their role is temporary until the U.S. District Courts can resolve any litigation involved in the presidential election.
Litigations could arise from power disputes within the branches of government and “uncharted territory legally,” Medish said.
Medish went on to say that the language in the guidance provided by the Federal Statutes and the Constitution for disputed elections can be ambiguous leading to different political parties making arguments for their own control of the election.
The panelists articulated that any disputes on voting should be handled by the court in the state in which the dispute is taking place. The Supreme Court would not be allowed to decide who the president is or resolve related issues because the U.S. Constitution gives the power to the states.
While these litigations are being sorted out in the state courts, a timing issue arises for the American people.
“During any litigation it’s not like the world is going to be standing still,” McCord said. “You’re going to have the incumbent saying things and tweeting things. You’re going to have social media and cable news in a constant swirl. You will likely have demonstrations on the streets. Some of those demonstrations could involve armed individuals and acts of violence.”
All the panelists touched on the fear of violence as what they are worried about for the integrity of the election.
Violence is something that the U.S. as a whole needs to work hard to avoid, Medish said.
“This has been a year of great stress and confrontations so there is a feeling of apprehension out there and we just need people to stay cool,” he said.
The fear of violence involves the recent surge of unlawful militia groups causing voter intimidation. Under the Second Amendment, only state patrolled militias are legal so the private militias threatening the integrity of voting are not legal.
“Correcting the record on the Second Amendment and empowering the community, including voters and community members, to realize this is not protected and we do not have to tolerate this can be very empowering,” McCord said.
She also addressed the issue of foreign disinformation campaigns that have the potential to affect the election but not through their ability to hack the election systems.
“The ability to influence people’s minds and what their thinking in the aftermath of the election, particularly if President Trump is stocking disinformation as opposed to calming it down, is the type of atmosphere that is conducive to demonstrations,” McCord said.
She fears that even though demonstrations the country encountered over the summer were peaceful, it only takes a few individuals to ensue violence and that can lead to copycats of that violence.
With the threat of demonstrations surrounding Election Day and the day after, Medish encourages citizens to “let every eligible voter vote, let every vote get counted, and let the count be respected.” He also is asking people to be patient because due to the abnormities involved in voting this year, results will take longer than usual.
Hart is hopeful for the election due to the already vast turn out of early voters whose votes have not caused any unnecessary chaos.
“It shows that there are in fact an enormous number of Americans who care so that gives me great courage and hope for how this is going to turn out,” said Hart.
Another issue that was raised by the panelists is the potential for the election to be interrupted by the president enacting a national state of emergency because of the potential violence in the country allowing him to use emergency powers, Hart said.
These emergency powers are “disturbing” to Hart because some of the emergency powers are known by the public and granted through Congress but there are other emergency powers that are secret.
“There is no reason in the world that the people of the United States cannot know what these emergency powers are,” said Hart.
When Friesen questioned whether these powers would allow the President to take over the voting system because the voting infrastructure is considered an essential infrastructure which these powers apply to, Hart responded that there is no way to know because of the secrecy behind the powers.
President Trump has already made seven declarations of these emergency powers in his term so far, including one that involved the construction of the border wall.
Although the president cannot do things such as change the date of the election or cancel the election, the enactment of emergency powers could lead to actions on the ground that could affect the final vote count, said Medish.
According to Medish, the President and his Attorney General have referred to powers that nobody knows about and the “unlimitable police powers of presidency.” All of this causes concern for Medish and the other panelists.
“Civic unrest can be manufactured from high places. That’s the risk. We pray it won’t happen,” Hart said.
Medish urges citizens to call on elected officials to faithfully uphold the laws.
“This should be a moment when America rises to a level of civic responsibility collectively,” Medish said. “It’s a test of our national character in that sense.”
The views expressed at the Town Hall are solely those of the speakers and do not represent the views of the University of Dayton.
UD neither supports nor opposes the candidates and parties mentioned during the Town Hall.