2020 compares to 1968 as among the most tumultuous in American history. True, in '68 there was no pandemic, yet that year witnessed the greatest loss of American lives in the Vietnam War. Like today, millions demonstrated and marched in the streets in 68 as they’ve been marching in 2020 since the murder of George Floyd. In '68, a wave of civil disturbances disrupted cities across the nation following the assassination of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. The 2020 Democratic National Convention was violence-free, unlike the 1968 Democratic National Convention, but the 2020 vote count, unlike the 1968 vote count, was not violence-free. This week, we're seeing security forces brought in to protect vote counters.
To be sure, both 1968 and 2020 were turbulent years. But the similarities pale when one considers how 1968 ended and how 2020 could end.
To provide a more meaningful explanation, let me share an excerpt of a recent Ted Talk delivered by former Obama Administration official and CNN political commentator Van Jones.
Jones went on to explain that one of the main safeguards of US democracy is the tradition of conceding. It’s not a law, not enshrined in the Constitution. It is a simple courtesy that began when William Jennings Bryan sent a telegram conceding to his opponent, William McKinley, two days after the election in 1896. But, according to Jones, this voluntary gesture is one of the main reasons that we almost never have riots or bloodshed after a US election.
When Jones explained that a presidential candidate can lose the popular vote, fail to get a majority in the electoral college, refuse to concede, manipulate hidden mechanisms in our government and still get sworn in as the president of the United States -- I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
I thought to myself, “what kind of madness is this?” It's common knowledge that Trump isn’t the only president to lose the popular vote yet still win the election. That has happened at least five other times, but I had no idea it was possible to lose both the popular and the electoral vote and still get sworn in. I had to hear more.
Since 1896, the concession speech has been a tradition that marks the beginning of the peaceful transition of power that concludes on Inauguration Day. In the days and weeks following the concession speech, a series of Constitutionally required events - that are generally considered formalities - provide several opportunities for a recalcitrant loser who refuses to concede several opportunities to wreck havoc.
Jones posits, what could happen if instead of conceding, a losing candidate launches an attempt to hold onto power and stay in office anyway, using the courts as well as state houses, the Electoral College, even Congress.
Here is the picture he paints:
The recalcitrant loser could file, for instance, dozens of lawsuits attempting to block the counting of millions mail-in ballots, saying they should all be thrown out, they're all fraudulent. Then, they could demand that the states refuse to certify the election because of all this alleged fraud, or interference from a foreign power. Or the loser's party could send a rival slate of electors to the electoral college or to Congress, and say, "We're the real electors," and create a whole situation with that. Any of this stuff could create such a mess in the electoral college and the Congress, that the whole matter just winds up in front of the House of Representatives for the first time since the 1800s.
Now, here's where it gets totally crazy. If the presidential election winds up in the House of Representatives, they don't have to pay any attention at all to the popular vote or the electoral vote. It's like the election never happened. And then it gets even crazier. The final tally in the House is taken not by delegates but by delegation. In other words, individual congresspeople don't get to vote. It's done by states.
Now, get your head wrapped around this. In 2020, the majority of Americans live in blue states, but there are more red states. So, there's a possibility that the Republicans in the House of Representatives could just anoint their candidate to be president, even without the popular vote, or a majority in electoral college. That could happen.
Obviously, this is a hypothetical—for now. But we all know that as soon as #45 is no longer in office, he’s got a date with a sista in New York. New York's Attorney General, the Honorable Leticia James and others have been patiently waiting. It doesn't take much imagination to see that #45 is highly motivated or some might say desperate to remain in office—legitimately or otherwise.
So, what can we do? Understanding what goes on behind the scenes after the general election is a good first step. Below you'll find a timeline of those events and just below the timeline is a list of organizations that are taking action. Your engagement with these organizations could be just what we need to thwart a coup, should it happen.
November 3, 2020 - The General Election. The last day for citizens to cast a vote. This vote is actually cast for the electors not for the president. Shortly after the polls close, media outlets begin to post the counts and forecast the winner but the final counts and subsequent certifications can take weeks. The losing candidate generally concedes long before the Electoral College vote and within days after the general election. The deadline to finish the counting and certify the popular vote is December 14, 2020—but before the 14th, there is a safe harbor day.
December 8, 2020 – The Safe Harbor Deadline. Each state has until midnight on the 8th to resolve any count disputes in order to be able to finalize the count and certify the election results. If a state’s internal election results are still in dispute when midnight arrives on Dec 8th, the Federal Safe Harbor Clause kicks in. Congress then has the authority to intervene and resolve the dispute. (Note: In the 2000 presidential election, this date fell on Dec 12th which is the date the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in Bush v. Gore giving the presidency to George W. Bush just before Dec 12th deadline).
December 14, 2020 - The Electoral College Election. Members of the Electoral College are slated to meet in each of their respective state capitals and the District of Columbia to elect the president. The electors traditionally elect the candidate elected by the citizens of their respective states and the District of Columbia in the general election. However, there are electors, known as "faithless electors" who buck the system and disregard the decision made in the general election. The electors count the results, prepare and sign six certificates. This occurs on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December of the presidential election.
December 23, 2020 - The certificates must be delivered as follows: (1) one certificate to the President of the U.S. Senate (the Vice President); (2) two certificates to the secretary of state (or equivalent officer) of the state in which the electors met; (3) two certificates to the archivist; and (4) one certificate to the judge of the U.S. district court of the district in which the electors met
January 6, 2021 – Joint Session of Congress to Count Electoral votes and Declare election Results. Both houses of Congress meet in a joint session to count the results submitted by the Electoral College, the Vice President presides as President of the Senate. The Vice President opens the certificates and presents them to tellers who then read the list. At this point, members may object which would then require that a senator and a congressperson sign a written dispute. The joint session recesses and the two houses separate and debate.
January 20, 2021 – The presidential inauguration. This date was established in the 20th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution beginning in 1937.
For over 200 years, this series of events were merely a formality, mostly unknown to the general public. Not until 2020 has it been particularly important to understand what goes on behind the scenes.
Clearly, voting is not enough. It never was. If we want to have a democracy, we’ve got to engage. You could join and support with your money and your volunteerism existing organizations like the
- Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
- Legal Defense Fund
- Protect the Results
- She the People
- and others.
These groups are going to be fighting in the courts, fighting in Congress, to try to make sure that we have a fair outcome. They could use your help and your donations. Independent media also needs your support. If you learned something from what I've posted here, PLEASE share it.
I’ve read that 1968 was a helluva year—I was around but I was a child, unconcerned with the problems of the adult world. Too bad I can’t say the same for 2020.