By Lissy Romanow, Stanford Social Innovation Review, November 19, 2020
In the months leading up to any US presidential election, grassroots organizers of all types—community, labor, and electoral—usually undertake a predictable set of exercises. They register people to vote, familiarize voters with the candidates, and then turn people out to the polls. But the challenges of 2020 heightened the stakes of this year’s election to an existential level. Yes, Americans faced political struggle. But they also faced a fight to save lives, as the spread of COVID-19, wildfires tearing across the West, and the murders of unarmed Black Americans by police reminded us throughout the summer.
Organizers like those of us at Momentum, a movement-building nonprofit, knew that if President Trump didn’t win re-election, his campaign would likely contest election results even without evidence of fraud and resist the peaceful transfer of power as an act of disruption to the democratic process. Some of the potential scenarios organizers needed to brace for included: Governors and secretaries of state refusing to certify the popular vote in their state (which happened in 2000); the Supreme Court forcing states to stop counting the votes (also in 2000); or the government employing the police, the National Guard, and Customs and Border Patrol agents to crack down on Americans’ first amendment rights to protest (which of course happened earlier this year in response to uprisings prompted by George Floyd’s murder).
Even now that all major news outlets have called the presidential election for Joe Biden, organizers are preparing to grapple with the unprecedented. For example, state legislatures may choose a different slate of electors after the Electoral College’s Safe Harbor deadline in December, in an attempt to hand Trump a victory by overriding the popular vote. Or Trump may never concede that he’s lost. Either scenario could trigger a constitutional crisis, the likes of which the United States has never seen.