The election is less than two weeks away, and millions of Americans have already cast their mail-in or absentee ballot. This election is perhaps more consequential than any other in recent memory. Its outcome will determine, certainly for the next four years and likely for the next few generations, the integrity of our democratic institutions and the strength of our political process. It is therefore crucial that we vote.

It is important to vote. It is equally important to have your vote be counted.

We are a nation of minority-rule. Since 1992, the Republican presidential candidate has won the popular vote exactly once, and even then as a wartime incumbent. Yet, for 12 of the past 28 years, the presidency has been held by a Republican. In North Carolina, Republican congressional candidates in 2018 received 51 percent of the vote share to capture nine seats, while Democrats at 49 percent of vote share captured only three seats. In Michigan, the GOP controls 58 of the 110 state House seats, despite Democrats’ winning 52 percent of the vote to the GOP’s 47 percent. 

This is not an isolated trend: the Republican Party consistently wins more seats at various levels of government than its vote share would suggest. These victories are often won through gerrymandered political maps and favorable judicial rulings from courts packed with conservative judges, even at the highest levels. The 5-4 (soon, 6-3 with Amy Coney Barrett) conservative majority on the Supreme Court is a direct result of appointments by minoritarian Republican Presidents, essentially imposing a conservative jurisprudence upon a nation in which the majority of voters prefer liberalism. 

Indeed, the judiciary is one of the many bodies that has fallen prey to the GOP’s weaponizing of American institutions to sway electoral outcomes in their favor. For this election, the Supreme Court has become particularly salient, as the President has detailed his plans to contest unfavorable electoral outcomes while repeatedly making exaggerated or false claims about mail-in ballots and “widespread” voter fraud. As it did in Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court’s ruling on recounts or other ballot-related issues could once again install a minoritarian Republican President, but this time one with a blatant and unprecedented disregard for our democratic values.

Notwithstanding any potential judicial interventions, this president’s consistent, baseless attacks on the integrity of the mail-in ballot lay the foundation for him to pursue a wide array of other legal, entirely Constitutional means through which he could remain in power. The Atlantic has a detailed discussion of these potential outcomes, some of which are briefly summarized below.

One scenario involves the power of state legislatures to select the electors who ultimately choose the President. State-level laws vary, but there is no overarching Constitutional requirement that the electors from a given state vote in accordance with that state’s popular vote. Bolstered by the President’s claims of rampant voter fraud, the GOP-controlled state legislatures in key battleground states could decide to send Republican electors to the Electoral College, without regard to their states’ vote counts. This maneuver could secure the 270 votes the President needs to win the Electoral College and remain in power.

Another plausible outcome involves the fact that four battleground states—MI, WI, PA, and NC—have split governments, with a Democrat as governor and a legislature controlled by Republicans. Echoing the President’s claims of voter fraud, the legislatures in these states could ignore mail-in and absentee ballots that break in favor of Biden, opting to instead appoint a slate of Republican electors. The Democratic governor, then, would likely refuse to certify these electors, instead choosing Democratic electors to send to the Electoral College. 

With two competing slates of electors from one state, each legitimized by a different branch of its state government, the responsibility falls to the sitting Vice President, Mike Pence, to interpret and enforce the appropriate statute. In a plausible interpretation of the relevant Electoral Count Act, a state that submits two conflicting sets of electors may have its votes invalidated. Should this happen in a state like Michigan or Pennsylvania, neither candidate would likely receive the requisite 270 votes to win the election outright. The election would then fall to the House of Representatives, with each state’s receiving one vote. In this scenario, the President would receive the 26 out of 50 votes needed to stay in office.

The President himself has alluded to this outcome, speaking at a rally about his 26-23 advantage in the House of Representatives. The Atlantic reports that the President and his legal team have already started to lay the foundation for legal challenges in battleground states to circumvent any unfavorable vote counts. As Fareed Zakaria summarizes in a Washington Post op-ed: “[B]ecause of a vague and creaky constitutional process and ferocious partisanship, this November we might put on a display of democratic dysfunction that would rival any banana republic on the planet.”

To be clear, these outcomes may very well be unlikely. But, in the current political climate, they are plausible. This president has launched an all-out assault on the integrity of our democratic process because he knows that a referendum on his performance is unlikely to be a positive one. As Democrats cling to ideological purity and a desire to return to the good old days of benign politics, the Republican Party has thrown all semblance of bipartisanship out the window. The political institutions meant to safeguard the integrity of our representative democracy have instead been warped and co-opted to serve those who cannot achieve victory through truly democratic means. 

We cannot fully count on mail-in voting, not because of the President’s false claims regarding voter fraud, but because the GOP’s stranglehold on every level of government could mean that many mail-in and absentee ballots, predicted to favor Biden in key states, may end up not being counted at all. Any “blue shift” in battleground states from ballots counted after Election Day will undoubtedly be delegitimized by the President and his allies and decried as fraudulent. 

The only way, then, to thoroughly repudiate this President and blunt his attacks on our democratic system, the only way to ensure an uncontested victory for his challenger, is to have your vote counted on Election Day. If you live in a swing state, are in a low-risk group for COVID-19, and are able to vote in person, please consider doing so (while adhering to the appropriate social distancing and public health guidelines). In any other election, your vote is important. In this election, it is crucial.

To state the obvious, it should not have had to come to this. It should not be your responsibility to risk your health just to have your vote be counted. But these are unprecedented times, and our republic is at its most precarious point in recent memory. 

We stand upon a precipice, and what we do in this election will either reaffirm our values and our commitment to democracy or further erode the institutions foundational to our republic. What we do in this election will define America for generations. 

Civic duty calls on us—each of us who is able, each of us who is in a position to do so—to put aside our personal considerations and vote. We must vote for our futures. We must vote for the futures of the generations of Americans who will come hereafter. We must vote for the good of our country.

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