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The Implications of a Contested Election

For many reasons, the upcoming presidential election is arguably the most important in this nation’s history: the future of COVID-19 in America, the ongoing battle for racial justice, climate change, the potential for a conservatively-packed Supreme Court that could take away rights for women and access to healthcare for many all hang in the balance. Yet, the most concerning aspect of this election lies in the question of whether or not the process itself will be both free and fair. The fate of democracy is in the hands of voters—and voting alone may not be enough.  

As the public saw in 2016, it is possible for a candidate to lose the popular vote and win the Electoral College, and while President Donald Trump emerged the victor in this way, he still made baseless claims about “millions and millions of people” illegally voting in person. This year, due to fears spurred by the pandemic and longer voting lines as a result of social distancing measures, many people are relying on mail-in ballots to cast their vote in November. Trump, however, is attempting to undermine this process, and has every intention of delegitimizing election results that are not in his favor. When asked in September if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power after the election, Trump answered, “Get rid of the ballots, and… there won’t be a transfer, frankly, there will be a continuation.” It is worth noting that Trump supports the use of absentee ballots, but claims mail-in ballots are fraudulent. 

Other organizations show no support for Trump's stance on mail-in voting, including the FBI. A Pew Research Poll shows that because Trump is delegitimizing the process, many of his most fervent supporters are refusing to vote by mail, while the majority of former Vice President Joe Biden's supporters plan to do the opposite. Therefore, the biggest issues with mail-in ballots will not be their legitimacy, but rather the ability of the United States Postal Service (USPS) to handle the massive increase in mail volume. The USPS did not receive necessary government funding at the onset of the pandemic in March; as a result, the institution is ill-equipped for universal mail-in voting.

One of the biggest issues that the contestation of mail-in ballots brings is the constitutional power awarded to legislators. If there is controversy surrounding ballots or votes come in late and there is reason to believe that the process has been tampered with, legislators can decide amongst themselves to ignore the votes and assign electors as they see fit. In swing states, such as Pennsylvania, with Republican-led legislatures, a situation like this has the potential to make or break the election.

Unless there is a landslide victory for Biden, this election is likely going to be contested in the courts. What is there to do, then, besides voting? How can the American public fight back against illegitimacy, against an election and regime that does not reflect the ideals of the public? Boston College Professor of Sociology, Charles Derber, has the answer: stop the coup. 

Derber’s work focuses on the crises of capitalism, globalization, corporate power, American militarism, the culture of hegemony, the climate crisis, and the new peace and global justice movements. Most recently, he is working on a petition called “A Declaration of Independence from Illegitimate Authority” as part of his greater “Stop the Coup 2020” initiative. This petition, soon to be circulated among politicians, activist groups, and lay voters alike, maintains that those who sign it will commit themselves to voting in this upcoming election and that they will also withdraw consent to any illegitimate authority both now and in the future.

This petition and its implications are incredibly important. If the 2020 election is contested and makes its way to the courts, as Trump claims it will, the majority conservative legislators will mostly likely rule in his favor. The gravity of this situation is detailed in Derber’s petition, which states that “a regime that denies constitutional fundamental rights, including most notably today the rights to free and fair elections and universal voting, makes war on all its own citizens—and most fiercely on communities of color, immigrants, low-income groups, and other vulnerable communities… it violates its constitutional responsibilities and undermines its legitimacy to govern… it is the right and obligation of all citizens to actively refuse to cooperate with such unlawful acts.” 

Derber believes this to be the most perilous moment for democracy in America that this country has seen in a very long time. He has hope for the BC community that, politics aside, this institution continues to commit itself to correcting injustice, and recognizes that this is a moral imperative.

“You know, this is a moral issue more than just a political issue,” says Derber. “Many of the people, including myself, who are doing this are not because we are super thrilled about the Democratic party… it’s a moral imperative, that’s something that BC as an institution commits itself to, to essentially bring a spiritual perspective on an existential moment in history when the future of humanity and democracy is at stake. I think BC might have a particular role in standing up for that mission now. If there is ever a [moment in history] where these ideals need to be put into play, it would be now.”

Derber hopes that people continue to take this election seriously, that they mobilize against this illegitimate regime, and that no one grows despondent believing Trump’s ongoing subversion tactics are normal and not things he will commit to. There is a very real possibility that Trump will be re-elected, and the existence of this semi-democratic nation is at stake.

Educate yourselves, and if interested, sign the petition and mobilize your friends, family, and peers to do so as well. Vote like your life and the lives of so many others depend on it.

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Political Science major, avid res walker, and certified bagel snob.