So there was a pretty lengthy article
in The Atlantic about what could be in store for November
. It's absolutely worth the read, but here's a tldr with some silly graphics
In keeping with an opinionated by apolitical site and the [i]nformative tag, I'll keep the discussion party-agnostic. While the article derives its relevance from a single candidate in this election, the mechanics apply equally to all.
What are we even talking about?
The country will be doing some voting in the days leading up to November 3rd. Things are a bit different these days:
- Covid, obviously. Mail-in voting is a big thing now, and polling places will likely look at least a little different due to the pandemic.
- The idea of rejecting/protesting the election results has entered the national dialogue. While this may be chicanery, it's at least as relevant an issue as it was with Bush/Gore.
- Four years ago, exit polls were ostensibly misleading. In keeping with this timeline, this apparent failure has been generalized to "statistics is flawed and Nate Silver is a charlatan".
- The expiration of the 'consent decree' that served as a prohibition on what historically amounted to polling place militias.
- The rise of militias to address the civil unrest associated with police violence protests.
- Partisan entrenchment. This reads like political cynicism, but there are some fairly significant signs that party leaders are willing to go to great lengths to win.
The bottom line of the Atlantic piece is that this election cycle may see voter suppression unequaled in recent history
Voter suppression? Is this just one side crying wolf?
At worst, it's an exercise in hypotheticals, but there have been some indications beyond the opportunities created by the bulleted list above. Major players on either side of the ticket have openly advocated for abornmal handling of this election
. The Atlantic article references a few sources, e.g.
At the time, [Justin] Clark was a senior lieutenant with [Candidate]’s reelection campaign; in July, he was promoted to deputy campaign manager. "Wisconsin's the state that is going to tip this one way or the other ... So it makes [Election Day Operations] really, really, really important," he said. He put the mission bluntly: "Traditionally it's always been Republicans suppressing votes ... [Democrats’] voters are all in one part of the state, so let’s start playing offense a little bit. And that's what you’re going to see in 2020. That's what's going to be markedly different. "
More on election day operations and other sources a couple sections down.
Does election interference even work? There are 350 million-ish Americans.
It seems so. Everyone is acquainted with the idea of battleground states/districts in the context of electoral college/winner-take-all voting. Simply, our system of choosing a president allows political operators to decide what districts they want to campaign in
and which contests they would throw out if they could. It means a small investment yields game-changing rewards.
And so you get targeted action to the precision of the Brooks Brothers Riot
wherein a fake protest was staged to prevent a specific recount
Geographical biases in voting outcomes are probably no suprise to anyone, the following may not be either:
- In person/early
- In person/late
And so it becomes a numbers game. Given a yet-unexplained mechanism for removing votes from the system, political operators have options for skewing polling results
in their favor.
Election day operations/consent decree
In 2018, a federal judge allowed the consent decree to expire, ruling that the plaintiffs had no proof of recent violations by [party]. The consent decree, by this logic, was not needed, because it worked.
The order had its origins in the New Jersey gubernatorial election of 1981. According to the district court’s opinion in Democratic National Committee v. Republican National Committee, the [party] allegedly tried to intimidate voters by hiring off-duty law-enforcement officers as members of a "National Ballot Security Task Force," some of them armed and carrying two-way radios. According to the plaintiffs, they stopped and questioned voters in minority neighborhoods, blocked voters from entering the polls, forcibly restrained poll workers, challenged people’s eligibility to vote, warned of criminal charges for casting an illegal ballot, and generally did their best to frighten voters away from the polls. The power of these methods relied on well-founded fears among people of color about contact with police.
An election interference playbook
Pre-November 03: organize
- Organize, recruit EDO, prepare legal strategies. Most of this can be scripted or at least predicted.
- Poison the well. Convince people that the electoral system and/or certain types of votes are untrustworthy.
November 03: EDO
- Send armed operatives appearing as official as possible to polling places to confront voters. Have them instruct voters to show identification - it's ostensibly a first amendment right. Create fear, confusion, lines.
- Embrace confrontation. This drives people away. If things escalate, it may even shut down the polling place. Remember, this precinct is negative votes, if it ends the day with zero votes, that's a net positive.
- Any activities inside the polling place or post office leave EDO personnel exposed to legal recourse, but intrinsically cast doubt on the results therein.
The Atlantic piece covers the important dates for finalizing vote tallies, selecting electors, and sending results to Congress.
- Audit ballots. Find those hanging chads. According to Gellman, mail-in ballots are considerably easier to throw out on technicalities.
- Contest results, demand recounts, take legal action. EDO will have won some districts, so the battlefield is smaller. If it's done its job, EDO has tainted every battleground such that it can be litigated in court and in public opinion.
- Take a page from the 2000 election and run the clock out when necessary. This may well let the decision default to the majority party.
- Have state legislatures invalidate the polling results due to a flawed process and send their own results. Their own election was the will of the people, and they can safely take this action if the people believe the election was 'rigged'.
January: victory or the longball
If all is lost, throw the hail mary and use the ambiguity of constitional language to change the process. Is the supreme court on your side?
Mail-in ballots are easier to reject.
Vote in person.
USPS load during covid.
Vote in person, use a drop box if you cannot vote in person, mail your ballot early if you cannot use a drop box.
Polling place congestion from covid, increased turnout, EDO.
Vote early in the day, take the day off, offer assistance to people in queue.
Raise awareness, volunteer.
EDO voter suppression.
Ignore anyone outside a polling place that isn't a local police officer and identifies themself as such. Bring a recording device and collect their information, particularly if they claim to be law enforcement but are not.
Raise awareness before November. Inform local law enforcement of the presence of EDO. Graciously shadow them and inform voters that they are a political operative. Document any instances of voter suppression. Do not escalate the situation, remember that more votes = more democracy, regardless of candidate.
Post-election day litigation.
A brief digression into the impossible
The hail mary scenario won't come to pass. There's no reality in which enough people believe they'll escape the justice system by trying to perpetrate a coup
. But we're all stuck indoors right now and for some reason people love to talk about the Reichstag Fire. Just remember it's not 1776. The People's ultimate check on an oppressive government isn't running around with a rifle. The People's ultimate check on an oppressive government is the general strike.