Will Trump commit to a peaceful transfer of power?

Anthony Lopez, Staff Writer

In a world rife with political turbulence and tumultuous events, it can sometimes be easy to simply move on from one story to the next. But nearly two weeks ago at a White House press conference, U.S. President Donald Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose his bid for re-election in November. This event has been overlooked by more recent developments — such as the president’s fulminant health concerns — but it is important to look deeper and acknowledge the severity of Trump’s refusal.

Executive transfer of power in the United States is typically without incident; should the sitting president lose re-election, their title of Commander-in-Chief is passed on to the victorious opposition. Yet even before the press conference a few weeks ago, Trump has been wary to yield to such a custom, suggesting that the upcoming election will be rife with corruption and fraudulent votes, further insinuating that a Republican defeat would speak only to substantial Democratic tampering rather than legitimate success.

However, during the press conference, Trump was quite specific about his concerns. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster … Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation,” he said. His ire has been derived from his suspicions over the mail-in-ballots that will be used for this election, suggesting that they are easily manipulated and rigged. 

But mail-in voting is a relatively well-established practice, and shows no significant risk of fraud, despite what the president may suggest. It was first used in the United States by the military during the Civil War, and over 30 million mail-in votes were cast in the 2016 election that brought Trump to power. Granted, there will be a definite influx of voters who will use these absentee ballots in 2020 as a result of fears over COVID-19; in Pennsylvania alone, the number of requested absentee ballots has reached almost 2.5 million, a 2,138% increase over the previous election. Yet the fact remains that absentee ballots were not an exigency of the pandemic, but simply a deployment of a rather common staple of the modern American electoral system.

The supposed fraudulence Trump theorizes about with absentee ballots is significantly overstated. Mail-in voting is an imperfect system, but outright forging votes is both incredibly difficult to manage and can result in a steep fine — along with a potentially lengthy prison sentence. It is a complex crime to commit with little reward, and the likelihood of actual voter fraud in any election is so small that it reaches the point of irrelevance. A compilation of various studies regarding voter fraud, compiled by the Brennan Center, suggests little ambiguity on this issue; from university studies to courts’ opinions, to even governmental investigations on the matter, there has been a consistent conclusion that it is not nearly as large a threat to democracy as Trump would suggest it is.

That is not to say that there is no voter fraud, in the form of double voting or even voting for a deceased citizen. In such cases, there should always be effective checks to ensure that it does not occur and may sway the results of an election. But Trump’s insistence on being rid of mail-in voting is both irrational and — more importantly — a blatant form of voter suppression. 

As mentioned previously, the amount of citizens requesting voting ballots has risen across the country. It is worth noting that, according to an AP-NORC poll, a majority of Biden supporters will vote by mail, while a majority of Trump supporters will likely vote in-person. This clear disparity might help elucidate why Trump is so keen on doing away with absentee ballots; without that method of voting, Democrats could be less inclined to go out in-person to support their candidate.

To that end, it is no wonder that the president refused to commit to a peaceful transfer. He has repeatedly insisted upon the lack of validity found in mail-in voting and how it will unfairly affect the upcoming election. It is a conspiracy that he helped perpetuate and it is now providing false justification for his rash actions. It is comforting to note, however, that on the Thursday following Trump’s press conference, a unanimous resolution passed by the Senate reaffirmed its commitment to a peaceful transfer of power. 

But that transition, should it occur, will likely not transpire as soon as anyone likes. It will certainly not be confirmed on Nov. 3. Mail-in voting is not new, but it is undeniable that the sheer volume of ballots cast in this manner will create a significant delay towards determining the results of the 2020 election. With Republicans more likely to vote in person, there might be a lead for the current president come Election Night. Were that to happen, it is very possible that Trump will do everything he can to discredit the new votes in the days, weeks, or even months, following election night and declare himself the victor.

If that does indeed happen, it is paramount that we remember that fraudulent voting is not nearly as common as the president claims it is, and that whoever may be leading on the third may not be as more ballots are confirmed. This election is unprecedented, but so long as we are not bogged down by constant lies and misinformation, we can be prepared for it.

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