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What If Trump Refuses to Accept a Biden Victory? A Look at How Electoral Chaos Could Divide Nation

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Nils Gilman, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you respond to President Trump's tweet, which he has not taken back, no matter what Mark Meadows says? He's talking about the illegitimacy of mail-in votes, and he's talking about delaying the November election. This is something you've been talking about for a long time.

NILS GILMAN: Yeah. Well, you know, he has preached a lot of things, and it's not clear how seriously one should take any of it, of course. I think what's striking about this one, of course, is that it got a lot of bipartisan pushback, which is good, because obviously we don't want to have the president not get pushback when he's saying that he wants to delay the election. But what's striking is how many of his tweets don't get bipartisan, or at least Republican, pushback. So, when he says that, you know, mail-in ballots are going to be fraudulent, there's no pushback against that from the Republicans. So I think that tells you where the limits are about what they're willing to tolerate from the president.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what your group is doing, Transition Integrity Project, and the simulation gaming out that you did in June.

NILS GILMAN: Yeah. So, last month or actually, I guess, in June, two months ago now we ran a series of four, what are known in military circles as war games, which are basically simulations of possible outcomes, not so much of the election, but the aftermath of the election, between November 3rd and Inauguration Day on January 20th. So we looked at four different scenarios: Biden winning in a landslide, Trump winning in a landslide and a couple scenarios where the election was very close or actually truly ambiguous.

And we assembled a group of people who played different roles. They played some people played Team Trump. Some people played Team Biden. Some people played Democratic elected officials, Republican elected officials. This was a bipartisan group, included people, you know, former Democratic presidential Chief of Staff John Podesta, former Republican vice-presidential Chief of Staff Bill Kristol, you know, former Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan. So it was a high-level group, bipartisan group. And we tried to find out what could potentially go wrong between Election Day and Inauguration Day.

And the results were pretty intense. In every scenario, except for the one where Biden won in a landslide, we ended up with severe electoral contestation, protests in the streets, you know, crazy stories happening on social media, and the challenges went down to Inauguration Day. The contestation was really without precedent.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait. So, go through these four scenarios.

NILS GILMAN: Yeah, so, one scenario was Biden wins, wins pretty big. And by the way, you know, we started simulating the games the day after the election. So we didn't simulate things that could go wrong on the day of the election. There's lots of other people who are concerned with that. We were specifically focused on what could happen after the election. Are there possible ways that the transition process could be disrupted?

The reason we needed to do that was the United States has a very unusual electoral system where people don't take office immediately after the election. There's this 10-, 11-week period between Election Day and Inauguration Day, when the incumbent government, the lame-duck government, is still in power and still can control things.

And that was one of the things that was really striking. Trump will still control the levers of power, even if he loses the election, for 10 or 11 more weeks. And this allows him to get up to all sorts of mischief in terms of deploying the Department of Justice, the Post Office, you know, Department of Homeland Security, in ways that can disrupt the transition process.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the role of the swing states, for example, like Michigan, and what role they could play.

NILS GILMAN: Yeah. So, there's a series of swing states Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin are really the three striking ones where you have a situation where there's a split government. You have a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature. And because of the way in which election certification works, there's a possibility to do all sorts of kind of corrupt things during that period.

So, basically, what happens is, the votes get counted, and then typically what happens is the state legislature has to certify that one side won the election, and then the governor sends a slate of electoral votes to the Electoral College, which gets counted in mid-December. And then the Electoral College sends on its results to Congress, which has to certify the results in early January.

So, because there's this split in these swing states between the Republican legislature and the Democratic governor, you could end up with a situation and this is what actually happened in some of the simulations that we put together where the vote happens one way, the Republican legislature certifies it another way, and the Democratic governor decides to send in a third slate of electors. So you could end up with competing slates of electors being sent, some by the Republican legislature and some by the Democratic governor. And this, in fact, is there's a precedence for this. This exactly is what happened during the contested election of 1876. You had three states then I believe it was Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana that year that sent competing slates of electors to the Electoral College. And at that point, it becomes up to Congress to decide which of the competing slates of electors they're going to certify as being legitimate and counting for the purposes of selecting the next president.

AMY GOODMAN: If it was clear that Trump lost the election, would the military, or could the military or Secret Service just walk him out of office if he wasn't leaving?

NILS GILMAN: Yeah. I mean, obviously, at some point, you know, if he refuses to leave the White House physically and everybody agrees that he's lost, at that point he's effectively just a trespasser in the White House, and presumably the Secret Service would remove him. But I think the real question we have to worry about is not whether it's totally clear and everybody agrees other than Trump that he lost. If that situation happens, I'm not too worried. You know, the situation will resolve itself in an orderly manner.

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