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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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The real cause for concern is if there are competing narratives that large numbers of Americans believe about who actually won the election. And that's actually, unfortunately, very possible, especially given how polarized the electorate is and the competing narratives about the kinds of frauds that can take place around the election. Trump is already promoting the notion of fraud. He'll say he won, if he wins, despite the fraud. And if he loses, he'll say he lost because of the fraud. I mean, you had the clip at the top of the hour here, when you were playing the introduction, where he says exactly that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he just has to create a plausible narrative that he didn't lose, you say. And what would that do?

NILS GILMAN: Well, if he creates a plausible narrative and by "plausible," I mean something that, you know, gets picked up in social media and then gets parroted on Fox News and gets picked up maybe by The Wall Street Journal op-ed page, that the reason why he lost is because of fraud that's happening in some of these swing states, or, as he would say, "illegals" voting or the mail-in ballots or foreign interference. There's any number of different channels for creating a narrative that there has been fraud. And if he can do that and he can convince enough people on his side of the aisle that narrative is true, then you have a situation where there really will be two different stories about who won the election. And that obviously can create a very dangerous situation.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Trump's attack on mail-in voting comes at a time when the Trump administration is facing accusations of sabotaging the Postal Service under the newly installed postmaster general, who happens to be a Trump fundraiser, Louis DeJoy. Can you talk about what this means? Since DeJoy took office, he has instituted a number of cost-cutting measures that have slowed down the delivery of mail. The Washington Post reports there's now a days-long backlog of mail across the country. Take it from there.

NILS GILMAN: Well, I'm not an expert about exactly what's going on at the Post Office, so I can't speak to that, but I can talk about what the risks are. You know, there's going to be an unprecedented number of people voting by mail, voting absentee this year, partly because of the coronavirus epidemic making some people concerned about going and standing in line in closed quarters to go vote. So, many people are going to vote by mail. And if the mail is slow, then the mail will be delivered late, and these ballots will not arrive on election night.

One of the things Trump has also been claiming, which there was no pushback on from Republicans, is that the election should be called on election night. Well, why would he want that? Well, it's because there's a well-known phenomenon, among people who study these things closely, known as the "blue shift," which is that the votes that come in late tend disproportionately to be Democratic voters, for a whole bunch of different reasons. And so, obviously, if he wants the election called on election night, that would prevent any of the votes that came in late by mail, by the mail that's being slowed down by the Postal Service's incompetence, from being counted. And so, it's effectively a form of disenfranchisement of anybody who votes late or votes by mail because they're afraid of the coronavirus or for any other reason that people might want to vote by mail.

AMY GOODMAN: Of course, I mean, the front page of The New York Times today, "Lag in Tallying Mail-In Ballots Raises Alarms." New York City is still deciding the June primary races.

NILS GILMAN: Right. I think one of the things we really need to get ready for is that we're not going to have a traditional election night. It's really going to be an election season. And one of the things that I think media really should be getting out, the word out, to all Americans right now is that, you know, we need to be patient, and we don't necessarily -- we won't necessarily know the result on election night. I mean, it's possible that Biden will win in a landslide or Trump will win in a landslide, in which case we will know. But there could be a number of different states, you know, the swing states, even though Biden is way ahead in terms of the national polls in the swing states, the results are still pretty close, and we may not know on election night who won. And we may not know for, you know, a week or even two weeks afterwards, as these ballots trickle in and have to be counted carefully. I think it's a responsibility of all Americans to be patient about that, because what we want, above all else, is for our democratic voting process to have integrity, for everybody who wants to vote to be able to, and for everybody who votes to have their vote counted.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has said states should prepare for a worst-case scenario for the November election, including Trump seizing ballot boxes and using the military. Do you think that's possible, Nils Gilman?

NILS GILMAN: I do think it's possible. I mean, we've already seen what he's done in Portland. And it's kind of sinister, from my perspective, that even though he's now withdrawn from Portland, withdrawn the federal forces from Portland, he has announced that they're going to be deployed in, specifically, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee. Well, why would he pick those three cities? Well, those are blue cities in swing states in Ohio, in Michigan and in Wisconsin. And if he can prevent and intimidate voters from voting in the biggest blue city in each of those states, that could be decisive in swinging the results in his favor.

So I do think that there's a severe chance that the military will be used, or militarized forces I don't think the military itself. I think after Lafayette Square, the military itself is likely to resist being deployed that way. But we have para-militarized federal forces that are prepared to do Trump's bidding. And I do think that that's a severe risk for the election.

AMY GOODMAN: Nils Gilman, I want to thank you for being with us, historian and co-founder of Transition Integrity Project, which organized a bipartisan group of experts to game out what a contested November election might look like.

When we come back, we'll be joined by LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter. Stay with us.

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