Note: The following came in the form of a letter from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) emailed to supporters on Friday, September 4, 2020 warning against President Donald Trump not accepting, or misinforming the American people about, the 2020 election results in November:
Donald Trump is a pathological liar. According to documented reports he has told more than 20,000 lies and distortions since he has been president. This is, obviously, deeply disturbing behavior for anyone who is president of the United States.
But what is even more disturbing is that Trump is now using his lies and misinformation to sow confusion and chaos in the election process and undermine American democracy. In other words, he does not intend to accept the results of the election if he loses and leave office voluntarily. This is not just a “constitutional crisis.” This is a threat to everything this country stands for.
In order to be effective in combating Trump’s attempt to sabotage the November election, it is important that you, and everyone you know, recognize the warning signs as to what he and his Republican allies are doing.
In the coming weeks, let us work hard to deliver Joe Biden an overwhelming victory on election night. But, we must also stay vigilant, and do everything possible to prevent Trump from staying in power if he loses. Nothing less than our democracy is at stake.
For months now Trump has been signaling that he may not accept the outcome of the November election if he loses. In a July interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News, Trump was asked a simple question. Would he “give a direct answer that you will accept the election?” Trump refused. He said, “I have to see. No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.”
I want you to know that the concerns I am bringing you today are not just shared by progressives.
Miles Taylor, a lifelong Republican who previously served as chief of staff inside the Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security, warned that there is nothing that Trump will not do or say to defeat Biden.
“Put nothing past Donald Trump,” Taylor told The Associated Press. “He will do anything to win. If that means climbing over other people, climbing over his own people, or climbing over U.S. law, he will do it. People are right to be concerned.”
Well, I agree with Mr. Taylor. I am concerned. I am very concerned.
But it’s not just me. There is a reason why a large number of Republicans have come out in opposition to Trump and in support of Biden. Trust me, these people surely do not believe in our progressive agenda. They don’t even believe in Biden’s more modest agenda. But they do believe in democracy, the Constitution and the rule of law, and they understand that Trump does not.
Over the course of the past few weeks, Trump has consistently sought to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the coming election. At a time when he is behind in almost every national poll and in most battleground state polls, Trump recently stated, “The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election.”
Think about what that means. What he is saying is that if he wins the election, that’s great. But if he loses, it’s rigged. And if it’s rigged, then he is not leaving office. Heads I win. Tails you lose.
And then, while telling us that the election is going to be rigged, he urges his supporters in North Carolina to commit voter fraud by voting twice—a felony.
Trump is not only trying to create chaos and delegitimize the election process. He and the Republican Party are now spending tens of millions of dollars in the courts to make it harder for people to vote. They are attempting to defund and destroy the U.S. Postal Service so that people will not be able to cast mail-in ballots. And their allies in state legislatures like Pennsylvania’s are refusing to pass legislation to ensure all legitimate votes are counted in a timely manner.
So now, what do we do?
Well, first and foremost, we have to do everything we can to ensure Joe Biden wins by the largest possible margin on November 3. The better Joe Biden does, the harder it is for Trump to overturn the election.
But now we have to consider a scenario that is unprecedented in American history. What happens if, after the voting is completed, Trump loses but refuses to abide by the results and does everything he can to hold onto power?
This is scary stuff, and I can hardly believe I have to write to you about Trump’s threat to our Constitutionally-enshrined system of the peaceful transition of power.
But sadly, that is the situation we are in.
And what we must do, in response, is demand that our government and media institutions prepare our nation for what happens on the night of November 3 — and beyond.
First, with the pandemic and a massive increase in mail-in voting, state legislatures must take immediate action to allow for votes to be counted before Election Day, as they come in. We recently had an election in Vermont where, with mail-in ballots constituting 70% of the total votes, ballots were counted for days before Election Day and it ran very smoothly. Florida is expected to begin counting ballots days before Election Day for the same reason. In fact, 32 states allow for the counting or processing of absentee ballots — verifying signatures, for example — before Election Day. The intent behind these laws is clear: to help ensure a reliable and dependable election process, and timely reporting of the results.
What we must avoid is a situation where battleground states like Pennsylvania are counting millions of votes for days and weeks after Election Day. Right now, the Republican-controlled state legislature in Pennsylvania is blocking legislation that would remedy this problem. They know, and independent studies confirm, that the overwhelming majority of Republicans plan to vote in-person on Election Day while a strong majority of Democrats will be voting by mail. That means that on election night, Trump, and other Republican candidates, will likely appear to be doing much better than the final results will show once all mail-in ballots are counted. All of this gives Trump the opportunity to shout “voter fraud” as the mail-in ballots are tabulated days after the election. The situation is similar in Wisconsin, another battleground state, where ballots aren’t counted until Election Day, despite concerns expressed by local election officials.
Second, the news media needs to prepare the American people to understand there is no longer a single Election Day and that we may not know the results on November 3. Education is critical. We know enough to know that a number of key states will likely be counting votes for a period of time after Election Day and that those votes may be determinative in this election. The national news media must lead a conversation about what that process may look like and set expectations in advance for what to expect. Absent a national conversation about that reality, conspiracy theories and disinformation will likely thrive in the chaotic environment that we will see after November 3.
Third, social media companies must finally get their act together and stop people from using their tools to threaten and harass election officials and spread disinformation. Currently, social media platforms have the technology to stop their users from threatening and harassing prosecutors, judges and other public officials. It is time for them to expand those protections to the people who administer our elections. Otherwise, the entire election process could be compromised. Further, Facebook and other platforms have to act to prevent increasingly emboldened and violent right-wing extremists from organizing voter intimidation and disinformation on their sites.
Fourth, we need Congressional hearings with local officials to learn how they plan to handle the Election Day process and the days that follow. Every agency of government, at the federal, state and local level, must do everything possible to ensure that we have a free and fair election where every eligible voter can vote without intimidation, and where no one has to put his or her health or life in danger to cast a ballot.
Here is the truth:
In the United States we have an antiquated and inefficient process for conducting elections. And, today, that system is operating under the additional strain of the coronavirus pandemic. Sadly, instead of trying to improve this flawed situation Trump and many Republicans appear willing to exploit it to maintain power.
I hope this nightmare scenario does not come to pass.
So, in the coming weeks, let us work hard to deliver Joe Biden an overwhelming victory on election night. But, we must also stay vigilant, and do everything possible to prevent Trump from staying in power if he loses.
Nothing less than our democracy is at stake.
Bernie Sanders (I-VT.) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. Sanders ran to become the Democratic Party presidential nominee in both 2016 and 2020 and remains the longest-serving independent member of Congress in American history. Elected Mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1981, he served four terms. Before his 1990 election as Vermont’s at-large member in Congress, Sanders lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and at Hamilton College in upstate New York. Read more at his website. Follow him on Twitter: @SenSanders and @BernieSanders
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