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The peaceful transition of power is at the heart of our democracy, and never in modern American history have we had to worry about it being undermined by a sitting president. Until now.
Trump’s daily lies about vote-by-mail fraud, his refusal to say whether he will concede if he loses, and his false assertions that we must know the winner on election night all add up to one thing: Trump is laying the groundwork to dispute the valid election results. That’s not hyperbole, Trump has said it clearly: “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.”
Trump’s looking at the same polls that we are. He knows he’s losing badly, and that his best chance to stay in power is if he bullies and cheats his way through this election. He has shown time and again that he has no respect for democratic norms or the rule of law. We’ve already seen Trump abuse his power in unprecedented ways, from demanding foreign election interference to sabotaging the Postal Service and gassing peaceful protestors. Every day, Trump escalates his attacks on our democracy, which is why Joe Biden stated that his single greatest concern is Trump trying to “steal this election.”
So what can we the American people do about it? First, we must continue to turn out to vote in unprecedented numbers this election season. The United States has held presidential elections during times of crisis before — during the Civil War, the Great Depression, and two World Wars — and we are doing it again this year. Across the country, Americans are voting early in historic numbers, by mail and in person. Neither Trump’s lies nor the pandemic will stop us from exercising our right to vote — and there is still time to cast your ballot.
Second, we must be ready to protect the election results if necessary — and be prepared to be patient. While most of us are used to staying up late on election night to see the networks declare a winner, this is not a normal year. Given the pandemic, far more Americans are voting by mail than in previous elections, and because many states do not begin counting mail-in ballots until Election Day, it will take days for complete results. As Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson put it, “We should be prepared for this to be closer to an election week as opposed to an Election Day.” That could lead to what some call the “red mirage,” where Trump appears to be winning on election night before mail-in ballots are counted, providing him an opening to create chaos.
If Trump declares victory prematurely or tries to undermine the results of the election, the American people must be ready to rise up and protect the results. That’s why Stand Up America and Indivisible partnered to launch Protect the Results, a coalition of 140 groups who are prepared to mobilize if necessary. So far, we’ve planned more than 400 potential events across the country to demand that every vote be counted and ensure a peaceful transition of power.
With a combined membership in the tens of millions, the Protect the Results coalition continues to build a national activist network that could mobilize quickly to demand that election officials, the Electoral College and Congress honor the accurate, final vote count. By mobilizing across the country, our groups hope to ensure that any corrupt political pressure from Trump is met with far greater pressure from the American people to follow the rules and preserve our democracy.
The Biden campaign has noted that the “United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.” While this is true, there are a lot of steps that would occur before such a dramatic outcome became necessary. The process of selecting our president does not end on Election Day. From states certifying their final election results in November to the Electoral College casting their votes in mid-December and those votes being counted by Congress in early January, it’s a long road to Inauguration Day. At each step Trump and his allies could try to sow chaos, and so we must be prepared to protect the results at every step along the way.
Of course, grassroots mobilization is one of many critical elements that are needed. There are tireless legal organizations like Marc Elias’ Democracy Docket fighting to preserve voting access across the country and ensure every vote is counted, and groups like the National Task Force on Election Crises who are putting forward recommendations for elected officials, civil society leaders, and the press to ensure a free and fair election.
We all have a role to play, whether it’s making a plan to vote, encouraging patience after the election as every vote is counted, or being ready to join sustained protests if Trump tries to undermine the results or prematurely declares victory. While we have faith that the American people would rise to the occasion and protect our democracy, we hope it won’t come to that. But if the past four years have taught us anything, it’s that Trump and his allies will go to remarkable lengths to cling to power, and so we must hope for the best, and plan for the worst. Nothing less than our democracy is at stake.
Sean Eldridge is the founder and president of Stand Up America.
Leah Greenberg is the co-founder and co-executive director of Indivisible.