It May Sound Hysterical, But There’s A Flaw In Our System That Will Allow Republicans To Steal The Next One
Imagine This Scenario:
A Democrat wins 51 percent of the popular vote – a seven or eight million popular vote margin – and 270+ Electoral Votes, but the Republican candidate claims fraud in three states, say Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia. Whoever wins those states gets the required 270 electoral votes.
The incoming Congress will be Republican controlled, thanks mainly to gerrymanders in several large states, and the legislatures of all three states are also GOP controlled.
After allegations of fraud, with little to no proof, Republicans refuse to certify results in several states, leading to state legislators choosing Republican electors even though the state voted for the Democratic candidate. The end result is the Republican candidate winning.
Seems like an unrealistic scenario, no? An overdramatic hysterical LARP that would have no basis in reality?
Well, guess what, it’s how Rutherford B. Hayes became our 19th President in 1876.
The 1876 Election was arguably the most contentious one in American history, even more so than 2000. Hayes, the Republican Governor of Ohio, faced Samuel Tilden, the Democratic Governor of New York and a popular reformer. Tilden campaigned against the corruption and scandals that marred the outgoing Ulysses S. Grant administration and on a change mantle after sixteen years of Republicans in the White House. The country was just barely a decade out of the Civil War and strife between the north and south continued, but Tilden, a northerner, running on the Southern-dominated Democratic Party’s ticket, helped bring a sense of balance. Tilden’s running mate was also a northerner, Governor Thomas Hendricks of Indiana.
At the end of the campaign, it appeared Tilden had won the election, easily winning the popular vote and appearing to win 204 Electoral Votes out of the 185 needed to win. But the results in three Southern states; South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana, were cast in doubt. Republicans, who had controlled the states through Reconstruction policies, alleged fraud in all three. They alleged massive voter intimidation against Republican voters and that in one state, where symbols replaced party and candidate names for illiterate voters, Democrats used former President Abraham Lincoln as their symbol in order to trick Republican voters into choosing the Democratic ticket.
Ultimately, despite Tilden appearing to have won all three states, the states’ election boards, controlled by Republicans, ruled for Hayes and the state legislatures awarded all three states’ electoral votes to him, giving the Republican the required 185 votes to win the Electoral College.
Tilden supporters did not take the win lightly. There were protests and even riots. An assassination attempt occurred against Hayes in Ohio. Outgoing President Grant even put the military on high alert and tossed around the idea of martial law if things got too out of control. It seemed very possible the country could be headed for another Civil War or a military dictatorship.
With the scabs of the Civil War picked, and the wound at risk of festering, members of Congress came together to figure out a way to calm things down. They came up with the Compromise of 1877. Under the deal, Tilden would concede the election to Hayes, who agreed to serve only one term, and both Grant, in his final days as president, and Hayes in his first days, would agree to remove federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction and giving birth to the Jim Crow Era.
While it may seem an election from a century and a half ago may not be relevant today, this is almost what happened in 2020. Republicans, just as they did in 1876, claimed fraud in just enough states to flip the election, and they tried to get Republican-led legislatures to appoint Republican electors or a court to decertify the results.
It didn’t work, but what I fear is that it set the foundation for future elections.
Now let’s game this out:
In 2024, Republicans control both houses of Congress, but a Democrat, let’s say Vice President Kamala Harris, wins the presidential election with a similar map as 2020. This time though, Republicans control both Houses and can successfully challenge an Electoral College vote from any state.
So a number of battleground states, which provided Harris the margin of victory, sends two sets of electors to the Electoral College and Congress receives both sets. After objecting to the Democratic slate, both houses approve the Republican slate and either recognize the Republican electoral victory, or throw out the electoral votes entirely, causing neither candidate to get to 270 and the race to be thrown to the House, who then elects the Republican president.
This is not an unlikely scenario. In fact, I would argue that if Republicans control both houses in 2024, a realistic probability, this is what will happen. I believe with nothing stopping them, Republicans WILL formally end democracy if given the chance. Democracy doesn’t serve them. They have lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections, and five of the last eight Congressional elections. They would need to move further to the center if they had to win popular vote contests, something that goes against their very nature and worldview. They meet very little resistance from the middle and left as it is, and trust in our institutions remains high enough in key constituencies that Republicans may feel most Americans will simply just accept whatever happens with a grin.
So why not this time? Because they had roadblocks.
How does the dynamics of a coup change if it has a chance of succeeding through Constitutional avenues? What happens in 2024 if Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona all decided to send two sets of electors to the Electoral College and Congress, in Republican hands, decides the election in favor of the Republican, even though he didn’t actually win? Or rejects them and throws the Presidential election to a Republican-controlled House?
It is my belief that Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger may have been more amenable to not certifying Georgia’s results if the election relied on Georgia’s electoral votes. Even if Raffensperger had opted to help Trump overturn the results in his state, it still would not have been enough to win him the presidency. Trump needed at least three Biden states to give him their electoral votes. Of the five states that flipped from 2016, only Georgia had a Republican Secretary of State (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona are all Democrats), but all five states do have GOP-controlled legislatures. Even if the legislatures in those states had sent Republican electors to the Electoral College, forcing Congress to decide between their slate and the certified Democratic slate would have still failed, since Democrats controlled the House. Indeed in all of these states, plus Nevada and New Mexico, Republicans are trying to do just that. I believe, and fear, had Republicans won control of both Houses of Congress in November, the state legislatures would have sent their own electors and forced Congress to choose between the two. They would have easily reelected Trump.
We saw 126 Republicans, more than half the House caucus, including party leaders House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) support a ridiculous lawsuit Texas filed with the Supreme Court that aimed to throw out, in its entirely, the election results in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. The lawsuit was so flimsy that the Supreme Court didn’t even decide to hear it, but most of the House Republican Caucus supported it anyway. What would have happened had McCarthy been the incoming Speaker of the House?
These are not doomsday prospects, these are, I believe, what the current fight is setting us up for. It’s all a trial run for when they don’t have Democrats blocking the way.
In a perfect world, we get rid of the Electoral College and elect our president by popular vote so that we don’t allow opportunity for these types of shenanigans. Maybe this experience will finally teach us a lesson of how fragile our system is, how archaic and obsolete it is, how easily it is to manipulate, and why it finally needs to be changed.