Planning for a Contested Presidential Election | NDTC

During election season, Americans from all walks of life will decide the next chapter in our nation’s history. And yet, beneath the surface lurks a threat to democracy—a contested presidential election. 

As recent as September 23rd, the incumbent president refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power. President Trump was asked if he would accept the results of the election, even if they resulted in a Biden victory. He responded with, “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens.

This unique kind of crisis could take one of three forms, each with particular constitutional challenges. Each will also present opportunities for their own mechanisms of resistance, accountability, and redress. 

This article intends to prepare us for what is sure to be an unprecedented election regardless of the final outcome.

Too Many Votes to Count

In the first scenario, Election Day creeps into the next morning without a clear winner in the Electoral College. 

Hundreds of thousands or even millions of absentee ballots would still need to be counted. And, contentious lawsuits to prevent every mail-in vote from being counted would be filed. Despite the lack of a clear winner, President Trump could declare himself the winner of the election. 

This case of a contested presidential election calls for a unified, non-partisan mandate. This ensures every single legitimate vote counts to uphold democracy. 

A reminder for the American people: A slow election is not necessarily insecure or fraudulent. Voter fraud accusations concerning mail-in ballots would need to be condemned and corrected, especially on social media. 

Those in favor of this action can protest peacefully. Remaining peaceful throughout the entire demonstration is important, as to not move the narrative towards Trump and his camp.

Voting Irregularities

Another possible scenario yields Election Day results that show significant irregularities or signs of tamper. 

Examples include unexplained delays in ballot count reporting or the number of votes exceeding the number of registered voters. Such irregularities could suggest serious manipulations in vote counting, including possible hacking of election infrastructure by foreign or domestic adversaries. 

Given such manipulations, the November 3rd results may show a slight Trump lead. Officials investigate irregularities such as this. However, the President, could still declare himself the winner instead of waiting

Right-wing media outlets and foreign adversaries capitalize on unstable environments. They use misinformation to sow distrust in election results, further devaluing democracy. 

People can pressure federal officials, through nonviolent political demonstrations, to support a fair and independent investigation. An especially promising strategy could be to elevate moderate Republican voices calling for a legitimate democratic process. 

Refusal to Concede

Finally, the results on Election Day could show a clear and convincing victory for Joe Biden, but Trump might refuse to leave office. Similar strategies as the first scenario apply here.  

  1. A unified call for a peaceful transition of democratic power.  
  2. The reassurance of supporters that a slow election can still be secure and legitimate.
  3. Correct all accusations of voter fraud publicly.

Continued Engagement for the People

While each of these scenarios is deeply unsettling, there are still opportunities for active civic engagement and resistance. Interested individuals or organizations can sign on as a partner with Protect the Results.

Protect the Results is a national coalition of voters and institutions ready to mobilize if Donald Trump refuses to accept the 2020 election results. 

Choose Democracy is holding several virtual training sessions over the next week to prepare for nonviolent resistance to a disputed election. 

Waging Nonviolence recently published a comprehensive list of ten action-items to oppose authoritarianism and the erosion of American democracy

Further information and strategies can be found in the Transition Integrity Project’s (TIP) Summer 2020 Report, the resources of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict.

Join us on November 3, 2020, for a night filled with live updates right here on our blog on all things Election 2020. 

2020 Election: Live Blog

Next Live Training

NDTC Virtual Live Training

January 25, 2021

1:00pm - 2:00pm (ET)

Online Academy

The training and tools you need, when you need them. Courses are available 24/7. Are you a candidate, campaign staffer or volunteer, at the beginning stages of your campaign or in the home stretch? We have the courses to address your specific needs and arm you with the knowledge to win.

View course catalog

Not sure where to start? Take a short quiz to help you determine the best place for you to get started.

Take the quiz