WASHINGTON, D.C. — Democrats and Republicans are preparing for the possibility of a contested election.
It’s a plausible situation given President Trump’s stance on mail-in ballots. It’s possible, too, that some states’ counts could be so close, or contested, that the presidential race could rely on the Supreme Court to finalize a decision. Christian Grose, a USC associate professor of Political Science and Public Policy, said a roadmap for this would be to look at Bush vs. Gore in 2000.
“As an observer and a political scientist, it was amazing, Grose said. "It was exciting. It’s way more interesting than your normal presidential election. But as a citizen or a voter is probably not what people are hoping for.”
Grose said the 2000 race came down to Florida, where the initial results showed George W. Bush leading Al Gore by less than one-tenth of one percent, which was a mere 600 votes. Bush argued the recount should stop because it was happening improperly. Gore said the opposite. Ultimately the justices sided with Bush.
But what also added to the case was urgency. Federal law states electors must vote on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December. That election year, the vote would happen on December 18, and Florida wanted to make sure to take part. The short deadline weighed on Bush vs. Gore, just as it would in any potential case between President Trump and Vice President Joe Biden.
“The window of time is really between Election Day, when everyone is done casting their ballots, and when the electors meet in December. That’s the only time really there is for litigation,” Grose said. “There could be contestation that would continue even beyond, you can contest the election of course, but really if the Supreme Court is going to weigh in or the lower courts are going to weigh in, the litigation happens almost immediately after Election Day.”
In the unlikely situation that neither President Trump nor Biden reaches 270 electoral college votes, the election would go through the House where each state would get one vote. Currently, at least 26 delegations lean Republican, and at least 20 lean Democratic, according to the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
This situation has happened in 1800 and 1824. In 1876, a special commission decided the election due to four states remaining disputed. Contested races also have prolonged results, like in 2004, when the winner wasn’t called until the following day. This year, experts said it could take longer than that.
House Democrats are reportedly working with the Biden campaign in case of any Election Day issues. President Trump’s campaign is reportedly working with the RNC to monitor results closely to litigate, if necessary. But Grose said if the election reflects the polls, and if Biden gets a blowout victory, there’s not much the president can do to challenge the results and stay in the Oval Office.