“What’s Happening in Florida Is a Nightmare. 2020 Could Be So Much Worse.”

I have written this piece for Slate. It begins:

With Florida set this week to undertake a massive and massively politicized recount in the critical races for governor and senator, the way that election fight has played out so far has been an absolute nightmare. Perhaps most terrifyingly of all, the 2018 Florida elections have demonstrated the real possibility that President Donald Trump might attempt to ignore an unfavorable 2020 election outcome if the result is a slim loss by the president, a possibility that should give us all chills.

There’s no mincing words: We are entering into a dangerous new phase in the voting wars. Last week, various election calamities were fueled by incendiary and unsupported claims by Trump and others of fraud, by pockets of incompetence of election administration, by partisanship in election administration, and by continued fundamental defects in how our elections are conducted.

The new voting wars threaten to undermine the very foundation of American democracy: that election officials can fairly and accurately count ballots and that they can declare a winner whom the losers will accept as legitimate. Recent developments portend a very rocky 2020 election. If Trump is ahead in his re-election bid on the night of the election, only to lose that lead as more ballots in larger—mostly Democratic—counties are counted through a normal process in the days and weeks after Election Day, it seems reasonable to be concerned that he will contest such a legitimate vote. We don’t know if he would even vacate his office in such a scenario, triggering the possibility of a real constitutional crisis.

The current controversies in Florida laid bare the continued basic problems in election administration that first became evident during the disputed 2000 presidential election, leading to a recount in Florida, which twice ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court. The same pathologies I wrote about in my 2012 book, The Voting Wars, have been laid bare once again: highly decentralized election administration, with some election administrators, especially in big Democratic cities, underfunded and occasionally lacking in basic competence; partisanship in the administration of elections; poor ballot design and aging voting machinery; and poorly written electoral laws that allow for lawsuits aimed at changing the results in razor-thin elections.


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