The stormy once-in-a-lifetime Florida recount battle that polarized the nation in 2000 and left the Supreme Court to decide the presidency may soon look like a high school student council election compared with what could be coming after this November’s election.
Imagine not just another Florida, but a dozen Floridas. Not just one set of lawsuits but a vast array of them. And instead of two restrained candidates staying out of sight and leaving the fight to surrogates, a sitting president of the United States unleashing ALL CAPS Twitter blasts from the Oval Office while seeking ways to use the power of his office to intervene.
The possibility of an ugly November — and perhaps even December and January — has emerged more starkly in recent days as President Trump complains that the election will be rigged and Democrats accuse him of trying to make that a self-fulfilling prophesy.
With about 85 days until Nov. 3, lawyers are already in court mounting pre-emptive strikes and preparing for the larger, scorched-earth engagements likely to come. Like the Trump campaign, Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign and its network of Democratic support groups are stocking up on lawyers, and Democrats are gaming out worst-case scenarios, including how to respond if Mr. Trump prematurely declares victory or sends federal officers into the party’s strongholds as an intimidation tactic.
The emerging battle is the latest iteration of the long-running dispute over voting rights, one shaped by the view that higher participation will improve the Democratic Party’s chances. Republicans, under cover of dubious or unfounded claims about widespread fraud, are trying to prevent steps that would make it easier for more people to vote and Democrats are pressing more aggressively than ever to secure ballot access and expand the electorate.
But that clash has been vastly complicated this year by the challenge of holding a national election in the middle of a deadly pandemic, with a greater reliance on mail-in voting that could prolong the counting in a way that turns Election Day into Election Week or Election Month. And the atmosphere has been inflamed by a president who is already using words like “coup,” “fraud” and “corrupt” to delegitimize the vote even before it happens.
The battle is playing out on two tracks: defining the rules about how the voting will take place, and preparing for fights over how the votes should be counted and contesting the outcome.