'Nightmare scenarios': Election experts fear 2020 was a 'rehearsal' for a 2024 election coup
When a violent mob of insurrectionists ransacked the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, it brought back frightening memories for older immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean or Africa who had witnessed coups and political instability in the countries that they had fled for the United States long ago. And six months after the January 6 insurrection, political science experts, according to NBC News, fear that Trumpified Republicans will make another coup attempt in the 2024 election — only the next time, they will be successful.
In an article published by NBC News' website on January 5, reporter Benjy Sarlin explains, "There's no legal avenue for Trump to reverse the 2020 results. But a half-dozen scholars who study democracy and election laws told NBC News they are increasingly worried that 2024 could be a repeat of 2020, only with a party further remade in the former president's image and better equipped to sow disorder during the process and even potentially overturn the results."
Following the 2020 election, some right-wing Republicans vehemently opposed former President Donald Trump's coup attempt and acknowledged Joe Biden as president-elect — including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, Rep. Liz Cheney of Ohio and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. But others encouraged a coup and refused to accept 2020's democratic presidential election results, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri. Many Republicans in Congress, on January 6, voted against certifying Biden's Electoral College victory over Trump.
In 2024, Sarlin warns, "Nightmare scenarios include local or state officials refusing to certify votes, governors and state legislatures submitting electoral votes that disagree with each other or overrule the apparent vote counts, fights over the legitimacy of judges overseeing the process and the House and Senate disagreeing on the winner. A chaotic transition could create an opening for further violence, either from extremists attempting to disrupt the process again or mass unrest if the winner is viewed as illegitimate."
All over the U.S., Republicans in state legislatures are pushing voter suppression bills. The most dangerous part of the bills, however, may not be the ways in which they making voting more difficult, but the fact that they seek to put pro-Trump Republicans in charge of the administration of elections. And Sarlin points out that "new and proposed laws in states like Georgia and Arizona have sought to wrest power from state and local election officials, some of whom played a role in resisting the former president's demands last election."
Edward B. Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University, told NBC News, "Obviously, the insurrection was horrific in its violence and assault on democracy, but it didn't disrupt the true winner of the election. What you don't want is it to have been a rehearsal."
Rick Hasen, an election law expert who teaches at the University of California, Irvine, is sounding the alarm as well. Hasen told NBC News, "We should not pretend these dangers are fantastical or that these are absurd hypotheticals. Given what we saw Trump actually do in 2020, these things are now within the realm of possibility and need to be legislated against and organized against so we have a fair election process going forward."
Lisa Manheim, a law professor at the University of Washington, told NBC News, "Federal law contains an arcane provision that allows state legislatures, in certain circumstances, to directly appoint presidential electors after Election Day if there has been a 'failed' election. I worry about state legislatures trying to use errors in election administration — including errors the legislature itself has permitted or even facilitated — as a pretextual ground for triggering this provision."
Although Trump and his allies' attempt to steal the 2020 election was unsuccessful, that doesn't mean that future coup attempts will be unsuccessful. Omar Wasow, an assistant professor of politics at Princeton University in New Jersey, told NBC News, "The fact that it held in 2020 doesn't guarantee it will hold in 2024. You need ethical people in these jobs, and we're seeing a lot of ethical people leaving in part because they've been threatened or attacked by partisans or because the level of vitriol they've been subject to is not worth the effort."
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