Trump himself is preparing for this outcome. “We’re going to have to see what happens,” he replied when asked whether he would accept the result if he loses. Unembarrassed, he has told us what he intends to do: “Get rid of the ballots,” he said—the mail-in ballots, that is—and there “won’t be a transfer [of power], frankly. There will be a continuation.” During his first debate with Joe Biden last week he did it again: “This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen,” he said, casting doubt on the whole process. We know why he is so motivated to remain in office: If Trump loses the election, he will spend the rest of his life fighting off investigations, lawsuits, creditors, and tax audits that a sitting president can put off or dismiss altogether.
David Litt: The U.S. is facing the possibility of a truly illegitimate election
He will not be stopped by norms. He has made that clear. He may not necessarily be stopped by the Electoral College. But that doesn’t mean citizens have no leverage. I’ve spent a lot of my life writing about civil society, democracy, and autocracy, and across time zones, over decades, only one lesson is consistent: Civic engagement matters. To put it differently: Instead of treating democracy like tap water, Americans must start fetching it from the well, carrying it home, and boiling it before drinking. If you care about the result, you might have to do more than vote—and you have to do it now. The more you can do before November 3, the smaller the chance of chaos afterwards.
But do what, exactly? I asked some experts for suggestions, and collected the most nonpartisan responses I could find. Pessimism is irresponsible. Nihilism is immoral. Here’s what you can do to protect our democracy from now until November 3 and beyond.
Help Out on Voting Day—In Person
First and foremost: Register to vote, and make sure everyone you know has done so too, especially students who have recently changed residence. The website howto.vote has a list of the rules in all 50 states, in English and Spanish, if you have any doubts.
After that, vote. Vote in person if you can. Wear a mask, stay six feet away from everyone else, and wash your hands when you get home. But because the specific threat is to mail-in and absentee ballots, go to a polling station if at all possible. Vote early if you can too: Here is a list of early-voting rules for each state. If you experience any intimidation, here is a fact sheet with instructions on who to call and what to do.
Consider working at a polling station. Many localities anticipate a record shortage of poll workers this year because of the coronavirus. Why not sign up to be one? Some jurisdictions will pay you for your time. All of them will—or should—provide personal protective equipment. To find out how to help, you can call your local board of elections. Or you can get the information from PowerThePolls.org, a website that will send you to the right place, wherever you live. The site also provides information on what it takes to do the job and why it matters.