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Op-Ed: What happens if the 2020 election isn’t decided by the end of 2020?

President Trump addressed the Council for National Policy on August 21, 2020. During the speech, the president briefly went off-script and mentioned a rumor he’d recently heard about the 2020 election and the succession of the presidency. 

Trump said he heard rumors circulating that if the 2020 election were not to conclude by the end of the calendar year and there’s no definitive president-elect, then the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, would become the next President of the United States. 

Although there is an established line of succession for tragic events not centered around an election, for example, the assassination of President Kennedy, there isn’t a definitive line of succession for a situation in which a presidential election couldn’t take place. 

This is rather concerning for the state of our nation, especially with all the division and partisanship at the moment. After pondering what would happen and if the already established line of succession would be implemented, I decided to do some digging. 

It turns out this question has been asked before by no other than Alan Dershowitz – one of President Trump’s impeachment team lawyers. Dershowitz wrote an Op-Ed in The Hill on the subject back in April. 

The Constitution provides no guidance for elections in a situation like that of the COVID-19 crisis. The only help the constitution offers is that “Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a president-elect nor a vice president-elect shall have qualified [to assume office], declaring who shall then act as president or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a president or vice president shall have qualified.” 

So, according to the constitution, Congress may essentially choose who will act as president and/or vice president until arrangements are made to either hold another election with the previous candidates or set up a new election with new candidates. But here’s where it gets interesting.

If there is no election or the election isn’t completed by the end of the calendar year, then there is no president or vice president for the following term, but there also isn’t an established Congress because their races haven’t been completed either. The line of succession to the presidency goes from president to vice president, but then to the speaker of the house. If there’s no election, then the speaker of the house hasn’t been decided yet either, because there’s no established House of Representatives. And with no established House of Representatives, there cannot be a majority party. With no majority party, there cannot be a majority leader i.e. Speaker of the House of Representatives. 

After the speaker of the house, the line of succession goes to not the Senate leader, but to the president pro tempore of the Senate. The current president pro tempore of the Senate is Senator Chuck Grassley. But if there was no election, then there may end up being a Democratic majority in the Senate among the remaining senators, and Grassley could have the title taken from him and given to the longest-serving Democrat in the Senate, Sen. Patrick Leahy. 

But here’s the kicker – the majority party doesn’t have to appoint the longest-serving member as president pro tempore of the Senate. Just like the Republican majority in the Senate could’ve given the title of President Pro Tempore of the Senate to any Republican, a Democratic majority could give the title to any Democrat or person serving in the Senate. This means the Democrats could essentially hand the presidency to Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, Patrick Leahy, Kamala Harris, Corey Booker, etc. 

So all of this leads to the question: why are the Democrats making such a big deal about mail-in voting? Is it really out of concern for their constituents? The president has estimated the potential number of mail-in ballots to reach 51 million, and there are other estimates that suggest a larger number. How could the United States Postal Service possibly make sure all the ballots are accounted for and that there are zero voters who’ve double-voted? Our state and federal governments are not equipped for that sort of increase in volume. If there was an attempt to delay the completion of the 2020 election, then mail-in ballots and the overwhelming of the USPS would be a good place to start.

The USPS estimates there are 181.9 million pieces of mail processed daily by the service. Going back to the 51 million mail-in ballots, if that number were to become reality it would increase the USPS’ pieces of mail processed by more than 28 percent daily. If the number of ballots was to be higher, say around 80 million ballots, then there would be up to a 43.9 percent increase in daily mail pieces processed. These numbers would overwhelm the system and possibly cause mass delays. These delays are how we reach the hypothetical of the election not being completed by the end of the calendar year, and how a Congress-appointed president could be appointed. 

Am I saying there should be zero mail-in voting? No. For those in quarantine for COVID-19 exposure or infection, those with compromised immune systems, other health concerns, and for typical absentee voters, mail-in voting should be allowed. But, these people need to request their ballots so their states know that’s how they should count their vote. This narrative that we should just hand out ballots to everyone is incorrect – it’s not how our elections work. One is meant to want to vote, not be influenced or pressured to do so; that is called ballot harvesting and is generally illegal. 

The fact that there is no concrete plan to follow means Congress would actually be able to do either of the following: establish a line of succession or appoint someone to act as interim president until an election could take place. But who’s to say an election could take place in near perfect conditions at all? There’s no way to really know whether or not COVID-19 will ever subside. There are experts suggesting it’ll become a seasonal virus, much like the flu. But if it does become so, would the left allow us to get back to normal and treat COVID-19 as we treat the flu? Based on current behavior and rhetoric, probably not. 

My point is we have to make sure this election is held and completed. Get out there and vote. Wear a mask and go to your polling place just like you go to the grocery store every week or so. There is a lot of discussion that happens behind the scenes, and the public has no way of knowing what is being decided. That’s actually scary. 

The man wondering what type of government our founders had given us asked Benjamin Franklin and Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Well, this is one of those times where we must strive to keep our republic at all costs. This election matters. 

Let’s get out there and vote!

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Conner Womble

Conner Womble is a 27-year-old Baylor University graduate. He started his career in corporate sales, but is now pursuing a freelance writing and political commentary career. If you have any possible stories, questions, and/or comments, please don't hesitate to reach out via any of the provided contacts. Follow Conner on Twitter @connerwomble.

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