By James Bennet, Editorial Page Editor
Jared Kushner may think there’s a chance the next presidential election could be postponed, but pretty much anyone familiar with election law thinks otherwise. The president doesn’t have the authority to do it alone, and the Democratic House seems unlikely to embrace the idea.
The far greater danger is that when the election does take place on the first Tuesday this November, it’ll wind up being nasty, brutish and long.
“It’s going to be a slow election,” warned Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia, during a visit with other civil rights and labor leaders, via Google Hangout, to the Times editorial board on Friday afternoon. She said that we “can’t expect for the nightly news to call the election on the evening of, because this is not a normal election.”
It’s a grim prospect. Do you remember the Florida recount in 2000? In the end, the Supreme Court effectively called that nail-biter for George W. Bush, and the Democrat, Al Gore, certified its legitimacy by conceding in a statesmanlike address to the nation on Dec. 13.
Now consider the possibility of similar litigation in many states, in our era of state-sponsored disinformation and conspiracy theories, during a pandemic, under a president who still insists that even an election that he won was rigged against him.
Abrams told us that Americans need to begin bracing themselves for that outcome now, so that they know to expect it and can get through the “paroxysms of fear and panic beforehand.”
Abrams and her colleagues were making the case for federal legislation to help states plan and protect elections, and to make it easier for people to vote, including by mail.
The editorial board has taken the position that for many reasons it should be much easier nationwide to vote by mail. As this Washington Post op-ed argues, it’s not certain that more voting by mail would benefit Democrats.
But efforts to increase ballot access have put some Republicans, including the president, in the perverse position of explicitly arguing against increasing voter turnout. Which is not exactly a democratic point of view.
Efforts by Republicans to limit turnout have in turn forced Democrats, it seems to me, into a more justified, but also dangerous, position. Consider Abrams: She ended her race for governor but didn’t exactly concede, and still says she won, because of voter suppression on the other side.
Unlike Trump, with his specious claims of voter fraud, Abrams has a strong case — but it still puts Democrats in the position of arguing that the system is rigged. Thus can a lack of commitment to broader democratic principles on one side ultimately drag the whole system down.
Abrams told us that while our choices in elections might be partisan, her goal was to make sure that democracy itself wasn’t. “The process itself should be absolutely neutral,” she said.
And, yes, I did dutifully ask if she thought she might be on Joe Biden’s ticket. “I’d be honored to serve,” she said. “But it is up to him.”