Election chaos ahead?
Get ready for a rough ride
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In 1876, the United States celebrated its centennial with parades, speeches, and an Exposition in Philadelphia, open to the world. But the general election that year was no cause for celebration.
The contest between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden came down to a hairline margin of just 264,292 votes in favor of Tilden. But the electoral votes were so mismanaged it took four months to sort them out—a colorful process replete with bribery, skulduggery, and turn-coattery that finally put Hayes on top by one electoral vote. The last-minute negotiations involved a deal to remove federal troops from the South, thus ending Reconstruction and opening up a new era of oppression for black Americans.
Writing about the fracas for American Heritage (October 1960), historian Louis Koenig called foul on the Electoral College and predicted a similar impasse could happen again. It almost did, in that year’s close contest between Kennedy and Nixon. And in the Florida recount of 2000. And in the Trump vs. Clinton upset of 2016. Those were impossible to predict ahead of time and unfolded in ways no one expected, though Trump’s victory was the most jaw-dropping of the three. Yet politicians and pundits agree that this year’s election might out-drop them all.
Just listen to the candidates. Joe Biden, to Daily Show host Trevor Noah: “This president is going to try to steal this election.” Donald Trump, to students in Phoenix: “[This] will be, in my opinion, the most corrupt election in the history of our country.” Both have reiterated the theme in interviews and all-caps tweets. So have other interested parties like Hillary Clinton, who recently urged Biden to contest a close election down to the last ballot.
After encouraging mail-in ballots for its June 23 primary, New York took six weeks to count them. Imagine 50 New Yorks.
This summer the Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan convention of academics, former party officials, and campaign leaders, was concerned enough to war-game possible outcomes. They posed four scenarios: a decisive Biden win, a narrow Biden win, a Trump Electoral College win, and an inconclusive outcome. For each “game,” participants (including Republicans, though few appeared to be Trump supporters) divided into teams and tossed possible outcomes back and forth.
The “best” outcome had Biden winning a clear majority and Trump grudgingly leaving the White House to start MAGA-TV. The worst left results in doubt, leading to street fights, nasty political maneuvering, and Inauguration Day dawning with no president to inaugurate. (In that case, according to federal statute, the speaker of the House would act as president until the issue was somehow resolved.)
To partisans continually harping on voter suppression and voter fraud, add widespread confusion over how and when to apply for an absentee ballot. Recall if you can the bumbling Iowa caucuses in January, where nobody seemed to be in charge, and extend that incompetence coast to coast. After encouraging mail-in ballots for its June 23 primary, New York took six weeks to count them. Imagine 50 New Yorks: Is the Postal Service ready for an avalanche of ballots in October? Are there clear standards in place for deadlines and postmarks? Over 160 lawsuits (75 percent by Democrats) have been filed in state election courts by party officials and organizations seeking to change the rules—might that be only a warm-up for a legal onslaught in November?
Given the real possibility of a train wreck, the Apostle Peter asks us, “What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11)? First, we should be praying for our country, not just our candidate. We could be volunteering where we can to serve at the polls. And whatever happens, we ought not feel helpless or defeated. God is still at work, and so are we, in lives of holiness and godliness. We can be prepared not merely to hang on for a rough ride, but to hang on to our eternal kingdom. Christ is still shining. Our nation will desperately need that light, as well as calm voices and long-range perspectives in the days ahead.
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