One unanticipated product of the coronavirus pandemic has been a mushrooming of voting by mail, as citizens around the country shy away from long waiting lines at fewer and fewer polling places.

Early into the 2020 presidential primary election cycle, many states were obliged by the crisis to delay the voting for weeks or months. Among Republicans, the hiatus caused no difficulty, inasmuch as President Trump had no challenges to his bid for reelection. But among the Democrats, the delay hampered for weeks the eventual frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, from nailing down the nomination.

Nevertheless, Biden’s surge in the South Carolina primary and in subsequent state contests persuaded rival Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont to concede and endorse Biden. As primary state voting resumed, Biden eventually accumulated a winning majority, as voters increasingly took to proffered mail-in ballots.

But the rush has been taxing the ability of state and local election officials to sort out and tabulate the results, with varying restrictions on when and how such ballots can be handled. Often the process must be delayed until the actual Election Day, Nov. 3, or soon thereafter to allow for uncertain postal deliveries.

With a likely avalanche of voting by mail approaching that day, preceded in some states by a requirement to apply for such ballots, fears are spreading that neither Trump nor Biden may be a clear winner on election night, or for days or even weeks thereafter.

For that reason, many observers in political punditry will hope for a clear landslide on election night to make their task much easier, thus avoiding a repetition of the 2000 presidential cliffhanger between Republican candidate George W. Bush and Democratic candidate and former Vice President Al Gore. It went eventually to the Supreme Court, which awarded, contested ballots in Florida to Bush more than a month after Election Day.

On election night, Gore at first prematurely conceded to Bush but quickly withdrew the concession on hearing of late returns, to the anger of his foe. Gore finally conceded again and wished Bush well, but the fiasco was remembered long afterward.

This time around, Biden has already warned in a radio interview that Trump “is going to try to steal this election,” and Biden aides have peddled a scenario whereby a defeated president would refuse to leave the Oval Office and have to be evicted by federal marshals.

Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh has labeled Biden’s remark “just another brainless conspiracy from Joe Biden as he continues to try to undermine confidence in our elections.” Trump himself, while alleging widespread fraud in mail-in voting, told Fox News earlier this month: “Certainly, if I don’t win, I don’t win.” But turning the other cheek in a fight has never been a notable characteristic of the man known for relishing power.

In a tweet last week, he declared, “Because of MAIL-IN BALLOTS, 2020 will be the most RIGGED Election in our history-unless this stupidity is ended.” In yet another tweet, he added: “MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WILL BE PRINTED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES, AND OTHERS. IT WILL BE THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES!”

All this banter assures a most lively exchange if or when the two men face each other in at least three televised debates conducted by the Commission on Presidential Debates, starting on Sept. 29. Murtaugh has said, “An earlier and longer debate schedule is necessary so Americans can see the clear difference between President Trump’s vibrant leadership an Biden’s confused meandering.”

The former vice president’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, has said the debates should follow tradition in format and content, adding: “Nothing should prevent the conduct of debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump on these dates; again, we do not want to provide President Trump with any excuses for not debating.”

So the stage seems to be set for now for a lively and informative encounter, conditioned as ever on this calculating president’s willingness to play by rules not of his own choosing.

Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.

(32) comments

DickD

If anyone paid attention they would know that voting by mail has proven to be as secure as voting in person.

Reader1954

one thing for sure will be that which ever candidate loses this election will says it was a result of voter fraud

joelp77440

Agreed. The problem: if Biden loses, he will complain and sue but eventually yield if the results stand up. Trump will not, under any circumstances! Scary times for democracy. .

awteam2000

Joel, Not really.

This race won’t come down to one precinct in one state (like Bush/Gore - hanging chads ballots), quite the opposite.

The incumbent is trailing in the polls in eight states that he won in the last election. With no leads in states that he lost. If he only losses two of the eight states he now trails in that he won’t last time, and no pickups from states that he lost, he’s out of office. Trump now trails in 3 of those 8 states by double digits. He has 126 days to change those numbers. If winning by any means (by hook or crook) , I wouldn’t be surprised for Trump to resign before the election, leaving the Republican Party “hung out to dry”.

DickD

Their will be signatures and any claim will have to be proven.

des21

I think its funny that the Biden campaign is asserting that the President is trying to dodge debating their man. Nice spin. Kudos.

Trump's best chance at winning at this point is demonstrating that he, not Biden can think on his feet and speak coherently without being managed by his handlers. The debates are likely to be a series of very bad days for Joe Biden. Trump's challenge will be to not make the confused old guy appear too badly mauled. thus leading to a sympathy vote I suppose but for the very few undecided, Trump should gather them up 8:2.

DickD

Dave, every time Trump opens his mouth Biden gains. Why debate when Trump is so busy shooting himself in the foot.

matts853

Des, Trump proves daily that he can’t think on his feet or speak coherently, and then has his handlers make excuses and lie for him. According to them (and him), Trump doesn’t know an awful lot about stuff he should know about and communicates with much sarcasm and a sick sense of humor. And he takes responsibility for nothing. He’s no leader. In fact, Trump has retreated exclusively into the role of demagogue to his core MAGA cult that loves his BS. Listen to him and read his nonsensical tweets and it’s obvious there’s no truth or substance to the man at all and he’s not trying to bring the nation together. He cares only about himself and getting re-elected yet doesn’t seem to realize that he’s killing his own chances. Trump is a daily capmpaig add for Biden.

Biden would embarrass him on a debate stage. Mostly because deep down he’s a good person and Trump is not. You can’t fake genuine. Rational people see that Trump is a phony. And seeing how Biden is liked and respected unlike Hillary (and Trump), Trump won’t get the anti-establishment vote this time. Biden is the comfort food that people are hungry for. Sorry Des, you’re boy is going down.

Trump’s only recourse to retain the power he so desperately craves will be to cry foul about the election results and refuse to leave office. He’ll spread all kinds of conspiracy theories that his supporters will cry foul about and the Republican leadership - what’s left of it anyway - will block it, challenge it, trash it; whatever they can do to salvage themeslwves they’ll do. Barr might make up some really unconstitutional crap. It could get ugly, but ugly is what Trump does best. I kind of do hope resists leaving office. I’d love to see him ingloriously escorted out of Olympus. It will be a fitting end to the disgrace he has brought to the office.

Peace.

DickD

"For those who think rationally." Well Dave doesn't have to be concerned, does he?

As far as Trump not leaving office, I would love to see General Mattiis drag his butt out.

awteam2000

Matt speaks the truth. 👍👍👍👍

hayduke2

Des is still stuck justifying his vote for the "reality TV president". Hard to admit making a wrong choice.

veritas

Trump is... well, Trump. There's little positive I can say about him other than he's opposed to the left wing agenda certain to be pursued if (when?) Biden or any Democrat is elected. But PULEEZE don't try to sell anyone with a whit of insight into human behavior on Biden being genuine or respected. The man is and always has been an annoying, back slapping (men), handsy (women), gas bag with minimum intellectual firepower and sketchy ethical morrings. When he was younger, his demeanor was kind of wierd, but as he becomes more and more feeble, he's just plain creepy. Biden's new found appeal to the electorate is based almost entirely on the fact he's not Trump, which, admittedly, may be all he needs to win. Dems are doing all they can to put lipstick on this pig, but anyone with half a brain can see through it. So it looks like Dems could well spend the next four years (which is a big stretch) trying to do what the Republicans have spent the last four doing: making excusses for the obvious inadequacies of the man they put in the White House. No matter who wins, American deserves better.

hayduke2

Veritas - there is not enough lipstick in the US to make Trump look like a president. Biden may not be ideal, but he a way ahead of Trump. While I agree that America can do better, until we get big money out of politics and put term limits ( please don't give me the term limits are established by voting - districts are gerrymandered and once entrenched, quality and independent thinking go by the wayside ), nothing will change. Wouldn't be a bad thing to get a credible third party in the mix too.

Greg F

Not enough lipstick to dress him up for the pig he is either.

gary4books

I have followed Biden's work since the 80's and have found it to be intelligent and rational. This "left wing agenda " is not supported by so many Democrats and has more use as a "straw figure" than a real reason to not vote for a Democrat from the "center."

veritas

Well, Gary4books, you may have been following Biden for the past 40 years or so, but along the way you seem to have missed a few incidents/situations/miscues that do not reflect well on the man's character or intelligence. A few clicks on your laptop can bring you up to speed if you're interested in a deeper dive into what he's all about, but I suspect you're not.

awteam2000

Veritas, you may want to take a few clips of Trump in 3 1/2 years, not to mention his past.

hayduke2

des- when has the president ever demonstrated that he can think on his feet and speak coherently? Hmm, tariff wars are easy, Mexico will pay for the wall, my father was born in Germany, the coveffe tweet, the go to of "many people say", saying 7/11 instead of 9/11, wait, the UK has nuclear weapons?, lysol and internal UV light, I hire only the best, windmills cause cancer, his mocking at rallies, and on and on. You be trippin!

DickD

Dave's best choice was McKay. We all know that the worst was Trump.

matts853

Hay, you could fill volumes of 1,000 page books with all the idiotic things that Trump has said, tweeted, and done. All with no moral compass.

hayduke2

Matt - and, yet, somehow his die-hard supporters overlook it all. Really hard to understand.

awteam2000

Des21, Confused? I think it’s funnier that Trump couldn’t articulate his goals if elected to a second term with the softball question thrown by Sean Hannity . Nope. He struck out.

Dwasserba

Cross fingers for the likable earnest confused old guy with the terrific running mate

awteam2000

Remember Des21 when you thought “Trump would win in 2020, hands down”. Now, “ Trump's best chance at winning at this point is demonstrating that he, not Biden can think on his feet and speak coherently without being managed by his handlers.”

phydeaux994

I remember when des said after Trump won a couple primaries by huge margins, that it was a fluke, that Trump wouldn’t last much longer. And he has a PhD in Political Science!!??

gary4books

I give Des a break on that one. Who can predict chaos?

Greg F

Trump can’t think on his feet or anywhere else. He talks out his rear end well before any thought happens.

gary4books

des21 - You presume a lot. We will see how it works out.

des21

If we go with mail-in voting, the chance for abuse by both sides increases exponentially. (See recent election in Paterson NJ.) To assert that is not so is simply wrong.

Absentee ballots are not difficult to acquire and the reason for requesting one will be (and are) quite liberal if you are afraid to go to the polls. Mail in assures that the loser (whomever he is) will not accept the result and that is not an eventuality we can live through again.

hayduke2

Fear mongering and not rooted in reality. Is this a case that needs to be investigated, sure but it certainly doesn't give credence to the hysteria of the anti-mail folks ( actually, the anti encourage voting folks ). Good analysis of the issue at https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/false-narrative-vote-mail-fraud

Greg F

Keep spinning like a good Fox/Hannity puppet. They sure got you in their pocket.

gary4books

Piffle.

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