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California Focus: What would state do if Trump cheats? New urgency

The possibility of President Trump legally cheating his way into a second term in the White House and questions about what California might do about it first arose in early summer, when Trump hemmed and hawed while failing to answer questions about whether he would accept the November election results, win or lose. He still has not given a firm answer.

Yes, others may have cheated their way into the White House. There was former Civil War Gen. Rutherford B. Hayes, a Republican elected in 1876 after losing the popular vote to Democrat Samuel Tilden. That happened only because Southern Democrats tossed him a few Electoral College votes Tilden had earned in exchange for a promise to end Reconstruction, detested by Democrats in the former Confederacy.

Thousands of dead voters apparently cast ballots in Chicago for Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960, as the late Democratic Mayor Richard J. Daley seemingly found a way to give his party a national margin.

But no one before attempted a strategy anything like two now reported to be under consideration by Trump and his campaign, which plainly sees a possibility of his losing both the popular vote and the Electoral College.

If Trump loses and then follows one of two possible plans floated as trial balloons by anonymous officials of his campaign, he can expect strong reactions, which might range from armed resistance to his staying in office to some states trying to secede from the Union. The President has not reacted to a unanimous but toothless Senate resolution demanding a peaceful transfer of power if he loses.

What might happen? California, for one state, has had a nascent secession movement for years; at one point it had poll support from about one-third of the state’s populace.

Two potential routes exist for Trump to get an unearned second term. Both involve Republican-controlled legislatures in swing states like Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida.

A scenario first reported by Newsweek has Trump convincing the GOP majorities there to refuse certification of election results in their states, a legislative function that’s previously been perfunctory. Trump has bellowed for many months without any evidence about supposed fraud in mail voting, something that has never involved more than a small handful of votes.

If Biden wins those states, but results are not certified, there probably would be no majority in the Electoral College for anyone. This would throw the election into the House of Representatives, where each state gets one vote and Republicans have majorities in 26 state delegations to 24 for the Democrats. No one knows what those numbers will be after the election.

A second scenario reported in The Atlantic and Forbes magazines also has some GOP-run legislatures refusing to accept Biden wins in their states, then naming electors pledged to Trump instead of the electoral winner. In this circumstance, Trump’s party minions could hand him an Electoral College majority.

Either development would amount to cheating on a scale and consequence never before contemplated in America. That could activate the principle that for every action there is a reaction.

Secession looms as a possible reaction by California. If it happens, it won’t be led by Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who declared in an interview during his 2018 campaign that “I am not interested in that. I am an American, period.”

But other Californians have long felt this state would do just fine on its own, or in a new country accompanied by other Democratic-leaning states like Oregon and Washington.

The secession-minded Yes, California group on July 3 filed a proposed ballot initiative demanding a popular vote on whether to leave the United States. If it qualifies, the measure will make the state ballot in November 2022. So far, there has been no major petition drive for this proposal, but the deadline for gathering signatures comes next March, leaving plenty of time for action if Trump cheats his way to reelection.

He has never promised not to try. Rather, he steadfastly refuses to commit himself to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses, one hallmark of American democracy that sets this country aside from dictatorships and monarchies.

  Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].