Evan Vucci / AP
Updated at 11:58 a.m. ET
No votes were counted in the 2020 election, but a battle is already raging over the integrity of the tally and the process that will follow.
President Trump has suggested that he may not accept the election results if Democratic candidate Joe Biden is declared the winner.
“We’re going to have to see what happens. You know that,” he said Wednesday evening in response to a question of whether he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
“I have complained very strongly about the ballots. And the ballots are a disaster,” Trump said, again making his unsubstantiated allegations of mail-order fraud.
Shortly after his remarks, Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, tweeted his vehement disapproval: “The peaceful transition of power is fundamental to democracy; without it, there is Belarus. Any suggestion that a president might disregard this constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”
Other senior Republicans followed suit Thursday morning. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wrote: “There will be an orderly transition as there has been every four years since 1792.”
The winner of the November 3 election will be inaugurated on January 20. There will be an orderly transition as there has been every four years since 1792.
– Chief McConnell (@senatemajldr) September 24, 2020
Third-row House Republican, Republican Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., Also shared his rejection of Trump’s remarks, writing: “The peaceful transfer of power is enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental to the survival of our Republic. America’s leaders take an oath to the Constitution. We will honor that oath.”
The peaceful transfer of power is enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental for the survival of our Republic. American leaders take an oath to the Constitution. We will respect this oath.
– Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) September 24, 2020
Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Also pushed back Tweeter, “As we have done for over two centuries, we will have legitimate and fair elections.”
As more Republicans joined their colleagues in stressing that even a loss of Trump would involve an orderly transfer of power to the new administration, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California downplayed the president’s statement and pointed to last month’s comments from former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who suggested Biden not concede the election if it is near.
McCarthy said he believed Trump would win re-election and that there would be a “smooth transition” to a second term, telling reporters: “I know this will keep you from sleeping at night, but don’t worry. not.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Democratic candidate and Trump challenger, told reporters on Wednesday he was both upset and worried about the president’s comments.
“What country are we in?” Biden said. “I’m facetious … Look, he says the most irrational things. I don’t know what to say.”
House of Commons Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters the president’s comments were “no surprise” and reflected a pattern of contempt for the democratic process. All the same, Pelosi said she would not present a resolution condemning the president for the remarks.
“I don’t think it’s worth it at this point,” she said, noting that the elections are only 40 days away.
Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., A close backup for Biden, told NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Thursday that he believes Trump’s remarks should be taken seriously.
“When a head of state anywhere in the world with authoritarian tendencies tells you that he intends to do something outrageous and not to accept a peaceful transition after an election … believe it “Coons said.
Context of uncertainty
Trump’s remarks on Wednesday follow months of rhetoric casting doubt on the integrity of the U.S. election, delivered at a time when U.S. government officials say they are also being targeted by foreign enemies.
U.S. intelligence officials this week warned how closely foreign powers are monitoring the political environment in the United States and possible ploys to raise doubts about the election results.
“Foreign actors and cybercriminals could create new websites, modify existing websites and create or share corresponding content on social networks to disseminate false information with the aim of discrediting the electoral process and undermining confidence in them. American democratic institutions, ”read an announcement from the FBI and the Agency for Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security.
Due to the increased use of mail ballots this cycle, the announcement explained, foreign actors or cybercriminals could use the extra time needed to certify and announce election results by “spreading disinformation that includes voter suppression reports, cyber attacks targeting electoral infrastructure, voters or voter fraud and other issues designed to convince the public of the illegitimacy of elections. “
The announcement continued, “The public should also be aware that if foreign actors or cybercriminals were to successfully modify an election-related website, the underlying data and internal systems would remain uncompromised.”
In other words, even if a county faithfully and correctly compiled a result for candidate X, an attacker could try to falsely trick voters into believing that candidate Y won. Unraveling these narratives from reality can take hours, days, or more.
Local governments could combat this and build voter confidence by only using websites ending in .gov. Domains ending in .com or .org could be used by bad actors to impersonate official websites in order to defraud the public.
But cyberspecialists say many countries are not taking this step.
The vote and the results themselves are probably safe
In a later announcement on Thursday, the FBI and the CISA said there had been no reports that bad actor cyber activity had prevented Americans from voting or changing the actual vote count.
“However, even if the actors achieve such an impact, the public should be aware that election officials have several safeguards and plans in place – such as provisional ballots to ensure registered voters can vote, hard copies and backup voting logs – to limit the impact and recover from a cyber incident with minimal disruption to voting, ”the announcement reads.
Chris Krebs, Director of CISA, stressed the importance of recognizing that election results can take a long time to count and that patience in waiting “goes a long way”.
Susan Davis of NPR contributed to this report.