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Amid Dubious Claims Of 'Rigged' Election, Vt. Officials Say Results Will Stand

A sign reading your vote is your voice on a roadside
Elodie Reed
A sign encouraging civic engagement along Skunk Hollow Road in Jericho. Vermont officials say they are prepared in the event Donald Trump loses his re-election bid and refuses to cede power.

Critics of Donald Trump are readying post-Election Day contingency plans in Vermont, as the Republican president ramps up his attacks on the legitimacy of the upcoming election.

The Vermont chapter of the AFL-CIO announced plans for a general strike of its 10,000 members next month, “should the U.S. Presidential election deliver a winner, but should the losing candidate refuse to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.”

Two other groups – the Vermont Public Interest Research Group and Rights and Democracy – have secured permits for a “mass mobilization” in Montpelier in the days following the election.

More from Brave Little State: Ask Bob: Your Last-Minute Pre-Election Questions

Those rallies in Montpelier are part of a network of events nationwide called Protect the Results.

“If President Trump attempts to declare victory before all the votes are counted, or he refuses to accept the results once they are in, we’ll be ready,” the groups said.

'A terrible knot' ahead of Election Day

Preparations for such grim post-election scenarios reflect the angst felt by many Vermonters heading into Election Day.

Judy Pond, a retired English teacher who lives in Norwich, isn’t generally given to bouts of anxiety. But recently, she said, she woke up “with a terrible knot in my stomach.”

Pond said she was able to pinpoint the cause of her distress almost immediately.

“It was the morning after our president said, ‘Well, he just didn’t know about a peaceful transition, and in fact there probably wouldn’t be a transition,’” Pond said.

Pond was referring to an exchange last month between Trump and a reporter, who asked the President: “Will you commit to making sure that there is a peaceful transferal of power after the election?”

Trump responded:

“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens, you know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”

More from NPR: Trump Declines To Promise Peaceful Transfer Of Power After Election

It wasn’t the only time the president has openly doubted the legitimacy of the upcoming presidential election. At a campaign rally in Wisconsin in August, Trump told supporters, “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged; remember that.”

“It’s the only way we’re going to lose this election,” Trump said.

Pond’s biggest fear used to be that Trump would win a second term. Now, her worst-case-scenario involves Trump losing the election, but refusing to cede power.

“He does keep his promises,” Pond said. “And I saw that as something really terrifying.”

Vermont officials weigh in

Secretary of State Jim Condos said he understands why people are afraid that Trump will try to usurp power, should results in key states not fall in his favor.

“But I don’t believe that we’re going to run into that kind of a situation,” Condos said.

Condos said if Trump does try to block the counting of mail-in ballots, or otherwise attempt to undermine the integrity of the elections process, elections officials in all 50 states are girded for the challenge.

More from Vermont Edition: Vermont Election Experts Answer Your Voting Questions

“When the president says that, you know, only votes counted by 7 p.m. on election night should count, and we need a clear winner by, you know, the end of the day on Election Day, Nov. 3, it just shows a lack of understanding of how the elections process works,” Condos said.

Attorney General TJ Donovan said he’s been disturbed by Trump’s “really reckless and dangerous rhetoric.”

"If the president or others try to declare or certify a victory on election night prior to every vote being counted... I could see some form of litigation and Vermont could be involved on a side of being sure that every vote is counted." - TJ Donovan, attorney general

But like Condos, he said he doesn’t anticipate any post-election crises on the horizon.

“Trump doesn’t run elections,” Donovan said. “Elections are run by the states.”

Donovan said his office will be ready to act, if Trump attempts to use the legal system to subvert the will of voters.

More from VPR: A Guide To Voting In Vermont For The 2020 General Election

“If the president or others try to declare or certify a victory on election night prior to every vote being counted, yes, I could see some form of litigation and Vermont could be involved on a side of being sure that every vote is counted,” Donovan said.

While Gov. Phil Scott has openly criticized the president for his comments about the electoral process, his administration said this week it does not anticipate any post-Election Day disruptions. 

Local activists weigh in

Some 2020 elections observers, however, say Americans should prepare now for a constitutional crisis on Nov. 4.

“I can tell you that the likelihood of all that happening is greater than zero, and that’s terrifying,” said Matt Strabone, general counsel for a non-partisan anti-corruption organization called RepresentUs.

Strabone said there are two ways Trump might attempt an end run around election results.

“The first is trying to stop the vote count,” Strabone said.

Strabone said the unprecedented volume of absentee ballots this cycle could result in days-long waits for official results.

"I can tell you that the likelihood of all that happening is greater than zero, and that's terrifying." - Matt Strabone, general counsel, RepresentUs

“If that happens, the president might demand that election officials stop counting the votes,” Strabone said. “Which would result in tens of millions of votes being thrown out for no particular reason, so that’s one way.”

The second way, Strabone said, is for Trump to forge alliances with Republican state lawmakers in battleground states.

“And submit a slate of electors to the Electoral College who ignore the vote count and install Trump as president against the actual results,” Strabone said.

More from VPR: A Cartoon Guide To Voting In Vermont's General Election

Strabone said the single-most effective way to combat those scenarios is to have such a lopsided outcome that no one can credibly argue the result.

Pond said she’s already hard at work getting the vote out for Joe Biden.

“I got busy with doing my little part to try to make a landslide, which I hope is going to happen and that that will be enough to avoid all these possible horrible scenarios,” Pond said.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Peter Hirschfeld @PeteHirschfeld.

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The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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