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By declining to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, President Trump has agitated many who fear he will refuse to leave office even if he loses the November election — and may even resort to violence. The terrifying reality is that there are also several mechanisms that are legal and constitutional that could enable Trump to stay in office without actually winning the vote.
The system of electing the president is complicated because it was not designed to be directly democratic. The Constitution calls for states to choose the presidential electors, who in turn gather to vote for the president. Over time, states have passed laws that ensured their state’s popular vote for the presidency would determine the electors. But those are laws, not a constitutional obligation.
Now, imagine the scenario during election week: Trump is leading on Nov. 3, but Democratic nominee Joe Biden gains ground in the days following. Republicans file objections to tens of thousands of mail-in ballots. Democrats file countersuits. Taking account of the confusion, legislatures decide to choose the electors themselves.