Is California Prepared to be Palm Beach 2.0? By The Honorable Ellen O. Tauscher
Imagine this: It’s Election Night and the fate of the House of Representatives has not been decided by the races east of the Sierras. It is clear that leadership of the House will come down to California. By midnight, the California races that will make the difference are too close to call. And, as those of us who have run for office in California know, results in races that are too close to call on Election Night may not be known for weeks, as the county registrars of voters count millions of outstanding mail ballots.
The Trump tweets begin late on Election Night as the reality of the long wait for results dawns on the country.
“Voter Fraud in California! Don’t let California count ILLEGAL ALIEN VOTES like they did in 2016. Do everything you can to protect the vote!”
Incensed Trump acolytes in MAGA hats descend on county Registrar of Voters offices in the too-close-to-call districts, like Stanislaus, San Joaquin, and San Diego. With Orange County — home to four of the most competitive congressional districts — sitting at ground zero.
Every day as the count drags on — 7 days, 14 days, 21 days — — Trump will continue to weave his fake narrative of voter fraud, 280 characters at a time, to delegitimize the election and Democrats’ potential control of the House. He will whip up his rabid base into a frenzy of intimidation, all by design to threaten county registrars and employees as they come and go from work.
Baseless, racially-tinged legal battles will rage with Republicans challenging every ballot from every voter with a Spanish surname. The patchwork, county-by-county procedures for counting the ballots will be like putting out a fire with gasoline and fuel the false Trumpian charges of fraud.
And in real time every accusation will immediately become a battle cry amplified by the Republican party apparatus — FOX News, Sinclair Broadcasting, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican National Committee — and Republican leadership in the House. California’s own Kevin McCarthy likely will be one of the top offenders as he plays caucus politics by exploiting the issue to secure the top GOP leadership post he has coveted for so long.
So what should we do to prepare for this potential scenario?
California’s Secretary of State needs to send official observers to every contested county registrar’s office to ensure they are complying with all state laws and are not caving to intimidation by GOP lawyers and protesters. Local law enforcement must be prepared to keep the peace as “citizen militias” inevitably descend at Trump’s whistle upon these county elections offices. The Democratic legal infrastructure — in Washington and California — must be ready to counteract every Republican dirty trick Trump and the GOP will pull in courtrooms and in the court of public opinion. And Democratic spinmeisters should be ready starting 8:01pm PST to prevent Republicans from hijacking the narrative and to defend the legitimacy of California votes, voters and the election.
Democrats failed to prepare in 2000 because no one imagined that the Presidential election would hinge on 500 votes in Florida and something called “hanging chads.”
But, this year, there is no excuse for failure of imagination.
I was a seven-term member of Congress from the Bay Area suburbs. I beat a Republican incumbent in a Republican district and held off every Republican challenger in every subsequent election. I worked 14 years on Wall Street and served as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. I’ve negotiated nuclear arms treaties with foreign powers. I am not a person prone to hyperbole. But here’s what we know.
We have spent the last two years watching Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress and know exactly how far they will go to hold onto power. We saw the lengths they went to in 2016 to seize power. In this election cycle, we have seen Republicans around the country purge voters from the rolls, disproportionately deny voter registrations from people of color, and even disenfranchise Native American voters. They will go to any lengths to hold onto power.
The Democratic powers-that-be need to be planning now, if they aren’t already. Because this nightmare scenario could become our chilling reality in less than 72 hours.
Ellen Tauscher is a former Democratic Member of Congress from California and Founder and Chair of Fight Back California SuperPAC, which is dedicated to flipping the swing congressional districts in California from red to blue.