Could Trump use his presidential powers to declare the results invalid?

Trump shakes hands with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley during a briefing with senior military leaders at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

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Tyler Bloomfield, Kieran McMurchy · CBC News

Even before the election started, U.S. President Donald Trump signalled that he might not accept the results.

Bruno B. wrote to us asking if the president could leverage his official powers to influence the outcome, like with an executive order.

The answer is no. 

“That’s not something that’s going to happen,” said Ryan Hurl, assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto.

“He would be immediately ignored.” 

One of the main reasons why is that the current administration has no control over the election, explained John Fortier, director of governmental studies at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank that promotes bipartisanship.

Unlike Canada and many other countries, the U.S. doesn’t have a federal institution that oversees the election process. Elections are run at the state level.

“We don’t really have one election going on, we have 51 different elections between the states and D.C.,” said Fortier.

“Literally speaking, the president does not have a role in running the election, so the pretty simple answer is no.

Could he use the military?

As commander-in-chief, Trump is the head of all U.S. armed forces and he would retain this position until a new president is sworn in. Reader Frank F. wondered if there was a chance that the military might get involved.

The experts we spoke to said it would be unlikely because the military would only act on orders that were seen as legal.

The president cannot issue an order that thwarted the peaceful transfer of power and expect it to be obeyed,” said Peter Feaver, civil-military scholar and professor of political science and public policy at Duke University.

“Military officers know that it’s their duty and the norm not to obey illegal orders,” said Richard Kohn, retired professor emeritus and military historian at the University of North Carolina.

And if Trump were to try to issue an illegal order anyway, Kohn said “there are plenty of military lawyers that are ready to answer a question from a commander, at whatever level, asking if an order is illegal.”

Kohn also noted that the highest-ranking and most senior military officer in the U.S. Armed Forces has already said he wouldn’t get involved.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told NPR that election disputes will be handled appropriately by the courts and by U.S. Congress.

“There’s no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of a U.S. election. Zero. There is no role there.”

But that doesn’t mean that the president isn’t able to indirectly affect the process in other ways, such as lawsuits. 

Who pays for Trump’s lawsuits?

After falsely claiming the Democrats were “trying to steal” the election from him, Trump said his team had launched “tremendous litigation.

That led a number of readers, including Lawrie B., to ask who’s on the hook for all those legal bills.

In most cases, campaigns and parties pay for legal challenges and state recounts with money raised by political donations, said a spokesperson with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). But there are exceptions around who can donate. 

According to the FEC, corporations, labour organizations, national banks and foreign nationals are prohibited from contributing political donations to legal challenge funds.

When it comes to recounts specifically, Fortier said who pays depends on whether it’s an automatic recount, or one requested by the candidate and the rules can vary from state to state.

For example, in many states, if the margins are close enough, an automatic recount is triggered and that would be paid for by the state, he said.

However, that’s not the case across the board. In Nevada, for example, a candidate can request a recount no matter the margin, but it would fall on the candidate and their campaign to cover the costs.

Is there any evidence of voter fraud?

The president’s accusations of widespread voter fraud in key battleground states has some CBC readers wondering if there is any merit to them.

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