While we disagreed about many issues then and have disagreed since, we do agree on one thing: The 2020 election is not like 2000 and should not be treated as such.
Election night in 2000 was a blur of confusion. Each candidate had nearly enough electoral college votes to win. Whoever won Florida would become the next president. The networks called Florida for Vice President Al Gore, then called Florida for Bush, and then withdrew the call completely. Gore initially conceded, but then retracted his concession, a first in U.S. history. In the end, after the recount started and stopped, the two candidates were divided by a margin of just 537 votes in the one state which determined the election’s outcome.
Because of the delay, the administrator of the General Services Administration at the time, David J. Barram, independently declined to “ascertain” Bush as the winner until the Supreme Court ultimately ruled and Gore conceded. Until now, this was the only instance of “ascertainment” being withheld for a significant period of time.
As a result, while Bush and key staff were provided full intelligence briefings, the Bush transition did not have access to federal agencies and resources for 37 long days.
President-elect Joe Biden and his transition team should not suffer a similar delay. The electoral landscape is simply not the same. The outcome is not the same. And we have since learned the serious costs of a delayed transition.
Less than eight months after Bush’s inauguration, two planes flew into the World Trade Center, killing nearly 3,000 Americans. One of us had the fateful duty to whisper into Bush’s ear, “America is under attack.”
When the 9/11 Commission finished its report, it found that the delayed transition “hampered the new administration in identifying, recruiting, clearing and obtaining Senate confirmation of key appointees” in the national security arena. The commission also concluded that avoiding future disruptions in transitions was deeply in the national interest.
With the covid-19 pandemic continuing to wreak havoc, the costs of a delay are much higher today than almost any time in U.S. history. Specifically, a delayed transition and the absence of cooperation between the outgoing and incoming administrations could hinder economic recovery, slow the distribution of a vaccine and, God forbid, put American lives at risk. We know from history — including a foiled terrorist attack on the day of President Barack Obama’s inauguration — that our adversaries seek to take advantage of the United States during transitions. We cannot let that happen today.
Nor is that necessary. As of this writing, the president trails Biden in four states: Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada and Arizona. For President Trump to win the electoral college outright, the outcome would have to be reversed in three states, including Pennsylvania and Georgia.
Currently, Biden leads by a convincing margin in each of these states. In Pennsylvania alone, Trump is behind by more than 46,000 votes, well more than 80 times the margin in Florida in 2000. That is why former president Bush, in his statement on Sunday, congratulated Trump for receiving the second largest number of votes in U.S. history, but also stated that the outcome of the election is clear.
According to the nonpartisan organization FairVote, only three out of 31 statewide recounts during the past 20 years have reversed the initial outcome of an election. On average, a recount has shifted the margin between two candidates by just 430 votes — and that shift is just as likely to benefit the candidate who is already ahead. Just five recounts in the past 20 years have shifted the margins by more than 1,000 votes. The largest change was 2,567 votes.
While the president is fully within his rights to pursue legal action or demand recounts, for the good of our country, and with the rest of the world watching, America needs to come together and start a smooth and peaceful transition of power.
We fought bitterly over the recount in 2000. This election is not like 2000. And, given the realities of the pandemic, delaying the launch of the transition could have real costs. The transition process should begin now.