In a phone interview on Monday evening, Sanders said he would spend the next six weeks urging the country to prepare for a “nightmare scenario” in which Trump declares himself the winner of the election and refuses to step down even if he loses.
As part of his effort, he is set to deliver a speech in Washington on Thursday — his first in-person appearance related to the election since before he dropped out of the presidential race — to outline in stark terms the danger that he says Trump poses to the nation’s democracy.
“We are living in an unprecedented and dangerous moment — extremely dangerous moment — in American history,” Sanders said. “And what this speech is going to be about is whether or not the United States of America will continue to be a democracy and a nation ruled by law and our Constitution.”
In the interview, Sanders said that he thought there was an “excellent chance” that Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, would win the election, but that he was worried that the Biden campaign was not doing enough to reach “nontraditional voters,” including young people and Latinos. He held a virtual town hall event on Tuesday with Julián Castro, the former housing secretary under President Barack Obama, “to get the word out” to Latino voters about the importance of the election.
Trump, who has consistently trailed Biden in national and swing-state polls, has spent months trying to sow doubt about voting and the election. The president has claimed without evidence that mail voting will lead to “the greatest Rigged Election in history”; has urged people in North Carolina to illegally vote twice to stress-test the election system; and has even suggested delaying the election, which he cannot do on his own.
Biden himself has warned that Trump might try to disrupt the election, and Democrats and some anti-Trump Republicans have grown increasingly anxious about such a possibility before, during and after Election Day. Some groups have begun gaming out how to respond to various doomsday scenarios. Facebook and other large tech companies have also taken steps to prepare for any potential efforts by Trump or his campaign to use the companies’ platforms to delegitimize the vote.
Sanders, Vermont’s junior senator, will continue what an aide described as the “public awareness” phase of his effort while campaigning on Biden’s behalf. The aide would not say whether Sanders would hit the campaign trail before Election Day. Sanders demurred when asked if he was involved in any preparations should his predictions about Trump and the election come true.
“Right now,” he said, “my main focus is to prevent Donald Trump from staying in office if he loses the election, to prevent him from delegitimising the election results, to make sure that every vote cast is counted, to make sure that voters are not intimidated.”
In recent weeks, Sanders has privately spoken with experts, including Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown and a co-founder of the Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan group of former government officials, political professionals and journalists that has gamed out election scenarios. The senator said he had also spoken to the Biden campaign about these issues.
In the interview, Sanders laid out a series of steps to prevent Trump from corrupting the election, including urging states to count mail-in ballots “as rapidly as they can” and encouraging them to begin processing and counting ballots before Election Day.
“If you are starting from zero on election night, and you’ve got hundreds of thousands or millions of absentee ballots, how long is that going to take you to count?” Sanders said. “It will take a very long time. And that will allow the fomenting of conspiracy theories and so-called fraud and everything else.”
Sanders also said he would encourage social media companies to stop people from using their platforms to spread disinformation and threaten election officials. And he said he had requested bipartisan hearings in the Senate with secretaries of state as well as law enforcement and election officials “to tell us how they are going to handle Election Day and the days that follow.”
“The American people have got to be prepared for this,” he added. “It is absolutely essential that they are.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the campaign trail in March, Sanders has delivered addresses and held roundtable events via livestream, using the infrastructure he built up during his campaign. Aside from his activities in the Senate, Sanders has not made any public appearances in person since the last Democratic presidential debate, on March 15.
Until recently, most of his focus has been on the pandemic. But as he has grown increasingly fearful that Trump could sabotage the election, aides said, he has shifted some of his focus to figuring out what to do if the president tries to hold onto power illegitimately. This month, Sanders sent a lengthy email to his supporters warning them “about Trump’s threat to our constitutionally enshrined system of the peaceful transition of power.”
In addition to his speech on Thursday, he is planning to hold a virtual town hall on Saturday focused on rural voters, during which he is expected to deliver a similar message about Trump and the election, the aide said.