Both parties prepare for possibility of contested election as chaotic White House race hurtles to a close

She has also directed some of her members to be ready if GOP legislatures in states with narrow margins or unfinished counts seek to appoint their own electors, a situation Democrats hope to head off with an obscure law from the 19th century that allows Congress to intervene.

The internal talks are among a number of strategy sessions taking place in political and legal circles in anticipation of a post-Election Day fight. The campaigns of President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden are preparing for all scenarios, each amassing robust legal teams to prepare for post-Nov. 3 disputes, in addition to monitoring Election Day activity and ballot counting.

An uncharted battle over who the next president will be, after a campaign that has roiled and exhausted Americans, could severely test the nation’s faith in its election system — and undermine the principle that the president should be selected by voters rather than Congress or the courts, experts said.

“These are all terrible scenarios to contemplate,” said Richard H. Pildes, a professor of constitutional law at New York University. “Nothing is more explosive in a democratic system than a disputed election for the chief executive, because so much turns on who holds that office.”

Campaign operatives, election lawyers and constitutional scholars say there are several scenarios that could push the outcome of the White House race to Congress for the fourth time in history — or to the Supreme Court, as happened in the contested 2000 election.

While most agree such possibilities are slim, Trump has heightened concerns — and preparations — by repeatedly refusing to commit to conceding if he loses, while declaring that he wants the courts to play a role in deciding the race.

During the first presidential debate last week, the president repeated his unsubstantiated claims that voting by mail will lead to widespread fraud, adding that he wants the Supreme Court “to look at the ballots.”

“If it’s a fair election, I am 100 percent on board,” Trump said. “But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.”

Many legal and voting rights experts who have been studying the arcane rules that would govern a contested election say they are less worried about Trump refusing to concede if he loses decisively than they are about a complicated delay over disputed ballots.

Myrna Pérez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said she fears that there will be “no limits to the political hardball” and “no things that are off the table when people are trying to translate votes into political victories.”

“I wonder what that’s going to leave us with, if we don’t have any shared-upon norms, when there’s not a basic understanding that winning at all costs is not good for us,” Pérez said during a virtual panel discussion last week.

Biden’s continued strength in national and battleground-state polls has heartened Democrats, who are hopeful that he will win

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