How about Attorney General William P. Barr, a week before the election, announcing a criminal investigation into the Democratic presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Or, after Mr. Biden wins a narrow Electoral College victory, Mr. Trump refuses to accept the results, won’t leave the White House and declines to allow the Biden transition team customary access to agencies before the Jan. 20 inauguration.
Far-fetched conspiracy theories? Not to a group of worst-case scenario planners — mostly Democrats, but some anti-Trump Republicans as well — who have been gaming out various doomsday options for the 2020 presidential election. Outraged by Mr. Trump and fearful that he might try to disrupt the campaign before, during and after Election Day, they are engaged in a process that began in the realm of science fiction but has nudged closer to reality as Mr. Trump and his administration abandon longstanding political norms.
The anxiety has intensified in recent weeks as the president continues to attack the integrity of mail voting and insinuate that the election system is rigged, while his Republican allies ramp up efforts to control who can vote and how. Just last week, Mr. Trump threatened to withhold funding from states that defy his wishes on expanding mail voting, while also amplifying unfounded claims of voter fraud in battleground states.
“In the eight to 10 months I’ve been yapping at people about this stuff, the reactions have gone from, ‘Don’t be silly, that won’t happen,’ to an increasing sense of, ‘You know, that could happen,’” said Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University law professor. Earlier this year, Ms. Brooks convened an informal group of Democrats and never-Trump Republicans to brainstorm about ways the Trump administration could disrupt the election and to think about how to prevent it.
But the anxiety is hardly limited to outside groups.
Marc Elias, a Washington lawyer who leads the Democratic National Committee’s legal efforts to fight voter suppression efforts, said not a day goes by when he doesn’t field a question from senior Democratic officials about whether Mr. Trump could postpone or cancel the election. Prodded by allies to explain why not, Mr. Elias wrote a column on the subject in late March for his website — and it drew more traffic than anything he’d ever published.
But changing the date of the election is not what worries Mr. Elias. The bigger threat in his mind, he said, is the possibility that the Trump administration could act in October to make it harder for people to vote in urban centers in battleground states — possibilities, he said, that include declaring a state of emergency, deploying the National Guard or forbidding gatherings of more than 10 people.
Such events could serve to depress or discourage turnout in pockets of the country that reliably vote for Democrats.
“That to me is that frame from which all doomsday scenarios then go,” he said.
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