Presidential Control Over Disputed Elections

81 Ohio State Law Journal Online 215-18 (2020)

4 Pages Posted: 2 Sep 2020

See all articles by Lisa Marshall Manheim

Lisa Marshall Manheim

University of Washington - School of Law

Date Written: August 17, 2020


An election that is “disputed” lacks two qualities after Election Day: a clear winner and a concession. These elections instead depend on legal processes — recounts, court proceedings, and more — for resolution. As a result, when a sitting President, running for reelection, becomes immersed in a disputed presidential election, he potentially enjoys an advantage over his opponent. He can attempt to exploit the powers of the presidency to push these legal proceedings in his favor. As a practical matter, this advantage can be formidable. A sitting president can resort to his extraordinary bully pulpit, for example, to influence public sentiment. This advantage shrinks, however, with respect to the President’s official powers — the legal authorities that the President can wield by virtue of his role in government. Here, a sitting President’s advantage over his opponent, at least after Election Day, is slight. As this Essay explains, the President’s powers over a disputed presidential election are not primarily legal in nature; they are political. And, accordingly, so are the means to push back.

This essay was an invited contribution to the Ohio State Law Journal’s online Election Law Roundtable.

Keywords: Congress, President, Separation of Powers, Elections, Administrative Agencies, Administrative Law, Voting

Suggested Citation

Manheim, Lisa Marshall, Presidential Control Over Disputed Elections (August 17, 2020). 81 Ohio State Law Journal Online 215-18 (2020), Available at SSRN:

Lisa Marshall Manheim (Contact Author)

University of Washington - School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States


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