As the name implies, the Transition Integrity Project is not an organization, and it does not have officers, members, or staff. Rather, it was a short-term project launched by Rosa Brooks and Nils Gilman to conduct four scenario-based exercises aimed at identifying potential risks to the integrity of the 2020 election and transition process. The Transition Integrity Project’s exercises were completed in June 2020 and we issued a public report containing observations and recommendations. You can see the report here.
Our goal is to help ensure that the 2020 presidential election is free, fair and peaceful, and to ensure that the outcome of a free and fair election is accepted by all as legitimate. By identifying potential risks to a free, fair and peaceful election and transition, we hope to encourage actions that will shore up the integrity of the process.
We are not pollsters and have no predictions about the likely winner in a free and fair election. The American people have the right to vote for whichever candidate they prefer, and the outcome of a free and fair election should be accepted by all, regardless of which candidate prevails.
Scenario planning exercises like the Transition Integrity Project are not intended to and do not predict the future. Our exercises were designed to identify risks and encourage discussion of how to mitigate those risks, but we cannot assign probabilities to particular outcomes. (The analogy would be undertaking a scenario planning exercise to determine whether one’s online accounts could withstand a concerted hacking or phishing attempt. Such a planning exercise might reveal that there are inadequate safeguards in place to prevent successful hacking or phishing, creating an increased risk. This in turn might lead to precautionary measures — stronger passwords, greater awareness of phishing techniques, etc. But such an exercise cannot predict the probability of a hacking or phishing attempt.)

We conducted four exercises, on June 12, 19, 22 and 26, 2020. We started with the following base scenarios in terms of the project electoral results on November 3, 2020:

  • Scenario A: Democratic party candidate Joe Biden wins both the popular vote and the Electoral College by a healthy margin;

  • Scenario B: Biden wins both the popular vote and the Electoral College by a narrow margin;

  • Scenario C: President Trump wins the Electoral College vote by a narrow margin, but loses the popular vote by a healthy margin;

  • Scenario D: The winner of the election was not known as of the morning after the election and the outcome of the race was too close to predict with certainty.

For a detailed explanation of how each exercise was conducted, see Appendix B of the Report.

We sought participants who could bring to the exercises real-world experience working on presidential campaigns, in elected office, in polling outfits, in media organizations, and in career and appointed government positions, both federal and state. Our exercise participants, like the project convenors, were volunteers who donated their time and expertise. We deliberately sought participants from both GOP and Democratic party backgrounds to ensure a range of experiences and perspectives, but the participants were asked to play assigned roles during the exercises, and did not represent actual candidates or organizations.
Yes. Our exercises were bi-partisan in nature and, by design, included a roughly equal number of participants from each major political party.

To ensure candid contributions, the Transition Integrity Project’s exercises were conducted under Chatham House Rules, under which participants were free to talk about their own role in the exercises and their general observations, but were asked to respect the confidentiality of other participants. Some of our participants have chosen to write or give interviews about their experiences during the exercise, however. You can see some examples below:

All the participants in the Transition Integrity Project’s exercise were invited to comment on the draft report and the final report incorporates and reflects the feedback we received. However, the report represents the best efforts of the project organizers to summarize the exercises and our takeaways, and is not intended to represent the individual opinions of all the exercise participants.
No. The Transition Integrity Project was designed to be a short-term project. Having completed four exercises and issued a report summarizing our observations and recommendations, we have finished our planned work.

The report contains the full summary of the risks identified during the Transition Integrity Project scenario planning exercises. But the most important findings were:

First, the concept of “election night,” is no longer accurate and indeed is dangerous. We face a period of contestation stretching from the first day a ballot is cast in mid-September until January 20. The winner may not, and likely will not, be known on “election night” as officials count mail-in ballots. This period of uncertainty provides opportunities for an unscrupulous candidate to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the process and to set up an unprecedented assault on the outcome.

Second, a determined campaign has opportunity to contest the election into January 2021. We anticipate lawsuits, divergent media narratives, attempts to stop the counting of ballots, and protests drawing people from both sides. President Trump, the incumbent, may use the executive branch to aid his campaign strategy, including through the Department of Justice. We assess that there is a chance the president will attempt to convince legislatures and/or governors to take actions – including illegal actions – to defy the popular vote. Federal laws provide little guidance for how Congress should resolve irregularities when they convene in a Joint Session on January 6, 2021.

And third, the administrative transition process itself may be highly disrupted. Participants in our exercises of all backgrounds and ideologies suggested that the President may prioritize personal gain and self-protection over ensuring an orderly administrative handoff to his successor.

There is nothing inevitable about election or transition problems. The risks identified in our exercises can be mitigated by ensuring that American voters understand the rules and processes that exist to ensure free and fair elections, and my having federal, state and local actors shore up the systems in place to ensure the integrity of voting and ballot counting. For instance, voters should know that there are ample safeguards in place to ensure the legitimacy of mail-in ballots; voters should make sure they know when, where and how to vote; they should know that there may not be a definitive result on election night because a careful ballot count will take time; local officials should make sure there are enough poll workers to handle expected volume, etc.
The Transition Integrity Project Report recommended that Americans should:
  • Plan for a contested election. If there is a crisis, events will unfold quickly, and sleep-deprived leaders will be asked to make consequential decisions quickly. Thinking through options now will help to ensure better decisions. Approach this as a political battle, not just a legal battle. In the event of electoral contestation, sustained political mobilization will likely be crucial for ensuring transition integrity. Dedicated staff and resources need to be in place at least through the end of January.

  • Focus on readiness in the states, providing political support for a complete and accurate count. Governors, Secretaries of State, Attorneys General and Legislatures can communicate and rein- force laws and norms and be ready to confront irregularities. Election officials will need political and public support to see the process through to completion.

  • Address the two biggest threats head on: lies about “voter fraud” and escalating violence. Voting fraud is virtually non-existent, but the President and his media supporters lie about it to create a narrative designed to politically mobilize his base and to create the basis for contesting the results should he lose. The potential for political violence is perilously high, particularly since the far right is encouraging Trump supporters to take up arms, based on false claims about planned left wing violence. Americans should call on political leaders from both parties to condemn violence and urge their supporters to commit to using only peaceful means to express their views, and legitimate media outlets should debunk disinformation and false claims.

  • Anticipate a rocky administrative transition if Trump is defeated. In the event of a party transition, transition teams will likely need to do two things simultaneously: defend against potential reckless actions on the way out of office; and find creative solutions to ensure landing teams are able to access the information and resources they need to begin to prepare for governing.

  • Vote

  • Volunteer as a poll worker

  • Anticipate that the vote count may take several days or weeks after Election Day to be completed

  • Call your state and national leaders demanding commitment to non-violence and rule of law.

No. The Transition Integrity Project is not an ongoing organization and does not accept donations.
Yes, you are welcome to do so. Please credit the Transition Integrity Project, and we ask that if you quote the report, you also provide a link to the full report.

You can see some of the news coverage of the Transition Integrity Project’s exercises here: