clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How Veep foretold 2020 election recount protests

Count votes? Halt vote counting? Veep got there five years ago.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matt Walsh, and Tony Hale in Veep.
Reality imitates Veep once again.
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

With President Trump and his supporters alternately calling for more vote counting and a halt to vote counting, depending on where they are in the country, life once again imitates art — and by art, I mean Veep.

And, of course, Veep fans noticed.

(Spoilers for Veep follow, obviously.)

The scene in question is from the fourth episode of the HBO comedy’s fifth season, titled “Mother.” President Selena Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is attempting to win a presidential election for the first time; she became president after her predecessor’s resignation. But in the season four finale, which aired in 2015, the 2016 presidential election ends in an Electoral College tie: 269-269. (A candidate, as we know well, must reach 270 electoral votes to be elected president.)

A tie in the Electoral College — in Veep as well as in reality — means the election is decided by the House of Representatives in early January. Each state’s delegation to the House gets one vote. Whoever is selected by at least 26 of the states wins.

So as season five begins, President Meyer is courting members of Congress (no easy task, with the holidays occurring between the November election and the January decision date). However, Meyer lost the swing state of Nevada by less than half a percentage point, which in that state triggers a recount of the vote. As the recount is occurring, it becomes clear that an anti-Meyer postal worker hoarded 10,000 absentee ballots, which the team believes to be from a pro-Meyer district, so the count must include those new absentee ballots.

Including the new ballots would require the recount to extend past the legally mandated deadline, but Meyer’s team is highly motivated to get those ballots counted. So they file an injunction with the Nevada Supreme Court to delay the deadline until every ballot can be counted.

That’s where the episode that this now-viral clip appears in picks up. (The clip consists of spliced-together scenes from the episode.) Meyer’s team, headed by her old law school friend Karen Collins (Lennon Parham), is arguing that the deadline should be delayed, and the court grants the injunction. But then the team discovers that the newly discovered votes are military ballots, which are likely to favor Meyer’s more conservative rival, Bill O’Brien.

So they flip their position and return to the Supreme Court, with Collins now arguing against the former position and requesting that the original deadline be reinstated — much to the judge’s consternation.

While all of this is happening inside the Nevada courtroom, Meyer aides Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky) and Dan Egan (Reid Scott) notice that a pro-O’Brien protest outside the court seems to be astroturfed — that is, made up of people being paid to protest the recount by O’Brien’s camp. They decide to set up a counterprotest, demanding that every vote be counted, and put Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) and Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) in charge. But, of course, as the campaign’s position changes, the protesters have to flip their own demands.

The episode’s events now feel eerily prescient — as do a frightening number of things on Veep. But the comparison also helps clarify the absurdity of calling for an end to counting ballots in one location while simultaneously urging the count to continue elsewhere. It’s not a position based on the principles of democracy or the law (or, seemingly, even logic). It’s just a power play, and everyone involved likely knows this.

In the end, Meyer loses the election. (And so, hilariously, does O’Brien, when through yet another Constitutional loophole it turns out that his running mate, Laura Montez, becomes president, instead of him.) But the episode is just one more piece of evidence that Meyer’s commitment is not to good governance or fair and free elections. Her only true constituent is herself.

Veep is available to stream on HBO Max. It is also streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video with an HBO add-on subscription. Episodes are available for digital rental and purchase on services including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.