It’s all over but the counting. While Democrats had hoped for a blowout victory after the deaths of nearly a quarter million Americans from the coronavirus and a cratered economy that has left 25 million collecting unemployment, the presidential election has narrowed to a handful of states yet to declare their winner, leaving former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump each with tiny paths to victory.
Americans awoke Wednesday to no clear winner in the presidential race, even though.
President Trump gave a speech from the White House at nearly 3 a.m. claiming victory and calling for states to cease counting ballots and suggesting he would have the U.S. Supreme Court decide the election. But the president has no legal power to make such a move. Ballots have been counted after the election throughout American history and states do not certify the vote until Dec. 14, when the Electoral College meets. Some states, like Alaska, don’t start counting votes until a week after the election.
There are still several states left undecided in the presidential race with a total of 94 Electoral College votes, plus Alaska, outstanding: Wisconsin (10), Nevada (6), Arizona (11), Michigan (16), Pennsylvania (20), Georgia (16) and North Carolina (15). Former Vice President Joe Biden appears to be leading in at least five of those states. At press time, the Electoral College vote tally was 237 for Biden and 214 for Trump. There are 270 votes needed to win.
The winner will likely be decided by mail-in ballots. For the first time, every state and Washington, D.C. offered early voting via mail-in ballots. Pennsylvania has never had no-excuse mail-in balloting prior to 2020. The option of mail-in ballots made for a record turnout of voters nationwide, with early voting nearly matching the total vote of 2016 well before Election Day.
Pennsylvania has been in Trump’s sights for weeks. He has made numerous campaign trips to the state in recent weeks, as has Biden. Trump also filed several lawsuits against the state in September and October attempting to curtail voting and acceptance of ballots. He is currently trying to stop the remaining uncounted ballots from being counted in the state.
All these lawsuits, fought by the ACLU and the League of Women Voters, were unsuccessful, but last week the U.S. Supreme Court left the door open to a challenge of any ballots received in the state after Election Day. The state allows ballots to be accepted until Nov. 6.
Trump also alleged that votes were being illegally cast in Philadelphia, and his campaign went to court to allow his surrogates monitoring privileges at the 17 satellite centers where Philadelphians could pick up mail-in ballots, fill them out and put them in a drop box. In order to avoid voter intimidation, the only legal monitoring of polls must be done by registered poll watchers on Election Day. District Attorney Larry Krasner was adamant that there would be no interference allowed with voters.
Philadelphia may be the tipping point leading Pennsylvania back to blue after Hillary Clinton lost the state by a mere half percent in 2016. City Commissioner Al Schmidt was tweeting about the vote count well into the early morning hours Wednesday, stating, “Philadelphia will NOT stop counting ALL legitimate votes cast by eligible voters. And we will report and report and report until the last vote is counted.”
In his speech, Trump, who has previously said, “Bad things happen in Philadelphia,” and who tried to capitalize on the recent unrest following the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., said, “We’re up 690,000 votes in Pennsylvania, 690,000. These aren’t even close. This is not like, ‘Oh, it’s close…’ With 64% of the vote in, it’s going to be almost impossible to catch. And we’re coming into good Pennsylvania areas where they happen to like your president. I mean, it’s very good. So we’ll probably expand that.”
But it is Biden, not Trump, who has expanded the Pennsylvania vote. Schmidt noted that Philadelphia votes were running steeply in Biden’s favor, at about 20 to 1. And according to data from the office of Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar on Nov. 4, Biden is on track to win the majority of the outstanding mail-in ballots, 78 percent to 21 percent.
Polling prior to Election Day had Biden with a substantial lead among early voters. There are more registered Democrats in Pennsylvania than Republicans. There are 1.4 million mail-in ballots, and using the margin given by Boockvar’s office, Biden would win more than 800,000 votes. That would give him the state.
At noon on Wednesday, Trump tweeted, “They are working hard to make up 500,000 vote advantage in Pennsylvania disappear—ASAP. Likewise, Michigan and others!”
At the same time, the Trump campaign called for a recount in Wisconsin, where Biden moved ahead of Trump in the ballot count by 20,000 votes — nearly the exact number in the narrow margin Trump won the state by in 2016.
Trump’s tweet was masked by Twitter with the message: “Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process.”
Biden is also leading in Arizona by five percentage points, with more than 80 percent of the estimated vote counted at 2pm on Nov. 4. Some news outlets, including The Associated Press and Fox News, have already called Arizona for Biden.
In a different masked tweet, Trump referenced his looming loss of Arizona: “Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key States, in almost all instances Democrat run & controlled. Then, one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted. VERY STRANGE, and the ‘pollsters’ got it completely & historically wrong!”
Trump is correct that the polls were wrong. There seems to have been a national polling error of about 3 to 5 points, the same size as 2012 when President Obama won by only two states in a nail-biter. The margin of error in many polls seems to have been the margin by which Trump won states Democrats had hoped to win, like Ohio, Florida and Texas.
Texas has never been won by a Democrat, and only Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have won Florida and Ohio, but both men won in historic landslide victories that netted 370 Electoral College votes for Clinton and 365 for Obama.
Another factor is that state laws prohibit Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania from counting mail-in ballots before Election Day. Those states skew heavily Democratic, and Democrats were also more likely to vote by mail in the pandemic.
Should Biden win the election, Trump will not concede easily, as he has signaled for weeks, claiming repeatedly and without evidence that mail-in ballots were fraudulent and would be contested in the courts.
Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager said Wednesday about the votes in Pennsylvania and Arizona, “This is a math equation. When we count the remaining ballots in a legal fashion, apply realistic and conservative estimates to those remaining ballots, the President can win, the President will win.”
Biden, in a short address Tuesday night, told his supporters, “Keep the faith, guys,” and “We’re going to have to be patient until the hard work of tallying votes is finished. And it ain’t over until every vote is counted, every ballot is counted.”