As North America goes to sleep, the result hangs in limbo.
There was no Democratic clean sweep, nor a Republican upset; pundits and pollsters watch on in abashed silence as the US elections goes down to the wire. Instead of a quick victory we are faced with a unique scenario; no candidate has been able to reach the electoral vote count of 270 required to win the presidency, and must wait on the counting to be finished in three key northern industrial states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, as well as Georgia and North Carolina. This process could take days, and has already been made controversial by the incumbent, Donald Trump.
At the time of writing Biden has 238 votes to Trump’s 213. Both candidates have various paths to victory, and the key battleground states are still undecided.
The delay in this term’s election was expected; in response to the coronavirus pandemic, many states modified their voting rules, broadening access to mail-in voting and accelerating what had already been a rising mail-in voting trend. These votes need to be tallied by methods that take much longer – such as opening individual envelopes and verifying signatures. Several states have different rules in place for when the counting could begin, as well as separate rules for when the last mail-in ballot could be accepted. Coupled with social distancing rules at polling stations and security precautions, the normal counting process has been spread out over a number of days.
This delay is complicated by another element; multiple polls have shown that Democratic voters were far more likely than Republicans this election to use mail-in ballots. The reason for this discrepancy is also straightforward. Trump has been promoting unfounded claims that there is widespread fraud associated with mail-in ballots; encouraging his supporter to go out and vote in person. Coupled with the COVID-19 skepticism that permeates much of Trump’s support base, the result is that Trump voters will have their votes counted earlier, since they were cast at polling stations.
Democrats on the other hand have been heeding Biden’s messaging on COVID-19 precautions and are more likely to cast mail-in ballots. Their votes will be counted later, and far more slowly.
The upshot of this has been that at the time of writing all three battleground states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania lean towards Trump, but as the rest of the votes are being counted, that lead is being whittled away.
Republican supporters going to bed tonight watching Trump lead in key states may wake up tomorrow to find that the ground has shifted – here is where the controversy lies.
Donald Trump has been propagating unfounded claims of electoral fraud well in advance of election night. Just before 2:30 AM EST on election night from the East Room of the White House, Trump said “as far as I’m concerned, we already have won,” and that any ballots that have not been counted, should not be counted and that he will take this to the Supreme Court if necessary.
While media houses, politicians and pundits were quick to denounce this “premature” and “misleading” statement, the groundwork has been laid for a contested result. With tension already high between supporters of both candidates, this could be a recipe for disaster in the coming days.