Tomorrow’s Election Could Be an Electoral Disaster
And we get to watch it in slow motion.
2020 will go down as one of the most memorable years in recent history and it may not be done with us yet. One of the more likely outcomes of the US presidential election on Tuesday is Donald Trump loses the popular vote but wins the Electoral College. If this happens, it will be the third time a US candidate lost the votes but won the presidency in the last twenty years. However, that would be the end result of a week that could be full of election stupidities.
Forget the fact we vote on the first Tuesday in November only because this gives us enough time to complete our autumn harvest and then travel by horse for one full day to the closest polling station. (Side note — if you haven’t yet completed your harvest and set off on horseback, you’re probably screwed.) And ignore the long voting lines. The most embarrassing aspect of US elections is that the Byzantine Electoral College crowns losers as winners, and this year’s winner may be the biggest loser to ever win.
Experts such as Michael McDonald, the University of Florida professor who runs the US Elections Project, estimates over 150 million Americans may vote in this presidential election, with some experts putting that number closer to 165 million. That would be 30 million more people voting than did in 2016 when Hillary Clinton received almost 3 million more votes than her opponent Donald Trump. Despite his lower vote tally, Trump became president with an 80,000 vote margin in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania thanks to the quirks of the Electoral College.
My Romanian friends sometimes ask me about the US’s Electoral College and why it exists. I explain it’s a tailbone or an appendix, a vestigial remnant of an earlier evolution from a time when we thought black people were only 3/5 human and only white men were allowed to vote. It stemmed from a mistrust of centralized power and a radical notion of overrepresentation required by slave states to remain in the union, which never went away even after the Civil War and slavery ended. This mostly useless vestigiality sitting in the crack in America’s democracy might provide a drawn-out election night, resulting in over six million more votes cast for Joe Biden yet Donald Trump being declared the winner.
A possible six-million vote advantage for Joe Biden isn’t something we can dismiss as merely the quaint way our little system works. Dismissing six million votes is the equivalent of dismissing the 2016 votes cast in Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Hawaii, Delaware, Rhode Island, Montana, Idaho, West Virginia, and New Hampshire combined! That would be a combined 41 electoral points ignored and never factored into the final tallies.
I’m not saying this six-million vote catastrophe will happen, but Biden has a 97% probability of winning the popular vote. There’s little question American voters will choose Biden, despite the Electoral College outcome. The real question is how far off the rails the election might go as we wait for days for the final results.
This is one of those elections for which you don’t need to be in your seats for the opening credits. It’s going to be a long roller coaster night of red shifting toward Trump, blue shifting toward Biden, and voters shifting in their pants. Contributing to the surge we’ll see in drinking on election night will be the varying times polls close from state to state. Even within the states, counties vary as to how they tally votes.
You might think ‘One country, under God’, would operate as one country under a standard national election protocol, but polls will be closing in Georgia at 7pm EST and at 8pm next door in Florida. Nate Silver’s 538 provides a nifty little watching guide for understanding what the hell is happening. If Wolf Blitzer’s state by state updates don’t give you whiplash, Mr. Silver asserts states such as Georgia definitely will.
Each county treats absentee votes differently, and with (Democratic-leaning) absentee votes being reported at different times throughout the state, it’s possible we’ll see some miniature red and blue shifts on the county level.
This means even more anguish and euphoria for those of you keeping score at home as this election breaks and unbreaks your hopeful little hearts county by county. Oh, the feelings you will have!
To ensure the excitement continues, the states having perhaps the most influence on the 2020 election results, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, won’t really start to come in until the wee hours of Wednesday morning and they will be red shifting toward Trump as in-person voting is reported first. Michigan may not count all of its votes until Friday, November 6. Pennsylvania can’t be bothered to start counting absentee ballots until Tuesday morning, and mail-in voting has until the 6th to arrive, meaning Tuesday is just the beginning. If you’re a hardcore politico, find a comfortable chair and play that beloved election returns drinking game ‘WTF?!? Drink!’ as you get either electoral blue balls or red balls, depending on what you’d hoped would happen.
If you survive until Wednesday morning, you’ll likely see the numbers reported from Michigan and Pennsylvania skewing toward Trump, and be elated or devastated. But wait. There’s more. As all of the absentee ballots are counted, you will probably see large numbers of votes trending toward Biden, due to Democrat’s preference for mail-in voting. No one will judge you if you cry, then laugh, then cry again. The back and forth of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania will carry on for days, with legal teams readying for a full-frontal clusterfuck.
If a dishonest president were so inclined, election night is the perfect opportunity to prematurely declare victory before the 5.2 million votes already cast in Michigan and Pennsylvania are counted. Talking heads would fill the news cycle between then and Saturday with the president’s minions insisting his opponents are stealing the election, and those tasked with maintaining election integrity insisting every vote be counted. Get your popcorn ready, world!
Election night becomes election week, a mix of the exciting back and forth of tennis and the ‘this will never end’ of cricket. Then, in a finale befitting our first reality-show president, pundits from both parties will debase democracy in the kinds of televised histrionics that make you nostalgic for Jerry Springer. Maybe by next week, we can figure out who won? Maybe we all lose?
In the meantime, if your horse is ready, I suggest you mount up and ride for your polling location, but only if you already got your harvest in. If you haven’t, you might as well head down to Ye Old Pub and wait for the minority of voters to make decisions for everybody else.