Forget Election Day. Welcome to Election Overtime.
Forget Covid-19. Do you have election fever? Are you planning on watching the election results roll in Tuesday night on the couch with your favorite snack and beverage? Are you having friends over?
Break out the sleeping bags. It’s likely to be a long night and possibly a long week. Or even longer.
In Wisconsin, state law prohibits local clerks from counting absentee ballots early. Despite the pandemic and record numbers of absentee and early ballots cast, the state legislature refused to meet to change the law. As a result, over 1.7 million ballots will have to be ripped out of envelopes, verified for accuracy, and then counted, all on Election Day.
Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pointed out an additional problem that may delay the results: central counting. Just as in 2018, a number of communities, including Milwaukee, will be counting their absentee ballots at a central location. Given the high volume of absentee ballots, we may have a complete reversal of election results just as we did in 2018 when Governor Scott Walker narrowly lost to Governor Tony Evers.
Wisconsin will have an additional problem waiting for the results because Calumet and Outagamie Counties have a problem with how their ballots were printed and will have to fix 13,500 ballots by hand.
Unless former Vice President Joe Biden wins Wisconsin in a landslide, as the latest New York Times/Sienna College poll indicates, your cheese curds will probably lose their squeak before we know who took home Wisconsin’s 11 Electoral College votes.
Pardon Me Boy, Is That the Pennsylvania Station?
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to extend the deadline for accepting absentee ballots in Wisconsin, deferring to existing state law. However, the same Supreme Court has allowed absentee ballots to be accepted past Election Day in two other key states: North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Polling indicates that Pennsylvania is closer than Michigan, Wisconsin or Minnesota, and its 20 electoral votes are the keystone (pun intended) to a victory for President Donald Trump. According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump has an 11% chance of winning more than the 270 Electoral College votes needed. However, if Pennsylvania falls to Trump, his odds of being re-elected suddenly jump to 62%,
The U.S. Supreme Court deferred to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, allowing absentee ballots to be accepted up to three days after the election provided they are postmarked by Election Day, even if the postmark is illegible. But! yes, but the late ballots will be segregated so Republicans can sue to have them thrown out if Trump is winning on Election Night.
By the way, we’re talking about more than 3 million ballots cast by mail in Pennsylvania, and they won’t start the counting until Election Day. Ironically, one Republican-leaning county will not start counting absentee ballots until Wednesday.
In North Carolina, where a peaceful and permitted protest march was greeted with pepper spray by the police, absentee ballots will be accepted as late as November 12 if they’re postmarked by Election Day. However, election officials expect 97% of the ballots to be counted by Election Night.
On the other hand, Nevada’s whorehouses and casinos may have a few more visiting lawyers than usual after Election Day. The state will still be counting absentee ballots until November 10.
States like Arizona and Michigan may still be counting absentee ballots for days after the election. Ohio accepts absentee ballots until November 13, but may not announce the result of those until November 18.
The folks at FiveThirtyEight have an interactive map that explains when we could see final results. The lighter the green, the longer the delay.
Will they make another movie for HBO?
Trump has said that he expects the country should know who won the election the same night. It’s pretty clear that Republicans expect to be winning on Election Night and then could lose ground as absentee ballots are counted.
Democrats were more confident in voting absentee by mail than Republicans, and more Republican voters are expected to defy the Covid-19 pandemic to vote on Election Day. Because of the time needed to count absentee ballots, and because of the later deadlines for accepting absentee ballots, it’s entirely possible that Trump could be winning Election Night and lose five days later.
Complicating matters will be the legal fights over any absentee ballots in states that are close. Instead of one recount crisis like Florida in 2000, we could have multiple recount battles across the country, including Wisconsin.
Making matters worse, Trump and Trump-supporting Republicans are already talking about vote fraud, especially mail-in vote fraud. This will only feed the desire to shut down the counting of absentee ballots early for fear the “Democrats will find enough votes to win” even though the ballots were legally cast. Ironically, this kind of talk about absentee ballots may have discouraged GOP voters from casting their ballots ahead of time, risking not voting entirely due to Covid-19 or other issues.
One Florida-recount lasted from November 8, 2000 until December 12, 2000. Now imagine recounts in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, Nevada and Michigan, all occurring at the same time.
The good news is that the Electoral College means we won’t have recounts in every major city across the country. The bad news is that if neither candidate can claim a majority in the Electoral College, the election ends up in the newly-elected House of Representatives. Each state delegation will only have one vote so California would have the same voting power as New Hampshire. Wisconsin, where Biden could win the popular vote, would probably vote for Trump because the majority of the congressmen from the state are Republicans.
In a “contingent election” in the House of Representatives, we won’t know the final result of the election until January. It’s entirely possible that Biden could win the popular vote nationally, the Democrats could win the House of Representatives, and Trump could still win re-election.
So when are we likely to know the winner?
Let’s understand that in almost no projection is Trump going to win the popular vote. If Trump wins, it will be because he won a number of very close states even as he loses the popular vote by 5% or more. It will be the rough equivalent of flipping a coin three times and getting heads every time.
So if Biden wins North Carolina and Georgia, or if he wins Florida, the path to victory becomes extremely narrow for Trump. If Pennsylvania turns out not to be close and Trump loses Michigan, it could be a short night. Ohio and Texas are in play, too.
On the other hand, Trump could pull it out by winning Michigan or Wisconsin if he also holds Arizona, depending on how the other states fall. There are actually a number of ways Trump can win despite not winning the popular vote. It’s just harder to do it.
But don’t be surprised if some state that was a “lock” before Election Day ends up being an upset. In which case, we could be in for a long night. And the following day. And the whole week. Maybe by Thanksgiving. Maybe.