Election USA: Brace yourself for delay, frustration and confusion

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Those of a nervous disposition look away now.


-That could well be the headline you wake up to on Wednesday morning.

Donald Trump is preparing a podium to walk up to and say that he has won the US Presidential election, after a few votes are counted in swing states.

And he may well have some evidence to support him, to a small extent.

The way the votes are being cast in the USA, and the ways in which they will be counted, verified and challenged, is like no other American election.

Add in the wild card of a President who is prepared to say anything to support his re-election, and you have a recipe for protracted, confusing and frustrating delay with the strong possibility of civil disobedience, street riots and shootings thrown in.

Over half of the votes cast will be by post. The US Postal system is creaking, and has had political interventions into its organisation in the last months and years. There have been reports of enormous delays to ballots going out and losses of thousands of completed ballots.

There have been almost daily challenges to the postal ballot system in one state or the other over the last few months. That will continue and become even more frequent.

The problems with the postal system, related to the election, will continue and get worse.

The way votes are counted varies from state to state and, indeed, from county to county. Some count postal votes first. Some count polling station votes first. Some mix them together and vote them concurrently. Some votes will be counted on election night, some will counted up to several days after the election. It could be weeks or months before the final result is declared.

Take a key state – Pennsylvania. That is the one state that, essentially, Joe Biden must win to be elected President. And if Trump wins it, then it would suggest that he will continue as President.

The New York Times reported yesterday:

As the national early vote climbs past a staggering 93 million and challenges to the electoral process intensify across states, President Trump and Joe Biden are barreling into Pennsylvania and turning it into the top battleground in Tuesday’s election, with Democrats flooding in with door-knockers and Republicans trying to parlay Mr. Trump’s rallies into big turnout once again.
Both campaigns see Pennsylvania as increasingly crucial to victory: Mr. Trump now appears more competitive here than in Michigan and Wisconsin, two other key northern states he hopes to win, and Mr. Biden’s clearest electoral path to the White House runs through the state. Pennsylvania has more Electoral College votes, 20, than any other traditional battleground except Florida, and Mr. Trump won the state by less than one percentage point in 2016.

Bear in mind that “mail-in” votes will strongly favour the Democrats and in-person voting will strongly favour the Republicans.

As Marshall Cohen of CNN reports in a fascinating article:

As a result, in some of the most competitive states, early results may look too rosy for former Vice President Joe Biden, before falling back down to earth and becoming more representative of the true outcome. In other states, Trump could see early leads that slowly narrow as more ballots are counted.
This won’t be a sign of fraud or irregularities. Rather, it’s just a reflection of how states count votes. Some states process early ballots first, and will report those early in the night, while others save them for last.

Pennsylvania, unfortunately, is a “red mirage” state. There, they do not process postal ballots before election day. So early count tallies will contain strongly in-person votes, and therefore they will strongly favour Trump. CNN says:

Early waves of results will likely come from ballots cast on Election Day and from outside the state’s population centers, which are expected to favor Trump.
As absentee ballots get counted late on Tuesday night and bigger cities report more of their votes, or even over the days that follow, the statewide vote count could shift in Biden’s direction.

That “red mirage” effect will also feature in Wisconsin and Michigan, two key states that Trump won by a gnat’s whisker last time. It will also be prevalent in Minnesota, which Trump is hoping to win.

Conversely, some states will show a “blue mirage”. That is, early vote counts will favour Biden and then his lead will fall away as sacks of Trump votes are counted. This may well happen in Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Ohio, Iowa – all key swing states – and in Nevada.

The situation is more mixed in other states:

In Georgia, some counties will report large chunks of absentee ballots quickly after the polls close, but other counties won’t right away. It’s unclear exactly how this will shake out on election night.
Arizona saw drastic post-election shifts in the 2018 Senate race. Officials took steps to avoid that this year, and the count is expected to be faster. There might be less of a delay between posted results from absentee ballots and Election Day ballots, reducing the threat of a “mirage.”
Additionally, in New Hampshire and Maine, local officials will blend absentee ballots and Election Day ballots before the results are released, eliminating any “shifts.” These states favor Biden, but there is a tight race to win one electoral vote in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

Even after election night there are likely to be scores of court challenges about batches of votes. The lawyers are circling particularly in Philadelphia. Cases could even go to the Supreme Court – which now has a right-wing bias of 6-3, in Trump’s favour.

So, I would advise approaching Tuesday night with a very cautious spirit. Prepare for enormous frustration.

I hope I am wrong and that it is a clear win for Biden. But I am not holding my breath.

Here on Liberal Democrat Voice, we’ll have an open thread for discussion of the results and I’ll be chipping in as the night wears on.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Paul Murray 2nd Nov '20 - 9:36am

    There seems to be a lot of nervousness from the Democrats on two fronts – firstly, the polls all said Clinton would win in 2016 and secondly the recent Iowa poll showing Trump 7% ahead seems to have caused a lot of angst.

    I would make 3 points – firstly, Biden is consistently polling over 50% in all polls and is about 9% ahead of Trump – 4% more than Clinton was polling at this stage. Secondly, the oft-mentioned Iowa poll looks very much like an outlier as in the four other polls taken in the previous week in Iowa, two show a small Trump lead and two show a slightly larger Biden lead. And thirdly, almost 100 million votes have already been cast – mostly before the recent slight tightening in the polls.

    I think that fivethirtyeight’s estimate of about a 10% chance of Trump winning is probably right, and – rather like last year when people thought a Labour win was a real possibility right up until the exit poll came out – it will almost certainly turn out that Biden wins quite comfortably.

    I should add that in 2016 I was fairly certain it was going to be a great deal closer than the pundits were saying (especially in Michigan) and was not remotely surprised that Trump won the college.

  • Biden will win.

    Fivethirtyeight.com gives him s 90% chance, Trump a 10% chance. That’s not nothing. Run this election.10 times, he’ll win once

    My overall feeling is that the anti trump crowd will be more motivated to go and vote. That may be because I am anti Trump and my personal bias. But I don’t think that the attempt to paint “Uncle Joe” as a dangerous liberal has been successful. Moderate republicans won’t be scared voting for him. The black vote will be less suppressed than before. Some democrats last time just thought Trump couldn’t win last time and Clinton was certain and didn’t go and vote – they won’t make that mistake this time! Biden is no Hillary in being a divisive hate figure to whom a lot of mud stuck. The Hunter Biden saga hasn’t really stuck yet. It will be a major major story of Bidens presidency. The republicans will obv. Make it so!

    It could well be a landslide in electoral vote terms but as here it is dependent on small swings. But Texas will go for Biden – or be very close.

    Trump will step aside relatively smoothly. It is more an attempt to say in the future the election was stolen. He can then be a very highly paid pundit and probably set up his own TV news channel and it’ll set up a possible trump junior presidential run in 2024.

  • John Marriott 3rd Nov '20 - 8:54am

    ‘Michael 1’ reckons that Biden is going to win, according to his beloved polls, now, why does that worry me?

    Given the number of people who have already voted and who could be mainly Democrat supporters, perhaps we should pray for really bad weather across the USA today!

  • Denis Loretto 3rd Nov '20 - 11:01am

    How on earth can the USA go on claiming to be a beacon of democracy and “the land of the free”. It looks more and more like a banana republic (if that is not a politically incorrect term to use these days).

  • 2020-11-03 Paul Walter Election USA

    It’s entirely appropriate to describe the US as a ‘banana republic’, a term originally coined in 1901 to describe Honduras and certain other central American countries. From Wikipedia:

    “Typically, a banana republic has a society of extremely stratified social classes, usually a large impoverished working class and a ruling class plutocracy, composed of the business, political, and military elites of that society.”

    ”A banana republic is a country with an economy of state capitalism, whereby the country is operated as a private commercial enterprise for the exclusive profit of the ruling class. Such exploitation is enabled by collusion between the state and favored economic monopolies, in which the profit, derived from the private exploitation of public lands, is private property, while the debts incurred thereby are the financial responsibility of the public treasury.”

    I could quibble with the ’state capitalism’ in the second extract but otherwise it’s a pretty accurate description of the US today with the minor difference was that the original ones had economies based almost entirely on exploitative plantation agriculture run by the likes of the United Fruit Company (hence ‘banana’), while the US remains more diversified and the exploitation is done by its own (mis)ruling class.

    Naturally, the plutocrat-owned media hasn’t ‘noticed’ but regular people have. Last year two middle-class conservative American ladies visited us while holidaying in the UK. When the conversation turned to politics, I ventured the opinion that the US was no longer a democracy expecting my head to be bitten off. Both strongly agreed.

    In that lies much of Trump’s appeal. Once Sanders was eliminated, he was the only candidate running against the two party establishment by promising to drain the swamp (of cronyism and worse), to bring back jobs by limiting their export to China (via ‘free trade’), and to build a wall (to control immigration). All in all, not so different from Brexit.

    He hasn’t delivered much but for many he remains their last best hope despite, ahem, everything.

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