Look on the bright side: The worst-case scenarios have not come to pass.
Voter turnout in the 2020 U.S. election was massive, with the largest number of ballots cast in United States history. There was no violence, no intimidation at polling stations, no militias absconding with ballot boxes.
And while a pandemic may have pushed tens of millions of Americans to vote by mail or through absentee ballots, all votes are being counted – and in the vast majority of cases have already been counted – according to the laws of each state. Some states allow mailed ballots to arrive after election day, which delays a final count, but that’s how the system is supposed to work. It’s how it works in Canada: In Saskatchewan’s recent vote, mail-in ballots could arrive after election day, and British Columbia did not plan to count mailed ballots until two weeks after the vote.
Yes, President Donald Trump, who has been tweeting his fury and delivered a rambling, menacing speech in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, is going to litigate to the bitter end. He will try to stop vote counting in Pennsylvania, though it’s hard to see on what legal basis, while insisting that counting continue in states where he is behind. He will challenge the validity of some already counted votes, and demand recounts in close races.
But better an army of lawyers than an army of Proud Boys.
Litigation isn’t extra-legal action; it’s the opposite. It’s normalcy defined. It’s the American way, the national sport, and practically an unwritten constitutional amendment. Americans suing Americans? Yawn. Have at it.
And in any case, Mr. Trump’s litigation strategy may be rendered moot by democracy.
By the time you read this, Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden may have racked up a winning total of 270 Electoral College votes. The results will not be immediately certified – again, nothing unusual there – but by early Wednesday evening, the count in enough of the outstanding states appeared to be on track to push Mr. Biden over the top, and into the White House.
Michigan and Wisconsin, two formerly Democratic Rust Belt states that Mr. Trump captured in 2016, had by Wednesday been moved into Mr. Biden’s camp. Arizona, also won by Mr. Trump in 2016, appeared to be on the verge of being awarded to Mr. Biden. A similar result was looking increasingly possible in Georgia, a long-time Republican safe space that this year became a swing state.
If all of that happens, Mr. Biden’s Electoral College vote total will be well over the 270-vote threshold.
Now for the bad news.
The U.S. remains a profoundly divided country. Yes, Mr. Biden will win more votes than any presidential candidate, ever. And his popular-vote lead, which on Wednesday evening stood at more than three million, is larger than Hillary Clinton’s margin in 2016. Plus, Mr. Biden’s popular-vote lead will grow once all ballots are counted.
But Mr. Trump has also won more votes than Ms. Clinton did, and nearly four million more votes than he himself won in 2016. Both candidates grew their party’s number of supporters; Mr. Biden just did it slightly more. When all is said and done, Mr. Biden is likely to claim the White House with only a slight lead over Mr. Trump in the popular vote, with nearly half of Americans having voted for the latter, and with large parts of the country painted in indelible red.
In other words, the crushing repudiation of Mr. Trump that Democrats were hoping for, and which many moderate Republicans worked for, did not happen. Mr. Trump was far more successful than expected in some swing states, such as Ohio and Florida. And a Trump-led Republican Party appears to have reduced the Democratic Party’s majority in the House of Representatives, while likely denying the Democrats a majority in the Senate.
All of which will make it challenging for a future president Biden to implement his platform, and pass legislation.
But worst of all is that Mr. Trump is ending the election as he promised: tweeting about the election having been stolen from him by ballot-stuffers and fake votes. He’s told his supporters that the country’s democracy, its foundational institution, is a fraud. Millions of Americans will buy that story. The snake-oil peddler is making one final sale, and it may be his most noxious and long-lasting elixir yet.
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