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US election 2020: Why don’t we know the result yet?


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You might have reasonably expected to have some kind of clue about the results of the US presidential election by now.

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Okay, so who is going to be the next president?

We don’t know, because not enough votes have been counted yet for either Donald Trump or Joe Biden to have secured victory.

image copyrightReuters

In fact, because of the time it will take to count the huge number of postal votes cast during this pandemic election, it could take days.

And if there are legal challenges to the results, it might even take weeks. This could get tricky.

Not even a hint?

To become president, you don’t actually need to win the popular vote. Instead, a candidate has to win the majority in a system called the electoral college, where each state gets a certain number of votes or “electors” roughly in proportion to its population.

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So if you win that state, you win its votes (except Nebraska and Maine, but that’s complicated). There are 538 of these state votes in total – the person who gets 270 will become president.

So despite a near record turnout this time, as usual it’s just a few key battleground states whose voters will decide the election.

  • Mr Biden and Mr Trump are projected to win the states they were comfortably expected to win
  • The race is still very close in a few crucial competitive states
  • In some of those tight races, officials haven’t even started counting postal votes, and those could change everything.

So how could we get to a result?

With Ohio and Florida projected for Mr Trump, the focus is now on a critical few states where votes are still being counted. They offer a number of paths for either candidate to get a win.

Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan: These states are in the spotlight and while some Wisconsin counties are making their way through ballots, the other states have some way to go in counting postal votes. It could take days.

Arizona: The state has not voted Democrat since 1996 but looks like a potential gain for Mr Biden, who went after young progressive Latinos living there.

Nevada, Georgia and North Carolina: These races are either too tight or too early in their counting process to call.

image copyrightReuters
image captionTrump’s win in Florida was put down to a good turnout from the Cuban-American community there

The story in one line?

Donald Trump is doing better than expected and Joe Biden has failed to win those battleground states which count votes quickly, which means more uncertainty as we wait for a few key states.

And in their own words…

Joe Biden addressed supporters saying: “We’re going to win this” but also urged patience. Donald Trump said Republicans had won and falsely claimed fraud – as we know, votes are still being counted and there is no evidence of fraud.

Should I have stayed up?

There were some big moments, but mostly in the other elections taking place, where control of the Senate still hangs in the balance:

  • Florida and Ohio projections were important for the Trump campaign, which meant attention turned to America’s mid-west
  • Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham is projected to win over his Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison in South Carolina, a race which at one point looked like he might lose.
  • Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, the first open supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory, has won a seat in Congress – she stood unchallenged.
  • Also in the race to win control of the Senate, the Democrats lost Alabama, their most vulnerable seat, but gained Colorado from the Republicans.
  • Arizona, New Jersey and South Dakota all look to have voted to legalise marijuana for personal use.
  • America has its highest ranking openly transgender elected official after Sarah McBride was elected to a seat in Delaware’s state legislature.

So what now?

Lawyers could get involved. Donald Trump, who said previously that he would mount legal challenges if the result is close, has vowed to launch a Supreme Court challenge. Mr Biden’s campaign team said it had lawyers standing by.

Will uncertainty lead to unrest? There is definitely going to be uncertainty, but although many Americans have talked about their concerns it is too early to say if there will be any significant unrest.

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