NEW YORK: The 2020 presidential election has been a roller-coaster ride for American voters, whichever side they are on.
The magic number of 270 Electoral College votes a candidate needs to win does not change, yet it has still seemed like a moving target as counts of the popular vote continue in key battleground states — two days after the polls closed.
The share of votes in the latest returns are so exceedingly close that, as of Thursday afternoon, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina and Georgia remained uncalled — and the result of the election will be decided by some combination of them.
For those who are perplexed by the mathematical gymnastics involved in US elections, this nail-biter of a week should have made clear the reasoning behind the complex system: it was designed to ensure that voters in remote, rural counties, largely ignored or forgotten by politicians, have as much of a say in choosing their leader as those in huge, heavily populated states such as New York or California.
More than 140 million votes have been tallied and now the outcome will be determined by about 1 million votes that remain to be counted in Pennsylvania, 400,000 in Georgia, where the margin between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is razor-thin, and 400,000 in Arizona.
The eyes of Americans, and the entire world, are now on counties the names of which will fade back into oblivion for most people after the election is over: Maricopa country in Arizona, for example, or Fulton county in Georgia.
In those counties, the last word could go to minorities. Latinos originally from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, for example, who were unhappy about how Trump treated their homelands during Hurricane Maria and have come out in droves to vote against him. Or Cuban Americans who have rallied behind the president for his stance against the perceived threat of socialism, a specter that evokes a painful history for a community that reeled under a socialist regime for decades.
Meanwhile African Americans in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, chose Biden in preference to an incumbent president who, they believe, did not stand with them in their fight against racial injustice. On the other hand, Black males in Miami-Dade County in Florida voted for Trump in larger numbers than expected; the perception that Biden had taken their vote for granted did not resonate well with this young community.
Late on Thursday afternoon the White House called the “the lid,” the term used to announce there will be no more announcements that day. Trump shunned the cameras and remained huddled with advisers, gearing up for a possible legal battle to challenge the result should he lose the election. This is a candidate who suggested the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged.
Trump’s campaign has already unleashed a flurry of litigation: as soon as Michigan was called for Biden, they filed a lawsuit in an attempt to halt the count in the state until access was granted to Republican poll monitors. They filed a similar lawsuit in Pennsylvania, and threatened to take their battle all the way to the Supreme Court.
Trump is also seeking a recount in Wisconsin, where he lost by only half a percentage point. He is also challenging the handling of ballots in Georgia, where his campaign is suing election officials in Chatham county amid allegations that ballots that arrived after the voting deadline were being improperly counted.
This aggressive posture has been backed with appearances by and comments from a number of administration officials, during which they have attempted to discredit the election and call into question its integrity.
The president’s son Eric, for example, posted a message on Twitter on Wednesday declaring victory for his father in Pennsylvania, where more than a million votes remained to be counted. Twitter was quick to add a disclaimer to the tweet that read: “Official sources may not have called the race (in Pennsylvania) as this was tweeted.” As of Thursday evening, the result in the state remains too close to call.
Trump ally Rudy Giuliani bizarrely alleged, in front of television cameras, that mail-in ballots could be coming from Mars or that Joe Biden “could have voted 5,000 times for all I know.”
In stark contrast to Trump, Joe Biden has picked his words carefully as the count continues. Even as the election seemed to shift in his favor, he resisted the temptation to declare victory and instead expressed his trust in the electoral system.
While both candidates have the right to challenge very close results and call for recounts, the Biden camp views Trump’s lawsuits alleging electoral impropriety as a nuisance tactic more than anything else, as there appears to be little evidence to support the claims. They believe allegations of a lack of transparency in the counting process, for example, do not hold water when all tabulation centers are equipped with security cameras and the whole operation is being streamed live for the world to watch.
But while they hope any legal challenges will be dismissed long before they reach the Supreme Court, the Democrats have made it clear that they also have a robust legal team on hand. Fueled by fears about how the unpredictable Trump might react to defeat, they have created the largest election-protection program any campaign has ever developed — and made it clear they are prepared to use it.
“We’re winning the election, we’ve won the election, we’re going to defend that election,” said Bob Bauer, a leading attorney for the Biden campaign.
While many people are frustrated that the remaining vote counts are taking so long, Tom Wolf, the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, made no apology for his state taking its time.
“This is a hiring process,” he said. “We need to make sure the voters are choosing the leaders and not the other way around.”
He described the Trump campaign’s lawsuits filed against the state as “(disgraceful) attempts to subvert the democratic process,” and vowed “to fight like hell (and) do everything in my power to make sure every vote is counted.”
In response to Trump’s attempt to halt the state’s count, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar was even more blunt: “We get to decide when the last vote is counted.”
She also evoked the long fight by American women to gain voting rights, which culminated 100 years ago in the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, and the Voting Act of 1965, which prohibited racial discrimination in elections.
“I take that every day with me as we fight for every vote in Pennsylvania,” she said.
Pollsters and pundits got many things wrong in so many ways about this election, but they are right about one thing: the story of this election is still far from over.