Democrat Joe Biden’s chances of defeating President Trump improved in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, but vote-counting continued in several key states that would decide the presidency.
Biden’s prospects looked strong in Michigan and Wisconsin, with him in the lead. The Associated Press has called Arizona for Biden. If he wins those three and holds Nevada — where the margin is very close — he will have 270 Electoral College votes and be the next president.
If Trump wins Nevada, Biden would need to win either Pennsylvania or Georgia in its place to reach 270. Trump would have to win both Pennsylvania and Georgia in addition to Nevada to get above 270.
A Biden win would most likely come sooner than a Trump win, since Trump’s chances would hinge on Pennsylvania and Biden can win the presidency without it at this point.
The political world was focused on these states on Wednesday, studying the remaining votes left to come in. There had been concern among Democrats after Trump won Ohio by nearly the same margin as four years ago, but the Rust Belt trio of states that decided the last election were incredibly close last time, and Biden is outperforming Hillary Clinton’s numbers in all three states.
Democrats felt good about Biden’s ability to hold his lead in Michigan and Wisconsin — since outstanding votes were expected to go heavily Democrat — and Nevada results also looked likely to keep that state in Biden’s column. But Nevada’s results might not be finalized until Thursday morning, according to veteran state reporter Jon Ralston, editor of the Nevada Independent.
Meanwhile, Trump’s baseless claims of victory early Wednesday morning were largely ignored after being met with criticism and reproach from even some of his Republican allies.
“He has undercut his own credibility,” said former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who advised Trump during the campaign. “So I think it’s a bad strategic decision, it’s a bad political decision and it’s not the kind of decision you would expect someone to make tonight who holds the position he holds.”
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican, said he was “very distressed” by Trump’s unsupported claims of fraud.
And conservative pundit Ben Shapiro, who has a significant audience on the right, tweeted that “Trump has not already won the election, and it is deeply irresponsible for him to say he has.”
But Trump also repeated his threat to try to stop ballots from being counted through litigation. “We’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said at the White House. “We want all voting to stop.”
The problem with Trump’s statement is that there are only a small number of mail ballots that have a chance of being legitimately challenged in court. There were 3 million mail ballots requested in Pennsylvania, and 2.5 million of them arrived before Election Day, meaning they will be counted no matter what the court says.
As of now, ballots postmarked by Election Day in Pennsylvania — or with no postmark at all — that arrive after Election Day can be counted until the end of the day Friday. That is the issue Republicans want to challenge, but it’s not clear this represents more than 100,000 or so mail ballots.
The U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked on this issue of late-arriving ballots, in a 4-4 split, before Justice Amy Coney Barrett was on the court. If she casts a tiebreaking vote on that issue, it could reverse the Pennsylvania policy.
In light of that, Pennsylvania election clerks are separating out mail ballots that arrive after Election Day, in case they are invalidated. These ballots would affect the presidency only if the election came down to this state and the margins were razor-thin. That is a possibility.
But the prospects for throwing out millions of clearly legitimate ballots has very little chance of success in the courts.
“These are all legally cast votes, and the process of trying to toss them out for some reason would just, I think, be viewed by any court, including the Supreme Court, as just a massive disenfranchisement that would be frowned upon,” Ben Ginsberg, the GOP’s top election lawyer for the last 20 years, said early Wednesday morning on CNN.
The only reason America is waiting for mail ballots to be counted for days after the election in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin is that the legislatures in those states did nothing to avoid this scenario, despite a chorus of warnings from Republicans, Democrats and nonpartisan voting experts.
Almost every state in the country allowed election clerks to open mail ballots at least a week or two before Election Day so they could check them for things like signatures, recognizing that there would be unprecedented numbers of mail ballots due to concerns over COVID-19. But these three states ignored pleas to make this simple change.
The delay is not the fault of election officials, who are counting the ballots around the clock.
Overall, the election was a shock in some ways but played out as expected in others. Trump’s gains among minority voters had been foreshadowed in polling, but his numbers among Cuban Americans in Florida’s Miami-Dade County were much higher than expected.
The polling in key swing states was way off, and Republican operative Ralph Reed’s words to Yahoo News two weeks ago rang prescient: “I think polling is at this point, it’s a discredited science. I think it’s a modern version of phrenology. I don’t think it works,” Reed said. “They’re all blindfolded and swinging at a piñata.”
There was also a fairly widespread sense of distrust in the polling among most political observers, based on Trump’s outperforming polling surveys four years ago. And that skepticism turned out to be well founded.
On the other hand, polling of states like Georgia turned out to be correct. It was projected to be very close, and whoever wins that state, it will be a photo finish.
One dynamic that has played out exactly as predicted is the “red mirage” and “blue shift” scenario in the Rust Belt states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Because of the intransigence on the part of the legislatures in each state, resisting common sense pleas to get mail ballots counted quickly, Trump jumped out to a large lead in those states on election night. But as mail ballots have been counted, Biden made up ground and took the lead in Wisconsin and Michigan and was on track to do so in Pennsylvania.
And as predicted, the president made an unsupported claim of victory before all the votes in those states could be counted, knowing that Democratic voters cast mail ballots at a much higher rate than Republicans.
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