The US Election: What is going on?
by Louis Bromfield, PhD student in Politics
Given how 2020 has unfolded, it was no surprise that the US Election would be par for the course. In the aftermath of it all, more chaos has unfolded than anyone could’ve predicted. In this article, I will try to explain the key events of the last fortnight up to the point of writing that have occurred, in the hope of providing you, the reader, with a greater sense of clarity and understanding of what’s going on in America.
On Election Day on November 3, President Trump was exceeding expectations. He had the lead in several states he needed to win like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia.
But it’s not how you start in an election, it’s how you finish. With COVID hanging above us throughout the best part of a year, it heavily changed the voting dynamics in this election. Voting by mail became the preferred choice, with numerous states reporting higher voter turnout in pre-Election Day numbers than they got throughout the entirety of the 2016 election.
How did COVID affect the votes?
COVID caused a massive skew in how Democrats and Republicans voted. President Trump had been building up a narrative for months that mail-in voting was not to be trusted, encouraging voting on Election Day over the alternative, and his supporters listened. Those who voted for Joe Biden however were, generally speaking, more cautious and pragmatic about avoiding potential exposure to the coronavirus, and so, as a result, were much more likely to vote by mail, before Election Day.
Why is that important?
This “voting-on-the-day” versus “voting by mail” dichotomy fuels the basis of the Trump camp’s claims of corruption. On face value, Trump took comfortable leads in swing-states (states most likely to go either way) that he needed to win, yet, as time went on, his leads shrank and eventually flipped to Biden.
Why did this happen?
States count the Election Day votes first, and the mailed-in ballots second, thus offering an explanation as to why Trump seemed to be overperforming in a lot of states, and why many felt comfortable declaring him the winner, albeit prematurely. Once these votes were totalled, the mail-in votes began being counted.
This saw Biden seemingly “catch up” to Trump, and more often than not, overtake him and win these crucial states. To the Trump camp and his supporters, however, this reeked of corruption – Biden was seemingly magically conjuring up votes where and when he needed them, while Trump’s gains were minimal. When we consider the aforementioned Election Day versus postal vote counting method, this narrative is quickly dispensed of, but that isn’t stopping Trump.
I heard the Trump camp is filing lawsuits, is this true?
Yes, but it hasn’t been effective in any way. The only significant precedent set for contesting a presidential election in the US this way is the contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000, but the two elections are completely different ball games. In 2000, the election came down to approximately 500 votes in one state, Florida. The Supreme Court eventually determined Bush had won the state, and so he became President.
The Trump-Biden vote totals are nowhere near this close. Trump is contesting states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, and Georgia, all of which Biden won by approximately 63,000, 11,000, 146,000, 36,000 and 14,000 votes respectively – significantly higher margins than the 500 vote divide in 2000. To compound these figures, the Trump team’s evidence is almost non-existent. Numerous lawsuits have already been thrown out due to unsubstantiated claims, the most recent being in Pennsylvania.
Speaking on the lawsuit filed in Michigan, Judge Timothy Kenny stated that “there is no evidence in support of those assertions [of a lack of transparency in the vote-counting]” (source: NPR). On top of this, in numerous cases the number of ballots that the Trump team is looking to get thrown out is negligible at best, like their attempt to get 600 votes invalidated due to a lack of complete address information (source: ABC News), even though Biden’s winning margin was over 105 times that amount, or Senator Lindsey Graham claiming they have evidence of just six people in Pennsylvania who registered to vote after dying (source: Fox News). Any claim of voter fraud must of course be comprehensively examined, but throwing out six votes will not put a particularly noticeable dent in Biden’s 63,000 vote lead.
This election was not just about the presidency, but also which party has a majority of the seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives. While Biden taking the Oval Office may be a win, Democrats, at the time of writing, have not taken a majority in the Senate, meaning Republicans could shoot down almost anything Biden tries to enact, unless through Executive Order. If Trump’s corruption argument is to be believed, the idea that Democrats rigged the presidency but not the Senate is evidently contradictory to that take.
So why is the Trump team even trying?
In short (and this is an admittedly subjective and personal interpretation), Trump knows he has lost, and so his best strategy was to spin the results into a tale of corruption, fraud, and chaos – allowing him to exit the White House next January under the narrative that he was defeated by a rigged and broken system, engineered by the Democrat machine to remove him from office. These could even be the foundations for a second run in 2024, as he weaponises these claims against the Democratic Party. The ramifications of a sitting President doing everything he can to undermine the electoral process are alarming, something that cannot yield positive results for the health of American democracy.
What matters most to Americans and the international community is that Biden will be the next president, but do not take your eyes off Trump for the next couple of months – the ride isn’t over yet, and the Trump team is not playing nice.
Sources (if you want to double check):
Fox (can’t find the video, only source is through a Trump tweet):