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Election 2020: Déjà Vu All Over Again?


Heading into Election Day, FiveThirtyEight gave former Vice President Biden an 89% chance of winning the Electoral College. While Biden still may win the presidency, the outcome will be much closer than pollsters predicted.

While voting in the seemingly endless 2020 election is finally over, it was clear by President Donald Trump’s early morning East Room speech that there is still a whole lot of electioneering going on.

As expected, the ballots are still are being counted – in fact, 20 states can continue to receive ballots after Election Day as long as envelopes were postmarked on Election Day or before – and the jockeying between the parties and candidates certainly continues. And lawsuits? Even before President Trump’s threat to take the presidential race to the Supreme Court, there were a few.

As of the weekend before Election Day, there were already 432 election-related suits circulating their way through various courts around the country. At last count this morning, there are now 437, with more expected in the hours and days ahead. And while protests certainly are happening – and, quite frankly, cities are bracing for more – so far they have been subdued. USA Today referred to “dozens” of protesters out in Los Angeles.

All of this is happening, of course, because the results still are not solidified. But as of 7 a.m. ET on November 4, here is what we do know thanks to the Associated Press:

  • Both former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump have viable paths to winning the Electoral College based on outstanding votes that have yet to be tallied.

  • In the presidential race, 43 states, along with the District of Columbia, have a winner. Seven, including Alaska, which almost certainly will go for President Trump, do not.

  • Of the 538 Electoral College votes up for grabs, 451 have been allotted: 238 to the Democratic nominee Joe Biden and 213 to Republican nominee and incumbent President Donald Trump. Remember: a candidate needs 270 Electoral College votes to win the presidency.

The states that have not yet been called, and their respective Electoral College vote count, are:

  • Alaska (3 Electoral College votes)

  • Georgia (16 Electoral College votes)

  • Michigan (16 Electoral College votes)

  • Nevada (6 Electoral College votes)

  • North Carolina (15 Electoral College votes)

  • Pennsylvania (20 Electoral College votes)

  • Wisconsin (10 Electoral College votes)

There also is one Electoral College vote that has not yet been called in Maine. That state, and Nebraska, do not have winner take all systems. Joe Biden already has secured one Electoral College vote in that state.

As noted above, President Trump will win Alaska. It simply has not been called because of the time difference. The president also is leading, according to The Associated Press, in Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. While, as stated above, both candidates have a path to victory, Biden’s remains more likely. In Wisconsin, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, the bulk of outstanding votes that have yet to be counted are early or absentee ballots from more densely populated urban and suburban areas. These neighborhoods – and early votes more generally – tend to swing considerably more Democratic.

Wisconsin, Georgia, and Nevada state officials have indicated that they believe a full initial tally of their respective states’ votes will be available as soon as this evening. Pennsylvania officials, on the other hand, have warned for months that it will likely take them days to process the overwhelming number of early and absentee ballots submitted this election cycle.

In short: it’s unlikely (but possible) that we’ll know who won the presidential race today.

Of course, Election 2020 had an important undercard: control of the U.S. Senate was in play as well. Thus far, Democrats have picked up seats in Arizona and Colorado while Republicans have taken Alabama Sen. Doug Jones’ seat away from Democrats. Accordingly, the Democratic Party has thus far net one additional Senate seat in a cycle in which they anticipated a net gain of as many as a half dozen.

That’s simply not going to happen. Republicans have kept several of their most vulnerable seats, including seats in Montana and in Iowa and South Carolina, where the Democratic challenger spent more than $100 million. Polling in all three of these Senate races as recently as this past weekend suggested the Democratic candidates were ahead of their GOP opponents.

Republicans also are leading in the battleground states of North Carolina where Sen. Thom Tillis is the incumbent and in Maine where it had looked like Sen. Susan Collins (R) was in real trouble. The GOP also is threatening to take away incumbent Democratic Sen. Gary Peters’ seat in Michigan.

Net/net? At this point, it looks like Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is likely to keep that position in 2021, though there are still a few races that have not yet been called. As a result, the legislative filibuster seems safe.

In the U.S. House, Democrats will retain control of the majority, as was predicted, but it so far has been a much worse outcome than the party had hoped. While more than 60 races have not yet been called, we know that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.), who had expected her party to gain as many as 15 seats in the House, could very well end the 2020 cycle seeing the margin of her majority decrease.

As Bloomberg reported, the biggest surprises so far include:

  • Florida-26 where Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell was defeated by Republican Carlos Gimenez, the mayor of Miami-Dade County.

  • Florida-27 where Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala, former Health and Human Services secretary, lost to Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a broadcast journalist.

  • South Carolina-01, where Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham lost to Republican challenger Nancy Mace.

  • New Mexico-02, where Rep. Xochitl Torres Small lost to Republican Yvette Herrell.

According to the Cook Political Report’s final election analysis, the first three of those four seats were expected to be held by Democrats, and somewhat easily. Only the New Mexico race was a toss-up.

Perhaps the least surprising aspect of this election is that Americans came out to vote in droves. While every four years, it is a cliché to say that year’s election is one the most consequential in history, with a pandemic raging (the United States clocked more than 90,000 coronavirus cases on Election Day), and the possibility of a long recession, and an even longer recovery on the horizon, voters were motivated to make their opinion known.

By last Friday, October 30, in Texas more voters had turned out before Election Day than had voted in-person and by mail in all of 2016. It is estimated that 9.7 million more Lone Star state residents voted before Election Day in Texas, 8.3 percent more than voted in the entire election four years ago. The energy did not help Democrats turn the state blue, however. President Trump carried the state, Sen. John Cornyn won reelection, and the party kept its hold on the statehouse and senate, which will be important for post-2020 Census redistricting.

Hawaii, Montana, and Washington also had surpassed its 2016 vote count before Election Day. Eight other states – Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina – surpassed 90 percent of their total 2016 turnout before Tuesday.

In all, it is estimated that 67 percent of Americans voted on Tuesday and the days leading up to it. While we won’t know how the official turnout numbers stack up against registered (eligible) voter numbers for several months, if that number holds, it would be the highest level of turnout in 120 years. That figure also is substantially higher than the nation’s most recent election. In 2016, 55.5 percent of eligible Americans voted; in 2012, only 54.9 percent did; and in 2008, turnout was 57.1 percent.

If you’re like us and have been up all night scrolling Twitter, watching the returns come in on cable news, and refreshing polling sites, it helps to remember that the nation has been here before, and recently. As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reminded readers before the election:

  • It took 35 days to determine the winner of the 2000 election between George W. Bush and former Vice President Al Gore.

  • In 2016, it took 36 days to certify Donald Trump’s win in the swing state of Wisconsin and 30 days to conduct a partial recount in Nevada.

  • In 2018, Floridians didn’t know the results of the U.S. Senate race there until 12 days after the election.

And, of course, that is just in the last generation. In the 1960 presidential election, John F. Kennedy won by only 100,000 votes. As National Public Radio recalled, “Disputes arose over his wins in Illinois, where a big Democratic vote from Chicago carried the day, and Texas, home to his running mate Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as in other states. Those disputes, if they had gone Republicans’ way, would have been “more than enough to cost the Democrats their win in the Electoral College,” NPR recalled.

There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to Election 2020, but every indication suggests we’ll have more clarity in the days ahead as the outstanding states report their voting totals.

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