On trend with how 2020 is going, Election Day in the US – 3 November – is expected to be filled with chaos and uncertainty that spills over into 4 November and could carry on for days and possibly weeks.
Record-setting early vote turnout and mail-in ballot requests fuelled by Covid-19 and an engaged electorate have led to more than 93 million ballots cast before Election Day – more than two-thirds of all ballots cast in the 2016 presidential election.
But varying state laws regarding the acceptance and processing of mail-in ballots and a campaign led by one of the presidential candidates to undermine the validity of mail-in ballots are setting the stage for court battles around the country that could stretch out the process of determining a winner by days or longer.
Here are key points to watch for as the election results unfold:
No Republican has won the presidency without Florida since 1924. Worth a lucrative 29 electoral votes, this swing state is a must-win for Trump. Experts believe Trump does not have a path to the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the presidency if he does not win Florida. If Trump wins Florida, it will likely be days until we get to a winner as Biden has various paths to 270 that don’t rely on Florida. However, a Biden win in Florida could mean the election wraps up faster given it will leave Trump with fewer paths to victory.
Thankfully, we should know who wins Florida quickly. That’s because Florida allows early votes and mail-in ballots to be processed and counted as they are received. With more than half of Florida’s votes expected to be cast by mail-in ballots or early voting this year, this will help speed up results on Election Night. This will also provide much-needed clarity as it means we will have a more complete voting result from this critical state.
North Carolina and Arizona
In theory, we should be able to get more complete results from these two swing states on Election Night. Arizona state law permits the processing and tabulation of early votes and mail-in ballots to begin two weeks before the election, while North Carolina state law permits mail-in ballot processing to start five weeks ahead of Election Day. Although this gives North Carolina officials time to review ballots and contact voters in case there are any deficiencies with their ballots, votes can’t actually be counted until Election Day.
Changing demographics have given Democrats hope in these two typically-Republican states. Mail-in and early vote results in Arizona and North Carolina will likely trend Democrat, with results shifting more Republican as the day-of results come in. The relatively complete results from North Carolina, Arizona and Florida will help determine how important Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin wins are to Trump and Biden.
Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin
In 2016, Trump flipped all three of these swing states from Democrat to Republican for the first time since 1992, and he did so with incredibly tight margins – he won these states by 0.7%, 0.2% and 0.8% respectively. This means less than 80,000 votes helped determine the 2016 election. Wisconsin officials anticipate having results by Wednesday morning, but we could be in it for the long haul with Michigan and Pennsylvania. The earliest Michigan can begin processing votes is the day before the election, and Pennsylvania can’t begin processing until Election Day. Some Pennsylvania counties have already said they won’t begin counting mail-in votes until the day after the election.
Trump trying to declare victory on Election Night
This point is especially pertinent to Pennsylvania, worth 20 coveted electoral votes and arguably the true battleground and deciding state of this election. With Election Day votes expected to trend Republican and mail-in ballots expected to trend Democrat, this means that states who report Election Day votes first – such as Pennsylvania – will likely show Trump in the lead. As mail-in votes continue to be counted, this lead is expected to erode and shift to Biden. You will likely hear this referred to as a “blue shift.” We don’t know how big these shifts will be yet, and it will vary state by state, but these could be marginal shifts or massive double-digit point swings.
Trump is expected to attempt to invalidate mail-in votes, claiming that votes counted or received after Election Day are fraudulent and illegal (some states, such as Pennsylvania and North Carolina, count mail-in ballots received after Election Day as long as they are postmarked by the date of the election). Pennsylvania has even directed election officials to segregate ballots received after 8 p.m. ET on Election Day in anticipation of legal challenges.
There have already been over 300 lawsuits this election, and Trump has repeatedly expressed that he hopes the courts will prevent states from counting ballots after Election Day. If election-related cases are taken all the way to the US Supreme Court, Democrats are nervous because of the court’s 6-3 conservative majority. Moreover, this conservative majority is comprised of three justices appointed by Trump – one sworn in as recently as last week.
Regardless of the election’s outcome or how long it takes to get there, the results are sure to be pivotal for the US, the future of the Republican and Democratic parties and countries like the UK who have close relationships with the US.
If you are interested in hearing US strategists from both parties discuss the election, what the outlook is for each party going forward and what the first 100 days in office will look like for the next presidential term, join us on 10 November at 4 p.m.