Election night 2020 came and went, and we do not yet know who the next president of the United States will be.
President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden ended the night locked in a close race for the 270 electoral votes required to win the presidency outright. Trump was projected the winner in key states like South Carolina, Ohio, and Texas, while Biden came out ahead in Virginia, Minnesota and Arizona, according to a New York Times news outlet tracker.
As of early Wednesday morning, all eyes are on the upper Midwest, where final votes aren’t expected to be totaled for days. Elections officials in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have all said they will need more time to tabulate mail-in ballots. CNN reported that tens of thousands of absentee ballots also still need to be counted in Georgia and Nevada.
This uncertainty didn't stop Trump from falsely declaring a premature victory, claiming in a speech from the White House that he “already” won the election and that counting any more votes amounted to “fraud.” In his own speech earlier in the evening, Biden said the race “ain't over til every vote is counted” and that he believed his campaign was “on track to win this election.”
As Teen Vogue previously reported, elections experts predicted that the outcome might not be settled on November 3. The surge in mail-in voting prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic meant that millions of ballots weren’t received until this week — and thanks to postal service delays, some are still en route to elections offices around the country. (States including California, Nevada and Ohio still accept ballots received in the days after Election Day as long as they were postmarked on the 3rd or before). Tallying this mountain of mail ballots is no easy task. Poll workers need to make sure voters’ signatures match those on file, ensure all boxes are marked appropriately, and reach out to voters about any potential concerns. That requires time. The process of “curing” defects on ballots can take days, or even weeks.
Trump has spent months drumming up fear over this perfectly standard practice, insisting that Democrats would try to use mail-in votes to steal the election. (Studies from the Brennan Center and Columbia University have thoroughly debunked the myth of voter fraud, and several states have voted exclusively by mail for years).
Trump’s rhetoric aside, there are a number of interconnected reasons why this election was unlikely to come to a quick resolution. The United States Postal Service struggled to keep up with the huge influx of mail ballots cast by voters who were unwilling — or unable — to cast a ballot in person because of the pandemic. A number of states saw record turnout, reporting early voting numbers that exceeded the total number of ballots cast in the 2016 general election. And states including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were only permitted to start processing absentee ballots on or just ahead of Election Day thanks to GOP state lawmakers blocking efforts to allow the count to begin earlier, as CNN reported.
Republicans have signaled that they would take a scorched-earth approach to ballot counting, filing multiple lawsuits seeking to stop the count of ballots received after Election Day. The Democratic Party, too, stocked up on lawyers to help prepare for any battles over voter intimidation or the legitimacy of the count.
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