We’re six days from learning the first results of America’s referendum on reality. Although I’m not fond of hot takes, I plan to live blog on election night starting around 5 pm Pacific Time, to memorialize the feelings as they happen.
I’ll be joined by The Fabulous Wife (who will have her hands over her eyes the whole time) and, via Zoom, The Longtime New York Friend. We stayed at The Longtime New York Friend’s place on election night in 2008 and Obama won. I stayed with her on election night in 2018 and the Democrats took control of the House. Not that we’re superstitious or anything — okay, we are — but we figure if we’re together for this election, Biden will beat Trump.
Gonna cross my fingers, too, because I’m not confident, despite encouraging articles like this one.
It’s not that I don’t think Biden will get lots more votes than Trump. As of this morning, FiveThirtyEight has Biden 8.4% ahead nationally. Even a four point error in Trump’s favor — a much bigger polling error than 2016 — gives Biden a popular majority twice the size of Hillary Clinton’s.
But in America the majority doesn’t really rule; there’s that stupid, outdated Electoral College. Biden is poised to win all the states Clinton won in 2016 and looks good in Wisconsin, where the aggregated, weighted polls have him ahead by 9.1%, and in Michigan, where he retains an 8% lead. Both leads exceed a five-point margin of error, which is conceivable for state polls. But in Pennsylvania, Biden’s lead is 5.1% — just barely above that worst-case margin of error. And because Pennsylvania counts its ballots slowly, it’s fair to assume the election night returns will be inconclusive.
And then the post-election battle over which votes to count will be on.
It’s been raging for a while, actually. In mid-September, Pennsylvania’s supreme court extended the deadline for receipt of mail-in ballots postmarked on or before election day (November 3) to November 6. The Republican Party went to the U.S. Supreme Court to force Pennsylvania to stop accepting mail-in ballots after 8 pm on election night. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state’s three-day extension by a 4–4 vote, presumably good news for the Democrats, who have been voting absentee in large numbers. But now that Trump has placed a third paleo-conservative on the U.S. Supreme Court, the matter is likely to be litigated again. And in a case involving a related dispute in Wisconsin, Brett Kavanaugh, another Trump appointee, signaled willingness to buy the twisted logic that any ballot received after election night is suspect: the Court’s ruling against Wisconsin is intended “to avoid the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after Election Day and potentially flip the results of an election.”
To which Justice Elena Kagan — the new Ruth Bader Ginsburg? — rejoined, “There are no results to ‘flip’ until all valid votes are counted. And nothing could be more ‘suspicio[us]’ or ‘improp[er]’ than refusing to tally votes once the clock strikes 12 on election night.”
So I’ll be watching Pennsylvania closely, expecting it to become the densest band of the post-election storm.
Biden is probably, but not totally, screwed if he’s denied Pennsylvania. If he wins North Carolina or Arizona (he’s slightly favored in both), he can still get to 270 electoral votes. Winning Florida will do it also, but despite favorable polling there (FiveThirtyEight estimates Biden is 61% likely to prevail) I trust neither the polls nor the politicians from that state.
So we’ll see. I’m hopeful. But I’m not buying champagne.
Postscript: Late this afternoon the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear until after November 3 the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s second request to block late receipt of mail-in ballots.