The 2020 presidential election was not decided on Election Day. This was a predictable result after the coronavirus pandemic radically changed the way Americans voted and elected officials in key states refused to update their laws to reflect that. What’s left is a muddied picture of a hotly contested and vicious election.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden and GOP President Donald Trump both had multiple paths to the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the presidency as of late Tuesday. All attention turns to the three upper Midwest states that handed Trump his 2016 victory by slim margins ― Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Early results in these three states show Trump up, but the count so far largely represents votes cast on Tuesday, which heavily tilt Republican this year. Democratic voters largely chose to vote absentee, so their ballots will be counted in the days to come in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Biden was projected early Wednesday to win Arizona, the first state to flip parties from the 2016 presidential election and a critical win that narrowed Trump’s path to victory. Trump could win Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania and still lose the presidency if Biden wins Michigan and Wisconsin.
Biden projected confidence in a late-night speech that he would win the three Rust Belt swing states and maybe Georgia by the time the votes are counted.
“Your patience is commendable,” he told a crowd of supporters in their cars in Wilmington, Delaware. “We believe we’re on track to win this election.”
But Trump has other plans. Before 1 a.m., he preemptively declared a “BIG” win and tweeted, falsely, that Democrats “are trying to STEAL the election.” He declared that, “Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!”
Trump’s statement is false: No votes are being cast after the polls are closed. Twitter and Facebook both attached warning labels to Trump’s posts.
Close to 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, in a brief appearance before supporters at the White House, Trump falsely declared that he had won the election and falsely called the continued counting votes “a fraud on the American public.” He then announced that he is “going to the U.S. Supreme Court” to stop the counting of votes.
Trump’s lawyers are now likely to swoop into the crucial states to contest and discount validly cast votes. The election may then move to the uncertain terrain of the courts now stacked with Trump appointees, including three on the Supreme Court ― Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
This turn of events began as Trump’s victories in Florida and Texas eliminated the chances for an early, blowout win for Biden. Democratic chances of winning control of the Senate also took a blow. (Democrats are set to keep control of the House of Representatives, blocking total GOP control of the federal government.)
Trump held leads in still-too-close-to-call North Carolina and Georgia. But Georgia is unlikely to quickly report final results due to delays counting absentee ballots in Democratic strongholds of Atlanta, and North Carolina looks headed to litigation.
Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are harder to calculate at the end of election night. Trump’s lead in all three could be wiped out when millions of outstanding absentee ballots are counted.
This is the result of the changing patterns in voting produced by the pandemic. In order to avoid spreading the virus, far more voters than ever before ― more than 100 million ― cast their votes early, 65 million of them by absentee ballot. While voters changed their behavior, many states only slightly modified theirs.
The Republican-controlled legislatures in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin refused to allow election officials to process and count absentee ballots before Election Day. This differs from states like Florida and Ohio, which were able to count their ballots ahead of time and report them early on election night. Now it will take days after the election to count the ballots in the three key states. And their results will likely hold the balance of the Electoral College votes that will deliver Trump or Biden the White House.
It is for this reason that Trump has sought to falsely cast suspicion on absentee voting and why his lawyers have fought in the courts to limit their acceptance. Cases regarding the extension of the absentee ballot receipt deadline in North Carolina and Pennsylvania went up to the Supreme Court, where a divided court just barely allowed the extensions to remain. But at least four conservative justices ― Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas ― appear happy to invalidate those extensions and the ballots received during them just as Trump wants. The recently confirmed Barrett is the unknown.
There are other legal cases surely to come. Republicans have already filed suit in Pennsylvania challenging the state’s process allowing voters to fix errors on their absentee ballots.
While Biden and Trump may be headed to a showdown in the courts, control of the Senate remains up in the air ― though Democrats’ path to a majority have appeared to narrow significantly.
Republicans quickly triumphed in two states that were reaches for Democrats in the battle for the Senate: South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham defeated Democrat Jaime Harrison and GOP Rep. Roger Marshall defeated state Sen. Barbara Bollier in Kansas for an open seat. Those victories likely eliminate the chances of a substantial Democratic majority and could hamper Biden’s ability to enact his agenda if he wins.
But Democrats ousted Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, and Democrat Mark Kelly was projected to beat Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona. Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Doug Jones lost handily to Republican Tommy Tuberville in Alabama, as expected. Races in North Carolina and Maine are leaning toward Republicans, but Democrats could still have a path to the majority ― albeit one reliant on winning what may end up as two January runoff elections in Georgia.
Democrats had expected to romp in the battle for the House of Representatives, but a mixed picture is emerging instead. They are certain to maintain control of the chamber, but three Democratic incumbents ― Florida Reps. Donna Shalala, Debbie Muscarell-Powell and Oklahoma Rep. Kendra Horn ― have lost their reelection bids, and others were endangered. Democrats were also hopeful of knocking off a number of GOP House incumbents in Texas; they fell short.
Read live updates on the election below. (Note: An ad blocker may prevent you from seeing the blog, so if you’re using one, please pause or turn it off.)