Election Day is normally a waiting game. After millions of dollars and thousands of hours of effort, once you hit the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November it more or less comes down to a matter of passing the time until we have something concrete to go on.
As Dallas Woodhouse, a former executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, told The Associated Press, "At some point, you put it in the hands of voters." That's been especially true in this year's presidential race, as the campaigns have cruised into the homestretch without much movement in the polls. No last-minute surprises so far, despite the best efforts of Rudy Giuliani, no sudden tightening in the swing states. Within hours, this tipping point in U.S. history, the 2020 presidential campaign, will be behind us — it is, in effect, all over.
All over, that is, but the shouting. That's what President Donald Trump has promised us in the face of possible defeat: shouting. A deafening, all-consuming roar, a primal scream — amplified and multiplied through Twitter and his campaign and cable news and the Republican Party and the courts — that he hopes will bend the nation to his will and force an early verdict on the election.
That’s what President Donald Trump has promised us in the face of possible defeat: shouting. A deafening, all-consuming roar, a primal scream.
See, counting ballots is a long, tedious process. That's the case when there isn't a pandemic ravaging the country, prompting more early votes to be cast than in any previous year. It's also the case when voter turnout isn't predicted to reach record highs. But, as we have had drilled into us through four years of constant repetition, Donald Trump isn't a patient man.
States often don't fully verify their tallies until days — or weeks — after the election, and this year is no exception. The New York Times reminded its readers Monday that in most presidential contests, that doesn't really matter. This was true in 2008, when Barack Obama had already won the election but two weeks passed before Missouri was called for John McCain. The same happened in 2012, when Obama had already won re-election even though it took four more days to call Florida for him.
And so, with the threat that an actual vote count might come up short, the Trump campaign — from the president on down — has decided to pull a version of his first-debate strategy against former Vice President Joe Biden: make as much noise as humanly possible and hope you can take advantage of the confusion.
This isn't just an assumption or speculation about what they might do. It's been clear for weeks now how Trump's Republican Party plans to flood the zone. "Trump advisers said their best hope was if the president wins Ohio and Florida is too close to call early in the night, depriving Mr. Biden a swift victory and giving Mr. Trump the room to undermine the validity of uncounted mail-in ballots in the days after," The New York Times' Astead Herndon and Annie Karni wrote Saturday.
That means we should be prepared for tweets, emails, text messages to supporters, cable news appearances — maybe even a phoner from Trump himself in to Fox News' Sean Hannity — demanding that the votes stop being counted immediately if it looks like he just might be ahead.
Or Trump may just skip straight to saying he won. "Trump has privately talked through this scenario in some detail in the last few weeks, describing plans to walk up to a podium on election night and declare he has won," Axios reporter Jonathan Swan wrote.
Honestly, the degree to which the Trump campaign is announcing its plans ahead of time is enough to make a Bond villain roll his eyes. "We believe that we'll be over 290 electoral votes on election night," senior Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller said Sunday during an interview on ABC News' "This Week." "So no matter what they try to do, what kind of hijinks or lawsuits or whatever kind of nonsense they try to pull off, we're still going to have enough electoral votes to get President Trump re-elected."
The "hijinks" Miller is referring to are states that, for some weird reason, think it's important to count the votes their residents have cast. These are states like Pennsylvania, whose 20 electoral votes could be vital to winning the presidency. Biden and Trump have both appeared in the Keystone State — a nickname that takes on new life this year — multiple times in the last week.
The state's election officials are allowed to process mail-in ballots until Friday, as long as they're postmarked by Election Day. But be prepared for there to be an outcry from team Trump if there's any hint that those late-arriving ballots could swing the race away from him. As Swan reported, "Trump's team is preparing to claim baselessly that if that process changes the outcome in Pennsylvania from the picture on election night, then Democrats would have 'stolen' the election."
Trump himself is raring to take the fight for his presidency to the courts, where he seems to feel he has a good chance of success. "You're going to have one or two or three states, depending on how it ends up, and they're tabulating ballots and the rest of the world is waiting to find out," Trump told reporters after landing in North Carolina on Sunday. "And I think there's great danger to it. And I think a lot of fraud and misuse can take place," he lied.
The president then slammed the Supreme Court's decision to allow Pennsylvania's vote counting to go until Friday, but he added: "Now, I don't know if that's going to be changed, because we're going to go in the night of — as soon as that election's over — we're going in with our lawyers."
Half of the conservative members of the Supreme Court have already said they're ready and willing to look at Pennsylvania's mail-in ballots after Election Day. So between that little matter and the dozens of other cases that Trump attorneys Giuliani and Jay Sekulow will likely file, yeah, the lawyers are going to be busy.
All together, these are the notes in the multilayer cacophony that Trump hopes to deafen us with beginning in a few hours. But like Odysseus' crew plugging their ears with wax before they sailed before the Sirens — or, for a more modern example, Lisa Simpson's plan for defeating rampaging ad mascots — we don't have to listen. Election officials in Pennsylvania — like Armstrong County's Marybeth Kuznik — have made it clear that they intend to keep counting no matter how long it takes:
“No way,” was how Ms. Kuznik responded when asked whether Armstrong County would have all of its votes counted in the hours after polls close at 8 p.m. “We’ll go as quickly as we can, but we’re not going to rush it,” she said. “It’s not the Super Bowl. Nobody’s going to hoist a trophy on election night.”
And while Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch seem eager to revisit Pennsylvania's mail-in ballots after the election, it's not entirely clear that their fellow conservatives on the Supreme Court will join them. Chief Justice John Roberts in particular has seemed uneasy with the idea of intervening in state-run elections, voting with the liberal wing in cases out of Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
And as for the — if we're going to be honest here — skittish among the media class, always worried about being behind the curve, The Washington Post's Greg Sargent had some helpful advice:
Ordinarily, as votes are counted, you are mainly told the percentages of precincts that have reported, and you extrapolate how many are remaining.
This time, media figures should convey clearly how many votes, and what percentages of votes, remain to be counted. This small adjustment could go a long way: When Trump declares himself ahead (or even the victor), pointing out how many votes are outstanding will expose this as the farce it is.
It would have been nice this year, of all years, to have been able to have a quiet, tranquil moment at the end of this frantic election cycle. But since we apparently can't have nice things, we should be prepared to filter out the president's noisemaking as best we can as the votes are being tallied and let the numbers speak for themselves.
While you're beginning your marathon of stress eating, here are some links for you to chew on:
- The Wall Street Journal: Bad news, people who like voting AND getting free stuff — corporations are starting to realize that giveaways based on proof of voting may not be, well, legal.
- VICE: 4chan is one of the literal worst places on the internet. VICE has traced its racist toxicity back to one person.
- NBC News: Belgium has become one of the hottest of coronavirus hot spots, and it happened fast. Here's why.
- BuzzFeed News: And while white Mississippi residents are the primary spreaders of Covid-19 in the state, thanks to the lack of early voting, Black Mississippians are bracing themselves for possible exposure in the name of democracy.