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Ballots Have Never Been Fully Counted on Election Day


The argument President Trump made early Wednesday — that he had won an election in which millions of validly cast ballots remained to be counted — was a blatant misrepresentation of the electoral process.

No state ever reports final results on election night, no state is legally expected to, and if the Supreme Court were to force states to stop counting ballots simply because midnight on Tuesday has passed — as Mr. Trump said he would ask the justices to do — it would be an extraordinary subversion of the democratic process that would disenfranchise millions of voters who cast valid, on-time ballots.

There is nothing new or unusual about prolonged vote counts. In 2008, it took two weeks for Missouri to be called for John McCain. In 2012, it took four days for Florida to be called for Barack Obama. There was no dispute about the legitimacy of these results; it simply took time to finish counting the votes.

In fact, one of Mr. Trump’s own cherished victories, in Michigan in 2016, was confirmed only after two weeks of counting.

Americans are accustomed to knowing who won the presidency on election night because news organizations project winners based on partial counts, not because the entire count is completed that quickly. Because so many people voted by mail this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic, it is taking longer in some states to make accurate projections. But the final, official results will come exactly when they always do: by the certification deadlines each state has set, ranging from two days after the election in Delaware to more than a month after in California.

Mr. Trump sought in his speech from the White House, just as he and his campaign sought in the weeks leading up to Election Day, to conflate two separate things: the casting of ballots after Election Day, and the counting of ballots after Election Day.

“We want all voting to stop,” he said, but it already has; no votes are currently being cast. What Mr. Trump is suggesting is that states not count ballots that were already cast.

The bald political nature of his speech was clear in the contradiction between his comments on Arizona, where Mr. Trump is trailing, and his comments on Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where he has the illusion of large leads because huge numbers of votes from Democratic-leaning areas, like Detroit, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, haven’t been counted yet.

He complained that Fox News had called Arizona for Joseph R. Biden Jr. when many votes were still outstanding. Then, in the next breath, he suggested that he had definitively won Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin despite the far larger numbers of votes still outstanding.

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