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WEDNESDAY, October 05, 2022
Analysis: Here's where the election stands and what's next

Analysis: Here's where the election stands and what's next

WEDNESDAY, November 04, 2020

The morning after the 2020 election, there are millions of votes left to count, as expected. More than 2 million of them, as of Wednesday morning, are coming from the pivotal states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - as expected. The president used his election night megaphone to declare victory, urge a halt to the vote count and encourage lawsuits to challenge ballots expected to break against him. That was expected, too.

But anyone who tells you they expected the race to end this way, from congressional candidates to party strategists to newsletter editors, is not telling you the truth. There are Republicans across the country who woke up Tuesday girding for defeat and woke up Wednesday getting ready for their Capitol Hill orientations; there are Democrats who assumed that Joe Biden could never run behind Hillary Clinton's numbers with working-class White voters and are confounded by the places where he did.

The Trump and Biden campaigns spent the morning laying out their paths to victory, with Democrats emphasizing the gains they expected to make in the mail ballots that were counted last in Michigan and Pennsylvania and Republicans suggesting two things: that Democrats' estimate of the mail ballots was off and that they'd win enough of the outstanding vote in Nevada and Arizona to take those states back out of Joe Biden's column.

Republicans working down-ballot races had more to celebrate: They clearly broke through in some places that had remained Democratic as recently as 2018, holding on to the Senate, reducing Democrats' numbers in the House and denying Democrats majorities in state legislatures that looked to be trending that way a week ago.

"The president ran a heck of a race," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "Everyone said he had no shot, [but he] turned it into a cliffhanger against everybody's expectations. I think it helped us in our Senate races."

Here are the immediate questions.

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Who'll win the presidential election? 

That depends on outstanding ballots in the states that have yet to be called, which fit into two categories. In Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, ballots that did not arrive by Election Day will not be counted. In North Carolina and Pennsylvania, there's a grace period: Ballots that were postmarked by Nov. 3 can be counted if they show up by Nov. 12 and Nov. 6, respectively.

The president, and many pro-Trump voices in conservative media, are attempting to spread confusion, portraying any ballots counted now as mysteriously pro-Biden. "They are finding Biden votes all over the place," Trump tweeted Wednesday afternoon. But as we knew going into today, there's a reason that so many absentee ballots, cast days before the election was over, were not counted quickly: Republican legislators in Michigan and Pennsylvania, in particular, rejected Democrats' proposal to allow ballots to be processed before Nov. 3. States that did so, such as Ohio, rocketed through their first vote count; states that did not are working through them now.

The Trump and Biden campaigns are describing paths to victory, in different terms. On Wednesday morning, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said the president would win after every "legal" ballot got counted; Biden campaign manager Jennifer O'Malley Dillon noted that "if Donald Trump got his wish, and we stopped counting ballots right now, Vice President Joe Biden would be the next president of the United States."

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How is that possible? 

Because the unfinished count Wednesday afternoon had the president trailing in Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin. The Trump campaign's hope last week was for the president to be clearly ahead on the first counts, which did not include most mail ballots. That did not happen, denying the president the situation that boosted George W. Bush in the contested 2000 election: an early, erroneous call by networks that left many voters thinking he'd won the election and Democrats were trying to "steal" it.

That's hard to do in this context. When Republican activists showed up to a Detroit ballot count Wednesday, shortly after the Trump campaign announced that it would sue to stop the count until its observers could watch it, Biden held a lead in the Michigan count about 40 times bigger than the one Bush held at the start of the Florida recount.

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What happens next? 

Lots of counting, and lots of lawsuits. The unrest that leaders worried about in big cities did not pan out; a violent clash in the District of Columbia and some flag-burning in Portland, Ore., was about as bad as it got. But as ballots are tallied in the closest states, watch for dueling rallies outside the counting centers, as we saw after Florida's close 2018 election and, more famously and dramatically, after the 2000 election.

The state to watch: Pennsylvania, where the gap between absentee ballots and in-person Election Day votes has been as massive as expected. And that is what Democrats feared. Republicans had focused on Philadelphia, where they have long baselessly accused Democrats of holding back votes until they know what they need to win the state, in their pre-election poll-watching; the Trump campaign shared videos that it claimed to show a voter putting mail ballots in a drop box, and a poll watcher being denied entry to a voting site he was later allowed into.

States will not officially certify results for weeks, and the Trump campaign has announced that it will request a recount in Wisconsin, which processed ballots quickly and found Biden leading by a bit more than Trump's 2016 margin there. A recount that year, requested by Green Party nominee Jill Stein, found a net 131-vote gain for Trump; several Trump allies in Wisconsin, such as former governor Scott Walker, have already said Biden's 20,000-odd vote margin is larger than any recount, historically, has overturned. (Biden's margin is bigger than the 0.25 percentage points that trigger a state-funded recount; a campaign can request a recount if the margin is below 1% and it's willing to pay for it.)

By seeking a recount at all, the Trump campaign is working the refs a bit, urging media outlets to avoid another call like the one, by The Associated Press and Fox News, that put Arizona on Biden's map. So long as the election is close, rumors ranging from Sharpies canceling Republican ballots in Arizona (they are not) to a mysterious six-figure addition of Biden votes in Michigan (it was a technical error undone later Wednesday morning) to unspecified allegations in Philadelphia will persist.

"We're winning the election, we've won the election, and we're going to defend that election," Biden campaign attorney Bob Bauer said Wednesday.

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What else is up in the air? 

Dozens of House races, Senate races in Alaska, Michigan and North Carolina, and two more Senate races that could go to runoffs in Georgia. And it's too early to assess how votes and demographics shifted until more votes are counted.