I’m looking for more context on this quote, which has only been reported in journalists’ tweets thus far. When I first read it, I thought, “Wait — is she guaranteeing victory?”
Then I read it again and thought, “Wait — is she saying that Democrats will contest the election even if Trump is a clear winner, with victory projected by the networks in Florida and Pennsylvania?”
Then I read it a third time and realized what she meant (in all probability). She’s responding to this Axios scoop about Trump’s plan to try to gaslight the country tomorrow night by insisting that it’s wrong to count mail ballots after Election Day even if those ballots arrived weeks ago and state law prevented the counting from starting before November 3.
"Under no scenario will Donald Trump be declared a victor on Election Night," says Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon on a zoom with reporters.
— Dave Catanese (@davecatanese) November 2, 2020
It’s literally true. There probably isn’t a scenario in which Trump can definitively be said to have won by close of business on Tuesday. Imagine he has a big night and wins Florida, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, Iowa, and Ohio. He’s got the race locked up, right? Well, no. Arizona and the big three in the Rust Belt — Michigan, Wisconsin, and of course Pennsylvania — will determine who’s president in that case, and unfortunately at least three of those states will be counting votes past Election Day. (Several counties in PA won’t even start counting mail votes until the day after Election Day.) I recommend bookmarking this FiveThirtyEight post estimating how long it’ll take each state to finish counting. Wisconsin might be able to get it done by the wee hours on Tuesday night, but MI, PA, and AZ will all spill over into Wednesday and beyond.
And if Biden were to win all three, he’d be president — even with Trump winning all the rest. Furthermore, because everyone understands that mail ballots should trend heavily blue this year, it’ll be hard to make a projection on election night in those three states even if Trump is ahead by close of business. Let’s say, for instance, he’s up eight points in Pennsylvania with 67 percent of the vote (all in-person voting) counted. Let’s say exit polls also show that Biden should win the remaining 33 percent of votes (all mail ballots) by 25 points. There’s no way to project that race on Tuesday. Gotta wait for the count. Although if Biden is underperforming on Wednesday as the counting of mail ballots proceeds, we might get a projection for a Trump victory that day.
For Trump to be declared the winner on Tuesday by the networks, he’d need the sort of mind-bending blowout in same-day voting that only people who populate MAGA Facebook groups believe is in the offing. If he’s up 25 in PA by midnight Tuesday, say, then networks will feel comfortable enough that that lead is insurmountable to call it for him even with millions of mail ballots still uncounted. But that’s an almost unimaginable outcome.
So, yeah, realistically Trump will need to wait until at least Wednesday to be declared the victor. The situation is a bit different for Biden, who by picking a few big Trump states early might be declared the winner on election night. If he wins Florida or Texas or Georgia or North Carolina, we’d have a decent sense of which way the wind is blowing. If he wins more than one of those states, it’ll be obvious. And in the Rust Belt, if the race is surprisingly close after all the in-person votes are counted, it’ll be a safe bet that the blue-trending mail ballots yet to be counted will carry Biden to victory.
But if you had to bet, you’d bet that the race won’t be called for Biden either. Imagine that he loses Florida, Georgia, Texas, Ohio, and Iowa, but pulls the upset in North Carolina. That’s a big pick-up; with NC in his pocket, he can win the presidency with Michigan and Wisconsin and no longer needs to worry about Pennsylvania. But since MI and PA will take days to count, there’ll be no way to project the outcomes there on Tuesday night unless one candidate or the other has grossly underperformed among the in-person ballots.
All of which is a long way of saying that a Biden blowout is the only scenario that’s plausible tomorrow in which we might know who won when we all go to sleep. Under no scenario will Trump be declared a victor on election night; under most scenarios Biden won’t either.
As I was writing this post, the video of Dillon emerged. Yep, she’s trying to counterprogram Trump’s scheme to claim that he won before most of the mail ballots in the Rust Belt have been counted, which is like a football coach insisting that the game should be declared over after the third quarter if his team’s ahead. Even though the vast, vast, vast majority of mail voters will have sent their ballots in before in-person voters went to the polls on Election Day, he’s going to try to convince people that those mail votes were somehow shady and delinquent.
— The Recount (@therecount) November 2, 2020
Benjamin Ginsberg is one of the most well-known Republican lawyers specializing in election disputes in the U.S. He’s been fighting for the GOP in ballot battles for years. He’s so disgusted by Team Trump’s attempt to cast doubt on valid votes this year to try to give the president a face-saving way of claiming he was cheated if he loses that he dropped this op-ed last night.
Proof of systematic fraud has become the Loch Ness Monster of the Republican Party. People have spent a lot of time looking for it, but it doesn’t exist…
Trump has enlisted a compliant Republican Party in this shameful effort. The Trump campaign and Republican entities engaged in more than 40 voting and ballot court cases around the country this year. In exactly none — zero — are they trying to make it easier for citizens to vote. In many, they are seeking to erect barriers…
This attempted disenfranchisement of voters cannot be justified by the unproven Republican dogma about widespread fraud. Challenging voters at the polls or disputing the legitimacy of mail-in ballots isn’t about fraud. Rather than producing conservative policies that appeal to suburban women, young voters or racial minorities, Republicans are trying to exclude their votes…
The Republican challenging effort is focused almost exclusively in heavily Democratic areas. Signature mismatches will go unheeded by Trump forces in friendly precincts. This is not about finding fraud and irregularities. It’s about suppressing the number of votes not cast for Trump.
As others have noted about Trump’s strategy, you don’t spend a lot of time and energy scheming to get ballots for the other guy thrown out if you think you’re going to win fair and square. What’s most remarkable, though, is that the campaign and its allies aren’t disguising what the game is. They’re not devoting much time to substantiating their claims that “voter fraud” is afoot; they’re just flat out saying that they’re trying to get Democratic ballots disqualified, fraudulent or not. “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 Times reported this weekend. Yesterday Jason Miller went on national television and casually insisted that counting votes after Election Day if Trump is ahead in the in-person voting would amount to “stealing” the election — even though, again, nearly all of those mail ballots arrived before November 3 and there’s no dispute as to their validity.
Jason Miller: "If you speak with many smart Dems, they believe that Trump will be ahead on election night … and then [Dems will] try to steal it back after the election." pic.twitter.com/FMApbmVlRa
— The Recount (@therecount) November 1, 2020
You may remember Spencer Cox, the GOP candidate for governor in Utah, from the ad he cut with his Democratic opponent a few weeks ago. That ad called for civility and respecting civic norms in the aftermath of an election. Last night Cox called BS on Miller and Trump:
…every eligible vote is counted and each county canvasses and certifies the vote totals. Yes it’s true that when a race isn’t close the media may “call” the race, and candidates may concede or declare custody, but such actions are technically meaningless. 2/ pic.twitter.com/byPWRaH5tA
— Spencer Cox (@SpencerJCox) November 1, 2020
He’s entirely right that elections never, ever end on election night. Projections of the outcome are made by the media on election night, but nothing official ever happens. It always takes days to count the votes, at least in states where they don’t begin counting mail ballots early, as they should. Which brings us to our exit question: If the president is so agitated by Pennsylvania and Michigan counting ballots after Election Day, why didn’t he use his soapbox to demand that the laws be changed in each state to have the counting begin sooner? That’s what his home state of Florida does; they start opening the mail votes early, tally them up, and then they add in the in-person Election Day votes to give us the final outcome on election night. Trump could have insisted upon that. Instead it was *Republicans* in Pennsylvania who blocked efforts to speed up the counting this year, with no objection from POTUS. He and they have manufactured an unnecessary delay in vote-counting, and now they’re going to exploit that manufactured delay to suggest that something nefarious is going on because the votes are being counted after Election Day. As seedy and cynical a business as American politics is, we may never see something that cynical again.