Editorial: The presidential waiting game continues

An election inspector checks the names of voters on ballots.
An election inspector checks the names of voters as the counting of ballots begins at City Hall in Warren, Mich., on Nov. 3, 2020.
(David Goldman / Associated Press)

It’s 10 p.m. Tuesday on the West Coast as we write this, and there’s still no clear winner in the 2020 presidential race. Americans most likely went to sleep on election day without knowing whether President Trump would be reelected to a second term or if former Vice President Joe Biden would take over the White House in 2021.

There have been a few concrete results. Fox News called Arizona for Biden; the AP called Florida for Trump. But other key swing states are still too close to call, and there’s no way to predict whether voting patterns from recent elections will hold this year.

Now the waiting begins. For hours or days? That’s unknown as well. It may all come down to the results from Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the two swing states that don’t process ballots early; officials there expect to still be tallying votes through the week. Although much of California’s vote remained uncounted at this hour as well, this state is not a presidential wild card. With an overwhelming Democratic electorate, there’s virtually no chance Trump will claim the Golden State’s 55 electoral college votes.


Here’s what else we know. Trump and his Republican Party allies haven’t been content to sit and wait to hear the outcome. They began their assault on the democratic process before election day by using dubious legal challenges to stop lawfully cast ballots from being counted in key states, such as Texas, Michigan and Nevada. You can expect that their attempts to disqualify late-arriving ballots on technical grounds will grow bolder as the counting progresses over the coming days.

Judges have largely rejected the spurious claims from Republican lawyers so far, which is heartening. State election officials too must not be intimidated by Trump’s absurd and laughably ignorant assertion that ballots counted after election day aren’t legitimate. No election has ever been certified on election day. It is the national media companies that call elections shortly after the final votes are cast, based on complicated statistical analysis, exit polls and other data. And they are usually, though not always, correct when they do. Election officials, on the other hand, don’t certify elections for weeks after an election, ensuring that the process is not rushed and that every ballot is counted.

Furthermore, it simply makes no sense that a ballot tallied at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday would have more legitimacy than one tallied at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, or even at 3 p.m. Friday. Allowing ballots mailed on or before Nov. 3 a few extra days to be delivered to election headquarters doesn’t undermine democracy, but supports it — especially this year, given how the administration has hobbled the U.S. Postal Service, which seems to have misplaced more than 300,000 mail ballots and defied a court order on Tuesday to find and deliver them before polls closed. Some states have set overly tight deadlines for when mailed ballots must be received, and that’s to their discredit, particularly in this pandemic-tainted election. Every ballot that’s legally cast and received should be counted, and both parties should be championing that.

Election 2020: When will we know if Biden or Trump wins? What happens if Trump says he won while votes are still being counted? What’s a ‘red mirage’?

Despite not knowing who won, there was something worth celebrating Tuesday. Not since 2008 has there been such energy around a presidential election. True, it’s been largely negative energy. But although Trump may have been bad for the country, his disastrous tenure has inspired millions of Americans to engage in the electoral process. So many people turned out to vote that records fell around the country. In several states, early voting was so heavy that it surpassed the complete turnout in the 2016 presidential election, likely a big reason that Tuesday was a mostly peaceful and orderly election day.

It wasn’t perfect, of course. There were hourlong lines in many places and a handful of snags here and there — for example, voting machines not working in a couple of Georgia counties and a few North Carolina precincts — and the occasional burst of ugliness — such as a deranged man leaving threatening letters at homes with Biden/Harris lawn signs. And in several states, election officials reported that voters had received robocalls urging them to avoid lines and wait until Wednesday to vote in person. Who would do such a thing? Could it be foreign meddling? The FBI is on the case. Regrettably, efforts to sow confusion among voters, as well as intimidation, equipment snafus and dirty tricks, are not unique to this election.

Now, it’s on us as Americans to take a collective deep breath and wait as the duly cast ballots are counted and democracy trundles along. Until then, step away from the ideological cliff and recognize the world will not end if your candidate doesn’t win. Elections are just one part of the process of governing. Figure out a way to stay involved and keep pushing for the changes you seek.