November 3, 2020
Tonight, we wait, as returns from this year’s election are about what we expected. In-person ballots cast today are weighted toward Trump, while the uncounted mail-in and early ballots are expected to favor Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
This is the scenario we all foresaw. Tonight, the election returns look relatively good for Trump, which is why he talked about claiming a victory at the end of election night. This is the so-called “red mirage.” But as the mail-in ballots get counted, everyone expects the Democratic numbers to climb fast and far.
As they do, the Trump team will fight every single ballot. They will try to claim that counting the mail-in ballots is “fraud,” or that Democrats are “stealing” the election when, in fact, election officials are simply counting all the ballots.
Remember that no one is arguing that Trump will win the popular vote. He wants to win in the Electoral College.
What we are seeing in this election is the result of voter suppression across the southern states, along with an Electoral College that has been corrupted from its original intent and is now artificially skewed toward rural states.
In 2018, for example, people in Florida voted overwhelmingly to restore voting rights to felons. This would have added about 1.5 million people back to the rolls, many of them African Americans. But the Republican legislature passed a law saying the former felons could not vote unless they had paid all their court fines and fees. A federal judge said that law was essentially an unconstitutional poll tax, but an appeals court overturned that decision. Five of the six judges who upheld the law were appointed by Trump.
Today, as well, there are problems with ballots. This summer, the Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, a major fundraiser for the Republican Party and a key ally of Trump, changed the rules for mail delivery, slowing it significantly. It turns out that more than 300,000 ballots were checked into the USPS mail system but not checked out of it. U.S. District Judge Emmett G. Sullivan ordered the USPS to sweep 27 processing centers for the missing ballots, but USPS officials refused, saying they already had a system in place and that changing it would be disruptive. Sullivan has called the parties in tomorrow morning to discuss the issue.
The problem of voter suppression is compounded by the misuse of the Electoral College. The Framers originally designed delegates to the Electoral College to vote according to districts within states, so that states would split their electoral votes, making them roughly proportional to a candidate’s support. That system changed in 1800, after Thomas Jefferson recognized that he would have a better chance of winning the presidency if the delegates of his own home state, Virginia, voted as a bloc rather than by district. He convinced them to do it. Quickly, other state officials recognized that the “winner-take-all” system meant they must do the same or their own preferred candidate would never win. Thus, our non-proportional system was born, and it so horrified James Madison and Alexander Hamilton that both wanted constitutional amendments to switch the system back.
Democracy took another hit from that system in 1929. The 1920 census showed that the weight of the nation’s demographics was moving to cities, which were controlled by Democrats, so the Republicans in control of the House of Representatives refused to reapportion representation after that census. Reapportioning the House would have cost many of them their seats. Rather than permitting the number of representatives to grow along with population, Congress then capped the size of the House at 435. Since then, the average size of a congressional district has tripled. This gives smaller states a huge advantage in the Electoral College, in which each state gets a number of votes equal to the number of its senators and representatives.
These injuries to our system have saddled us with an Electoral College that permits a minority to tyrannize over the majority. That systemic advantage is unsustainable in a democracy. One or the other will have to give.
We should know the results of this election by Thursday night, I would guess.
Biden is still projected to win.