In this wild year of challenge and disruption, nobody should have expected a simple and easy finish to the presidential contest. Despite press declarations that President Trump (who led in none of the 80 national polls conducted since Labor Day) didn’t have a chance, he barnstormed the country, displaying the energy of a man half his age. Clearly enjoying himself, the president left it all out on the field. As this article went to press, Mr. Trump had fought his way into contention.
The president scored surprising victories in places where many had written him off, like Florida, Iowa and Ohio. Now that Michigan has been called for Joe Biden, up 1.2 points with 3% to go, the race comes down to six states. With Mr. Biden leading by 0.6 percentage point, or less than 21,000 votes, Wisconsin is going to a recount. Recounts rarely see even close to one-point swings, though we’ve never seen an election like this. With Mr. Trump up by 1.4 points, or more than 68,000 votes, Georgia is working the 6% of the vote still outstanding (mostly in Atlanta).
The president also leads Mr. Biden in North Carolina by 1.4 points, or more than 76,000 votes, with 5% of the vote yet to be counted. Mr. Biden is ahead in Nevada by 0.6 and Arizona by 3.4 points, both with 14% of the vote still out.
Mr. Trump is ahead in Pennsylvania, with 51.4% of the vote to Mr. Biden’s 47.3%. The president’s 256,000-vote margin in the Keystone State may sound substantial, and Mr. Trump has already declared victory. But 14% of the vote—several hundred thousand mail-in ballots—remains to be counted, and mail-ins have tended to boost the Democrats.
Though the campaign is over, there’s still work to be done. The counting of the remaining mail-in ballots is under the control of local election boards. Each state has its own structure and process, but both parties will be involved in conducting and witnessing the counts. When there are attempts to rig the outcome, every candidate and both parties have speedy access to the courts. This is as it should be, since there is nothing more important to our democracy than free, fair and accurate elections.
There are suspicious partisans across the spectrum who believe widespread election fraud is possible. Some hanky-panky always goes on, and there are already reports of poll watchers in Philadelphia not being allowed to do their jobs. But stealing hundreds of thousands of votes would require a conspiracy on the scale of a James Bond movie. That isn’t going to happen.
The race for the White House wasn’t Election Day’s only story. In the battle for the U.S. Senate, Republicans appear to have pulled off what a few weeks ago looked nearly impossible. They likely keep their majority, surviving a giant flood of Democratic money. No Republican in a competitive race had anything close to the tens of millions of dollars that individual Democratic opponents hauled in. But elections are about more than money.
Right now Democrats look to have 48 Senate seats and Republicans 51, plus the upper hand in what will likely be a very expensive Jan. 5 runoff election in Georgia, pitting Democrat Raphael Warnock against Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler. At press time Georgia Sen. David Perdue had just above 50% of the vote in his three-person race, which would allow the Republican to avoid a runoff if it holds.
While Democrats predicted that Republicans would lose as many as 20 House seats, it hasn’t come to pass. The GOP’s leadership in the lower chamber now says they project to gain roughly a dozen seats, shrinking the Democratic majority substantially. The long-promised “blue wave” dissipated in the face of savvy recruitment and relentless fundraising orchestrated by House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. New candidates, many of them women, and several black or Latino, pulled off major upsets for the House Republicans.
But everyone’s focused on the big race. Within days, maybe hours, the presidential contest will be settled. That’s hardly too long to wait, and it would be irresponsible not to. Let candidates and their poll watchers and lawyers ensure that election authorities complete their task appropriately so that every legal ballot is counted.
There have been precious few acts of bipartisan grace lately, but we need one now, in the nick of time. Both sides must put the good of the country ahead of all else and make certain the election is buttoned up quickly, fairly and by the rulebook.