Over 40 million Americans cast their vote on the election day
Of the 538 electoral seats in the US, a presidential candidate needs a majority of 270 or more to win the election.
You probably know by now that no clear winner has been announced for the 2020 US presidential election yet. Millions have voted for the incumbent president Donald Trump’s re-election, and millions of more have voted for the democratic candidate and former vice president Joe Biden to take control of the White House.
With the election dangling on thin margins, Joe Biden came out on election night to greet not only the more than 70 million people who have voted for him, but all Americans, saying that “he’s on the track to win”. Donald Trump claimed a premature victory, while giving his campaign a go-ahead for approaching the courts to put a stop to the counting of votes after election night.
Election Amidst a Pandemic
As expected, it is taking more than usual to count the historically high numbers of ballots. Nearly 100 million voters (that's more than the entire population of the United Kingdom!) cast absentee ballots before the election day on November 3rd. This came about by and large due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, of which the US is facing the third wave, with daily new cases surging as high as 100,000. In addition to the mail-in ballots, over 40 million Americans cast their vote on the election day, taking the tally of votes to over ~140 million, the highest in American history.
US election officials have warned that it may take days or even weeks for a final result to come out because of a large surge in postal ballots. Many states continue to count the votes well after the election day.
Too Close to Call
Both candidates are really close in a number of swing states, putting the election on a knife-edge as the votes continue to be counted. Of the 538 electoral seats, a presidential candidate needs a majority of 270 or more to win the election. And as of this moment, president Trump is trailing Biden in the electoral college tally, as well as the popular vote.
So, a natural question that arises at this stage is- what normally happens when elections are this close?
Besides waiting for all the eligible votes that were cast to be counted and verified by poll workers and let the democratic process take its time, there are a few unusual paths that can be taken by candidates to intervene in the process. As Trump called the election “an embarrassment” and “a major fraud”, his legal team has started filing lawsuits in key battleground states of Georgia and Pennsylvania on different grounds of electoral discrepancies.
Such a close election can result in litigation over voting and ballot-counting procedures in swing-states, which include the states of Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Cases filed in individual states could eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
Has this Happened Before?
Candidates going to the courts is a very unusual way for reaching a presidential election’s result. But, the last time the result was not clear within a few hours of the election was in 2000. George W Bush was confirmed as the president-elect a month after the election with the intervention of the Supreme Court. The supreme court ruled that the Democratic party’s candidate Al Gore was beaten by George Bush in electoral college vote by a mere 500 votes in the state of Florida, even though he had won the popular vote by a margin of over 500,000 votes.
Gore was the first candidate since 1888 to win the popular vote but lose the electoral college. In 2016 too, Hilary Clinton won the popular vote and yet lost to Donald Trump as he won the electoral college.
Although legal experts say that the situation in 2020 is different from the previous ones and does not give the Trump campaign strong legal grounds to file suits that can impact the result, the final result completely depends on the completion of vote counting. And to stop the counting of votes is what the Trump Campaign is after. It is only after all the votes are counted that either of the candidates can demand a recount in counties of states where the winning/losing margin is less. A vote recount is expected in Georgia and Pennsylvania.
What Else Can Go Wrong (AGAIN)?
In a highly unlikely situation, if neither of the candidates comes out victorious from this race, the election will be declared ‘contingent’ under the 12th Amendment of the US Constitution. This will happen if both the candidates finish at 269 votes when all the electoral votes are counted.
In such a situation, the House of Representatives will choose the next president, and Senate the next vice president. However, instead of all the 438 members voting individually, delegations from each individual state vote as a whole; meaning that the dominant party in each state would control a state delegation’s vote.
Prima facie, these situations are highly unlikely to arise in the 2020 election, but nothing can be ruled out completely. The race to White House continues as of Thursday, November 5th, and a power struggle is apparent in the United States. Joe Biden is leading the race, with just a few more electoral votes to reach the 270 mark, while Donald Trump continues to work towards declaring himself as the winner and disenfranchising the vote count that is underway.
With the world watching, the US, world’s oldest democracy, has a big responsibility now of upholding the democratic values enshrined in its constitution and the power is given to ‘We, the people’ of choosing the leader of the free world.