Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris are on track to be the 46th President and Vice President of the United States of America. Virtually all mainstream media outlets in the U.S. have called the 2020 presidential election in their favor.
Although a fraught election, Biden received the most votes for a presidential candidate in U.S. history with 75,196,516 votes so far. Turnout for incumbent President Donald Trump was also high, with the president receiving 70,903,881 votes — the second most votes for a presidential candidate.
Biden’s lead in the popular vote is likely to increase in the weeks ahead as provisional and absentee ballots are counted in less competitive and time sensitive states like California.
When the dust from the initial count settles, Biden should garner 285 electors (296 if his slim lead in Arizona holds) — 15 above the 270 needed for a majority. Should the results stand, Biden will be sworn into office on 20 January. Harris will become the first woman, first Black, and first South Asian American vice president in U.S. history.
“I am honored and humbled by the trust the American people have placed in me and in Vice President-elect Harris,” Biden said.
“With the campaign over, it’s time to put the anger and the harsh rhetoric behind us and come together as a nation. It’s time for America to unite. And to heal,” he said. “We are the United States of America. And there’s nothing we can’t do, if we do it together.”
Biden’s victory capped one of the longest and most tumultuous campaigns in modern history, in which he maintained an aggressive focus on Trump’s widely criticized handling of the coronavirus pandemic. According to pre-election and exiting polling, a majority of voters said rising coronavirus case numbers were a significant factor in their votes.
More than 238,000 people have been killed by the virus in the U.S.
However, despite a wide margin of victory in the popular vote — and an increasingly assured one in the Electoral College — polls predicting a landslide Biden win in states like Texas and Florida proved to have missed the mark.
As returns came in on election night Tuesday, it quickly became clear that Trump overperformed polls in several states.
As predicted by election researchers, in person voting skewed towards Trump, likely a result of the president’s constant undermining of his supporters’ confidence in the electoral process in general, and vote by mail in particular, and downplaying the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic still ripping through the country at over one hundred thousand new cases a day just prior to the election on 4 November.
With Trump initially holding leads in key states, a massive surge in mail-in ballots, delayed by rules imposed by Republican state legislatures restricting when officials could begin processing them, slowly but surely swung results in Biden’s favor.
Trump has repeatedly and falsely declared victory, including in multiple states where Biden is the projected winner. The president has also repeated unfounded conspiracy theories and tried to cast doubt on the integrity of the election.
“We all know why Joe Biden is rushing to falsely pose as the winner, and why his media allies are trying so hard to help him: they don’t want the truth to be exposed,” said a defiant Trump in a lengthy statement.
“The simple fact is this election is far from over. Joe Biden has not been certified as the winner of any states, let alone any of the highly contested states headed for mandatory recounts, or states where our campaign has valid and legitimate legal challenges that could determine the ultimate victor,” he said. “Beginning Monday, our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated,” Trump added.
It comes as little surprise that a president — a man — as combative as Trump has stubbornly refused to concede. With Deutsche Bank reportedly seeking to break ties with him and ongoing criminal investigations against him in the Southern District of New York, Trump is facing more than just a humiliating political loss.
It seems unlikely Trump will willingly exit the White House, at least without exhausting every option to hold onto his office.
Republicans have not yet fully accepted the results, with just 10 Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives and one U.S. Senator, Mitt Romney, congratulating President-elect Biden on his victory. The silence from Republican politicians generally, but leader Mitch McConnell in particular, indicates either embarrassment or looming challenges to the results. Given political tenacity and ruthlessness exhibited by McConnell throughout his career, a challenge seems more likely.
As the races in Georgia and Pennsylvania narrowed and eventually flipped in favor of Biden, Trump declared that the election “was far from over” and Republican National Committee announced it had activated “legal challenge teams” in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
No state was seeing more legal activity than Pennsylvania, where the Trump campaign and local Republicans had brought at least a half-dozen lawsuits immediately before and after Election Day.
However, lacking substantive evidence, many of the court challenges are already being dismissed by judges.
By Saturday, none of the dozen or so lawsuits brought in key states appeared to be gaining any traction in the courts and several were dismissed a mere day after they were filed. The prospects for any one case overturning the outcome of the election seems increasingly unlikely.
The legal push a failure, members of the Trump Organization and the president’s supports began to make progressively desperate calls for intervention. On Thursday, Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons, said that he hopes the FBI and Department of Justice get involved.
The former Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, appearing on Fox News, called for the jailing of election workers and called on Attorney General William Barr to do more.
Their lack of progress in stopping the count or making a persuasive case for large-scale ballot fraud has left Trump and his supporters increasingly reliant on recounts and alternative solutions for political salvation.
Recounts will likely be conducted in Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, and Wisconsin but are unlikely to result in a change in the vote tally significant enough to affect a Biden victory.
A far riskier, and likely much more unpopular, strategy would be to have state legislatures in key states held by Republicans call into question the integrity of the election and designate their own electors to reflect the “true outcome” of the election — a Trump victory.
The Trump effort may be getting a boost from state legislatures in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which are both controlled by Republicans. In Wisconsin, Speaker of the State Assembly Robin Vos directed a legislative committee to “use its investigatory powers” to conduct a review of the election, raising the specter of voter fraud without offering specific evidence.
In Pennsylvania, the two top Republicans in the legislature called on Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, to conduct “an immediate audit” of the election. Although baseless, allegations of Democratic malfeasance may be used by Republican-controlled state legislatures in key states as rationale to send pro-Trump electors to the Electoral College regardless of the results of the popular vote.
There could be a situation where both Trump and Biden claim victory and both campaigns send their own electors to the Electoral College. It would be a rare situation, but not unprecedented: there were competing electors in three states following the 1876 presidential election.
Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin all have Democratic governors and Republican-controlled legislatures.
It is possible that state legislatures and governors from these states send their own electors to the Electoral College.
If this happens, both sets of electors would meet and vote on 14 December and the competing results would be sent to Congress.
States have until December 8, known as the “safe harbor” deadline under federal law, to resolve any disputes over their vote totals and certify the winner of the election.
If a state fails to finalize its vote count by then, Congress is no longer required to accept its results under the electoral college system.
Things get even more complicated from there.
One thing that is almost certain, however, is that the longer the post-election struggle continues, the higher the likelihood of increased unrest and violence across the U.S.
Celebrations — and protests — erupted across the country in the moments after the race was called. Crowds of Biden supporters quickly gathered in Times Square and Grand Army Plaza in New York, in Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House in Washington, D.C., and outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.
Pro-Trump gatherings protesting Biden’s victory broke out in numerous locations, too, including outside the Michigan State Capitol, in Lansing, and outside the North Carolina State Capitol, in Raleigh.
It is unclear what course Republican’s will choose to take: concede the election to Biden and the Democrats and gear up for Congressional mid-term elections in 2022 or back Trump in defiance of the results.
What is clear is that America will remain divided, at least for now.