Elections

An Election in Overtime

President Donald Trump speaks about the presidential election results in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, November 5, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Donald Trump over-performed the polls and shocked the pundits again on Tuesday, getting so close to the finish line that several key states have yet to be called.

This is a significant achievement, and even if he doesn’t ultimately win, Republicans have a strong chance of holding the Senate and defanging a Biden presidency from the outset.

But beginning late on election night, Trump has reminded everyone how he’s always refused to conform himself to the institution of the presidency, a fact that helped repel suburban and college-educated voters, perhaps dooming his reelection bid.

In his 2:30 a.m. appearance before supporters at the White House, Trump said that he had already won the election and it was being stolen away from him in a fraud on the nation, vowing to go to the Supreme Court for redress. He doubled down with an even more outlandish statement on Thursday night.

It’s not unusual for candidates in close, drawn-out elections to project confidence, but a president of the United States obviously shouldn’t declare himself the winner of a national election before the final result is known and allege fraud without any hard evidence.

There is no doubt that mail-in voting is less secure than in-person voting, and the way the vote-counting has played out in the Blue Wall states and Georgia — with Trump leading early, then pauses in the counts before resuming with Biden making huge gains — inevitably fuels suspicions.

But the contours of the count track with the larger pattern of the vote. Trump encouraged his supporters to vote on Election Day, and these same-day votes are counted first, while Democrats tended to vote early, which are counted later.

In Arizona, the dynamic of the count has been different, with Biden establishing an early lead and Trump closing in with the late ballots. That doesn’t mean the state is being stolen for the president.

Of course, any credible allegations of irregularities should be tracked down, and the more transparency, the better. Republican election observers should be especially vigilant in locales such as Philadelphia, where the Democratic machine has a well-earned reputation for shady dealing.

Trump’s legal team should rigorously protect his interests and pursue recounts, an entirely legitimate tactic, as warranted. If a close result in Pennsylvania depends on late-arriving absentee ballots counted under the new rules written by the state supreme court, that indeed could be a matter for the U.S. Supreme Court (although reports suggest the number of such ballots is very small).

In the future, other states need to adopt the election rules and practices of Florida. The Sunshine State managed to tally a prodigious number of early votes quickly and have a reliable result within hours of the polls closing. Everyone else should be able to do it, too.

Pending evidence to the contrary, though, this looks to be an incredibly close and hard-fought, but legitimate, election that Donald Trump still has some chance to win.

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