Election 2020: What Happens Next?

How the 2000 Election Results Came Down to a Supreme Court Decision - HISTORY

            Predictions are the third rail of punditry. Everyone hates a Cassandra who gets it right; the poor columnist never hears the end of a wrong call. Like a beautiful luna moth drawn to the flame, however, we can’t help ourselves.

We think we know what will happen next. People constantly demand our prognostications. We crave danger.

With the caveat that you’d probably have to go back to one of the two elections in which Abe Lincoln was a major party candidate to find a contest with more crisis-related variables than this one, here’s my guess for how this year’s presidential and congressional elections will play out.

            When: Don’t expect immediate results. For the first time ever a whopping 40% or more of the vote will come into boards of election by mail—about 13 times more than 2016. Some 42 states have laws (pushed through by Republicans) that prohibit counting to begin until after the polls close. Eight states, including the swing states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, don’t even allow election officials to begin processing—opening envelopes, verifying signatures and removing secrecy sleeves— mail-in ballots before the night of November 3rd. Even if the polls turn out to be correct and it’s a popular vote landslide for Joe Biden, I’ll be shocked if any broadcast network will be able to project a 270-electoral vote winner on Election Night.

            Who: If Biden wins, it won’t be by double digits. As usual at this stage, the presidential race is narrowing. A week ago, Biden was ahead by 14 points. Now it’s 8. If every vote, those cast in person as well as mail-ins, were counted (which is a mega big if, keep reading), Biden would probably win the (theoretically 100% counted) popular vote by a bigger, but not much bigger margin, than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Biden’s sizable lead in the polls will be shrunken by two factors.

First, the enthusiasm gap. Republican voters are wildly enthusiastic about Trump; Biden’s voters just want Trump gone. It is true that, as a CBS pollster notes, “an unenthusiastic vote, of course, counts just the same as an enthusiastic one.” The point is that anti-Trump Democrats are less likely to vote than fervent Trumpists.

Then there’s the progressive factor. Biden and the DNC have bent over backwards to insult, belittle and generally tell leftists they’re not welcome in what Biden calls “his” party. The same centrist tiny-tent approach, coupled with sucking up to imaginary swing voters, prompted between 3 and 4 million Bernie Sanders voters to stay home in 2016. If half as many progressives sit this one out too, Biden’s lead gets nibbled away more.

Unequal Votes: One person, one vote? Not when there are two classes of votes. Because they’re less worried about the coronavirus Republicans will tend to vote in-person. Democrats will disproportionately vote by mail, by a factor of at least 3-to-1.

Mail-in ballots often get thrown out. 1.2% of mail-in ballots got tossed in 2016. But many of those were cast by experienced absentee voters like business travelers. This year, because the vast majority of them will be sent in by voters who have never before been through this arcane process, I think it will be closer to 6% (the rejection rate in Philadelphia’s local election in 2019), meaning that Biden could see up to 2% or 3% of his popular vote total vanish.

The biggest reason mail-in ballots get thrown out is because the signature doesn’t match the one on file. People add or subtract a middle initial or they change the way that they sign their name. In states that require a witness signature, many voters blow off that requirement. People ditch the seemingly redundant security envelope. Poof!

Running Out the Clock: COVID-19 is President Trump’s ace in the hole. The 80 million expected mail-in ballots, three-quarters or more of them Democratic, will be targeted by the GOP’s team of thousands of attorneys all over the country for legal challenges. “Republicans are preparing prewritten legal pleadings that can be hurried to the courthouse the day after the election, as wrangling begins over close results and a crush of mail-in ballots,” Politico reported in late September.

The chaos in America’s COVID-choked court system will make Bush v. Gore look like a cakewalk.

Trump’s legal filings will have two goals: disqualifying Democratic mail-in ballots over technicalities and dragging out the vote count until December 14th. Trump’s lawyers may get help from partisan election officials in Republican states. State officials may take advantage of the fog of uncertainty of a recount war to order their electors to vote Republican whether or not their state’s actual voters agree. The chairman of the Pennsylvania state Republican Party told a magazine he had talked to the Trump campaign about subverting the popular will. (He later walked that back. Still.)

Running out the clock could tip the election to Trump. If the December 14th electoral college deadline for vote certification isn’t met by enough states to add up to 270 for Biden (or Trump), the dreaded 12th Amendment scenario kicks in. The new House of Representatives convenes, one state, one vote, and Trump almost certainly wins.

What are the chances of a prolonged recount battle triggering the 12th? At this point, in my view, slightly better than 50%: far from certain, but likely. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is alarmed and trying to win races that could be crucial in a House vote scenario.

If Trump wins: No president, not even George W. Bush or Rutherford B. Hayes, will ever have enjoyed less legitimacy or acceptance by voters. Democrats will control a bigger majority in the House and will probably retake the Senate, so Trump will be unable to govern beyond executive orders and his role as commander-in-chief. City streets will be roiled by liberal protests and counterprotests by the president’s reactionary supporters. Whether the U.S. recovers or collapses into a full-fledged depression will depend on whether Trump is willing to acquiesce to Democratic demands for a major economic stimulus package. If not, things will burn. And there will be a renewed cry to get rid of the Electoral College.

            If Biden wins: With his party controlling both houses of Congress a victorious Biden will be able to do anything he wants. Voters will expect quick, bold executive action to address the pandemic, fix the economy and reverse Trump’s noxious policy attacks against the environment and illegal immigrants. Americans will give him six months to turn the country around.

            If he doesn’t, things will burn.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


  • alex_the_tired
    October 25, 2020 7:53 PM

    I think, um, Biden’s going to lose by the death of 1,000 cuts. Sort of like a reverse Captain Planet. By these powers combined, he’ll manage to lose:
    He’s lost a lot of Sanders people. And progressives. And environmentalists. Quite a few of us from 2009 remember how Obama simply let the unemployment scraps dry up while taking good, good care of his Wall Street overlords. We won’t be voting Biden either. And let’s put down the shovels, shall we? Hunter Biden’s “business” dealings will never give us an “a-ha” moment where we see Joe Biden being given a giant swag bag with a dollar sign on it, but we all know what’s up with that. Remember when MSNBC paid Chelsea Clinton $600,000 for nine articles? Same thing. There’s a lot of ways to launder money and peddle influence while claiming with a straight face that everything is totally legit.
    And then there’s all the people who realize Trump has one thing right: Hey, Joe, you were in office for 47 years. Why didn’t you do anything about it then?
    Whether its healthcare, the environment, retirement, prison reform, or any other big-ticket issue, I know that a vote for Joe Biden is a vote for nothing changing. And I can do that just by staying home on Election Day.
    Like I said before. If Trump wins, the pressure will blow the dial right off the boiler. Biden winning is literally the worst possible outcome. He will be blocked on everything. The Republicans (even if they somehow lose the Senate) will have him impeached for mental instability. Then for Huntergate. Then for the color of his shoes. Then, when Kamala Harris takes over in six months at the most, they’ll do it all over again with her. By the midterms, they’ll retake the Senate and that’s that for anything getting passed. Period.
    (Of course, it’s possible Obama had it right when he said never underestimate Joe Biden’s ability to fuck things up. He could drop dead on Halloween, just like Houdini.)

    • When Biden wins with 50 Democrat Senators and the House, they’ll abolish the filibuster, so 50 votes will pass anything except a Constitutional Amendment, they’ll add 5 justices to the Supreme Court and at least 4 Democrat Senators to the Senate.
      And then Joe try for regime change in Russia and China, since they tried to steal two elections.
      And Russia is no match for the US. After all, a Frenchman easily defeated Russia, and a man the Austrians say was German and the Germans say was Austrian easily defeated the USSR. So I’m sure regime change in Russia will go just as well as it did for the Frenchman and the other fellow.
      So, if Biden wins, the Republicans will not be able to stop him.

      • alex_the_tired
        October 27, 2020 7:09 AM


        Everything you just wrote is perfectly sound. But there’s a fundamental initial flaw in your reasoning: the democrats never DO anything.
        Let’s assume, um, Biden wins with 50 senators and a House majority. The Republicans will get to one of those senators and flip him/her. So there goes the majority each time. Or the Republicans will remove a senator through some mechanism and a Republican governor will replace that senator with a Republican. (Rinse. Lather. Repeat.)
        But let’s say none of that happens The dems vote as a block, no one gets yanked by scandal. First up on the docket. Economic stimulus. What’s the dems’ bold plan? My guess? A $300 check, once a month, for the next six months. When it fails to work (for the same reason pissing on a housefire doesn’t solve anything), they’ll just shake their heads and wander around, explaining that they tried economic stimulus and it doesn’t work.
        Next? Healthcare! After an exploratory committee is formed and a blue ribbon panel is empowered, the dems will put forth a form of healthcare in which the government provides partial funding for some procedures for people making less than $80,000 a year (but only after they exhaust their own financial resources). There’ll be just a few dozen simple forms to fill out and a website that won’t work, and an 800 number to discuss why all your claims are being denied. Most importantly, the dem-passed legislation will GUARANTEE that the for-profits keep raking in the money.
        Environment? Oh, they’re going to make sure every home in America gets a blue bin for the recycling. Of course, when you get evicted due to COVID job loss, you’ll have to return that to the government collection site or risk incurring a $250 fine (don’t worry, that money will go to help heal the planet).
        And so on.
        The dems are like 90-year-old bridegrooms. They talk a good game, but we all know that someone (us) is in for a lousy screwing.
        But if I’m willing to be proved wrong. In your scenario, I’m willing to give the dems 72 hours to pass all their necessary legislation and do it correctly, in a way that actually brings about economic and social justice. But they won’t. Even with everything under their control. They won’t run anything right. And in two years, the Republicans will retake one or both chambers, and we’ll be back where we were, but all the anger will have dissipated due to Smilin’ Joe making everyone think things were going to be okay.

  • There seems to be an error.

    First it is said: “For the first time ever a whopping 40% or more of the vote will come into boards of election by mail … ”

    Then: ” … 80 million expected mail-in ballots … ”

    But these two projections imply that (80mil)/(0.4) = 200 million total votes will be cast. One could only wish such a turnout. But last time about 127 million votes were recorded, which is roughly the same as 2008 and 2012.

    Is such a jump (60%) in turnout actually expected? Sure, ballots will be tossed but 60-70 million? Was there a typo in either the 40% figure (and)/or the 80 million?

    Any explanations?

  • Again, I wish the candidates would name a shadow cabinet, so we would know where the ideological direction of an administration would be. Like now I’ve read articles about Bernie Sanders as Labor secretary, but this is not official.

    • alex_the_tired
      October 26, 2020 2:04 PM

      If, um Biden’s handlers tell him to read out Sanders’ name as Labor Secretary, whoever they put in as the No. 2 guy/gal will be a Wall Street darling who’ll wield all the power. Sanders will be left to rot in some cubicle.

  • I don’t think Sanders would sit still for that and Biden’s handlers know it. I can’t believe Sanders or AOC or anyone even close to these people will be put in a position where there’s a risk they might accomplish something.

  • Well, Ted/Kassandra, when the current US election farce consummatum est, I hope you will publish a column in which you go through your prognostications above and examine, line by line, how they worked out. Just in case you – and we – are still in the business 2024…. 😉