Election wrap-up – for now

So Joe Biden will be the next president. I’m not surprised, that seemed pretty much what the end game was even late on Tuesday. I appreciate the work that was done by poll workers, municipal and county clerks, and secretary of state staff members all over the country. As usual, there were few mistakes and no evidence of any conspiracies to steal the election, despite Trump’s claims of fraud. As I suggested a few days ago, regardless of whether city or township clerks are Republicans or Democrats, they want to run an honest election, because if they don’t (or it’s even suspected that they didn’t), they have to live in that town and deal with the consequences. They are your fellow Americans from all types of backgrounds and with all types of personal beliefs, and in the end, they always do what’s right. We owe them our thanks.

Despite some concern that there could be violence after the election when it was obvious that either Biden or Trump had lost, there’s been only a handful of isolated protests and no injuries or property damage. So far anyway. I didn’t expect much and still don’t. In the end, what most Americans want is to be left alone and for our families to be safe, even if we’re angry or frustrated by events in the news. When I went for a ride yesterday, nearly all of the Trump flags and signs are gone already. We’ve had elections before and in a lot of ways, this one wasn’t really that much different for most people. My candidate won, nice. My candidate lost, oh well, time to move on.

There will be many loose ends to tie up over the next few weeks. The big one will be trying to convince Trump that he really lost. In his mind, he’s never lost in his life. Of course he has, but in every case he’s justified it to himself that someone cheated him or rigged the game against him. These will be potentially dangerous days ahead as he deals with being a lame duck president – he’s still in charge until noon on January 20.

Finally, I’d like to point out – one last time, I promise – that the “ballgame” model of covering the presidential election is seriously flawed. Every state that Biden won (and every state Trump won) was won at the same time, regardless of how long it took to count the ballots. Trump never had a lead in Michigan, or Pennsylvania, or any of the other states Biden won. The final score happens at once as soon as 100 percent of the votes are officially counted. If we’re going to keep doing mail-in voting – and I believe we should – we need to allow them to be counted as they come in. No running totals would be issued, of course, but they would simply be added to the Election Day totals and reported all at once.

Time to move on.

No “late surges” or “comebacks”: Elections are not football games

I touched on this yesterday, but since it doesn’t look like we’ll be moving away from mail-in voting any time soon, I think we need to reconsider how presidential elections are covered. A big reason why Trump and his supporters can claim that the election is being “stolen” is because the initial numbers on Election Day favored them, while mail-in votes have been significantly skewed toward Biden, so the final results keep inching toward a Biden victory.

That’s partially the president’s fault: he spent so much time deriding mail-in voting (despite doing it himself) that much of his base wouldn’t consider taking advantage of it for this election. In at least one case, Trump supporters held a protest in Michigan where they burned the absentee ballot applications they’d automatically received in the mail:

So we expected a “red mirage” on Election Night, and had a pretty good idea that the initial numbers would shift blue as the mail-in votes were counted. This was made worse by the legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, who refused to allow early counting of those ballots, likely to support the Trump campaign’s narrative that votes counted after Election Day would be invalid and fraudulent.

(The Trump campaign is currently trying to have it both ways: In the states they’re slightly behind, they want all of the votes counted. In the ones they’re ahead in, they want to “stop the count.” Basically, the message is that the only valid vote is one for Trump.)

If elections have changed, why should we keep covering them the same way? The networks have an agreement between themselves not to call the results of individual states’ voting until the polls close in each state (but not necessarily the overall winner if it’s obvious they’ve collected the necessary electoral votes). I realize an informal agreement to not report preliminary election numbers until a winner can be confirmed would be extremely hard to enforce and might even be a violation of the First Amendment. But are clerks’ offices and secretary of state offices required by law to provide those preliminary results? If not, might they be able to take a day or two or even 72 hours to do all (or at least most, say 95%) of the counting before releasing results?

It would reduce the impression that elections are football games, with the score going back and forth until a last-minute comeback wins or falls short. After all, if a candidate ends up with more votes after they’ve all been counted, they always had the lead – always – not just after some imaginary surge at the “end.” Ironically, the “last-minute surge” is mostly made up of votes that were cast well in advance of Election Day, making that description of the changing numbers even more inaccurate.

I’m not blaming the media. We need them to tell us what’s going on, because they have access that the average citizen lacks. But it would be careless of them, especially the major television networks that still command a significant percentage of viewers on Election Day, to not consider that the way they cover elections might also be contributing to our current problems.

A Very Special Episode ends in a Cliffhanger

It makes sense that Donald Trump, who was a reality television star before we’d even come up with the term, would expect that last night’s episode of “American Nightmare” should have had a nice, clean conclusion at the end. That’s how TV works, right?

Except that sometimes we have cliffhangers. They give a boost to the ratings, which is something The Donald understands. So last night’s episode ended with a big “TO BE CONTINUED” card, and today we’re watching Part Two. It is, after all, a Very Special Episode.

Another reason we expected things to be wrapped up last night is a half-century of televised election night coverage. Ever since computers started to be widely used to tabulate election results, the networks have put the scoreboard on-screen and made a big deal as each state could be “called.” Older folks will recall that they used to call the entire election fairly early, both because we were less evenly split nationally, but also because they were competing with each other to make the call first – to get that scoop! They’d do that before the west coast polls had even closed. So under pressure from the FCC, they voluntarily agreed not to call states until their polls had closed, which is still the way they do it.

The 1972 election was the first one I stayed up to watch. My parents preferred CBS News to the others, so we watched Walter Cronkite for four or five hours. It became obvious early that Richard Nixon was going to be re-elected, so my parents went to bed, but I stayed up until CBS ended their coverage. My memory is that it was quite late, certainly after 11:00 p.m., and that I put myself to bed while everyone else was asleep, probably the first time I’d ever done that (I was nine years old).

Walter Cronkite covering the 1972 U.S. election for CBS.
Walter Cronkite covering the 1972 U.S. election for CBS.

Things have changed since then. We’re very closely split down the middle right now, especially as it relates to the Electoral College (which is an idea that’s outgrown its usefulness, but that’s another discussion). And increased mail-in voting, both in states that already do it (Oregon, for example), and others that expanded it this year due to the pandemic, has ironically taken us back to the days before modern communication, when election results had to be “transmitted” physically, in person, a process which could take weeks.

Because of our long history of televised election nights, we’re used to having everything “end” by midnight on Election Day. Except that it never really ends that way. The “technicalities” that happen after we vote are legal steps in the process to certify the outcome of the election. They can’t be skipped. Trump didn’t win anything last night just because the clock seemed to have run out. This isn’t overtime; this is still part of the game. To do anything else would be a criminal disenfranchisement of millions of American voters.

I’m pretty sure that Trump isn’t going to like the end of Part Two. The problem going forward is what he and his gang might have planned for the rest of the season.

A lovely day for an election

I took today off from work. I’ve tried to stay offline as much as possible, because the overload of election news might make my head explode. I will watch the results – however preliminary they are – this evening. But during the day I’ve been avoiding the election, with one significant exception, of course.

I’ve moved my regular road bike (my six-year-old Trek 7.2 FX) indoors onto a new smart trainer, but I want to be able to ride outside when the weather permits this late fall and into the winter. Today is a beautiful day in southeastern Michigan with a temperature around 50F and clear, sunny skies, so I thought today would be a good day to get my old Schwinn Frontier mountain bike ready and ride it to the polls. It didn’t take much work, it’s been inside most of the last few years so the tires are good, just needed some air. A little chain lubricant and a check of the brakes and it was good to go.

So I rode off to vote. In Marine City, voting takes place at the fire hall, which is about a mile away. When I arrived, I was surprised to see a line outside of the building at about 10:30 a.m. Not completely surprised, because voter engagement in this election is amazingly high, but somewhat surprised because in 25 years of living here, I’ve never seen a line to vote. Maybe a short line inside, one or two people, but nothing like this.

I locked my bike and joined the line. People were very friendly, even the folks who were complaining about Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the masks they were having to wear, and the “overreaction” to the coronavirus, which is, after all, “just a mild sinus infection.” The woman in front of me in line was wearing medical scrubs and she never turned around but just shook her head slowly as the infectious disease experts around us continued to explain how COVID isn’t serious, despite two of them knowing someone who’d gotten very ill from it, including one person on a ventilator, and that they didn’t want to get it themselves.

Voting itself was quick and efficient. Kudos to the poll workers, who seemed to be very prepared for today’s vote, as they always are. That’s one of the reassuring things for me: even though the city and township clerks who actually run America’s elections may lean toward a political party or have conservative or liberal beliefs, in the end nearly all of them will run an honest election with no tricks, despite pressure from the national and state party organizations to do so. When they say “all politics is local,” this is a manifestation of that. These people live in the towns they serve, and if something goes wrong, they’ll have to face their neighbors for years afterward. So I’m not worried about widespread nonsense at the polls.

After voting, I got back on the Schwinn and took it on a longer test ride around town, logging just over ten miles on it. It still has a nice ride. I put slicker tires on it a few years ago, replacing the nubby mountain bike tires, so it moves along pretty well despite having a fairly heavy frame. I suppose it helps that I’m putting about 40 or 50 fewer pounds on that frame.

Take a deep breath and try to relax if you can. Whether you voted early or in-person, it’s out of our control now. We’ve done what we needed to do; next it’s up to the counters to do their jobs.

‘Twas the night before Election, and all through the house…

Tomorrow is Election Day in the U.S. As with most even-year November elections, there are many federal, state, and local races on the ballot, featuring hundreds of candidates even in a smaller municipality. Of course, most of the attention has been focused on the presidential election, which is also typical. This one is different, though. The choice between the two major-party candidates couldn’t be more stark. It’s been described as the most important election in our lifetime, regardless of how young or old you are. The future direction of the nation is at stake.

Polling seems to indicate that Joe Biden should be the winner when all of the votes are counted. Donald Trump has left numerous hints and outright statements that he will consider that any result that doesn’t end with him being re-elected is fraudulent and that he may not leave office peacefully in January as would ordinarily be expected.

Probably the best result to hope for by late Tuesday evening is that Biden appears to have sizable leads in one or more key states, particularly Florida, Pennsylvania, and some other midwestern states, including Michigan. There’s a hesitation to lean heavily into the polling that shows significant leads for Biden, though, as the media remembers how Trump’s win in 2016 was unexpected based on the polls in that race.

There’s an interesting bit of history about a “tsunami-type” election, not from U.S. history but from Canada’s: In 1993, Canada held a federal election for Parliament. In their parliamentary system, if the party in power feels they can gain seats (and therefore strengthen their hold on the government), they can call an early election. The Progressive Conservative party had control of Parliament but was very unpopular by the early 1990s, so they held off calling an election until they were required to at the end of the five-year limit mandated by the Canadian constitution.

While nearly everyone expected the PC to lose control of Parliament to the Liberal Party, what happened on election night was unprecedented. When the dust settled, the Progressive Conservatives had lost all but two of their 156 seats, moving them from control of the government to a distant – and humiliating – fifth place. Equally amazing was that the Bloc Québécois, a party devoted to the secession of Québec as an independent nation, finished second to the Liberals and became the Official Opposition.

Prime Minister Kim Campbell also lost her seat. Watch, though, at least the first few minutes of her concession speech in the CBC archives video above – how mature and classy, not just Campbell herself but also her supporters in the room. One might hope – but not necessarily expect – a similar concession from the loser of tomorrow’s election, whoever that is.

It was the most lopsided loss by a governing party in a national election in Canadian history, and one of the worst ever in the Americas and Europe. The PC picked up 18 seats in 1997 but was never a factor in Canadian politics after the disastrous 1993 election. (They merged with the western Canada-based Alliance Party in 2003 to become the current Conservative Party of Canada.)

An overwhelming objection of Trumpism – its nationalism, xenophobia, and racism – is possible tomorrow, maybe even on the same scale as the 1993 election in Canada.

If you’ve already voted, thank you. If not, please take the time to vote tomorrow, no matter who you’re voting for. It’s never mattered more.