What If? Three possible outcomes of Election 2020

By Nawaz Merchant

Days to go before the November 3 election, tensions are high. Counselors report record levels of anxiety from seniors suffering loneliness and financial worry; from working people of whom twelve million have lost jobs; students missing social connection; many blacks feel their very existence threatened; youth concerned about climate change, unable to find jobs; women experiencing increased sexism and loss of hard-won rights; white males progressively disenfranchised over decades, and immigrants struggling to make sense of it all. That is pretty much all of us. For many, post-election uncertainty is worse than the present chaos.

The US electoral college (EC), not the popular vote, determines who wins the presidency. It disproportionately represents small states; the least populous state, Wyoming, has one EC vote per 195,000 people while California, with 41 Million people had one EC vote per 712,000 people. That’s why the census matters—over time it reassigns EC votes. Created in 1878, the EC system assigns a state’s votes to the candidate winning the majority vote in each state. Since Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas have a large chunk of EC votes, a majority there could win the presidency. Here are three ways events could play out:

  1. Donald Trump wins 270+ Electoral College votes. 

So the President gains a second term. In 48 states, the winner of the statewide popular vote gets that state’s EC votes. This means that even if just a dozen more people voted for Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden gets zero EC votes in that state. Maine and Nebraska split their state’s EC votes among the winners of each congressional district.

Despite the array of issues, many seniors vote based on the health of the stock market. Capitalizing on this, Mr. Trump claimed in his Nov 22 debate that if he loses, their 401Ks are at risk. While this claim is suspect, that was a strong play. Based on his campaign, a Trump win will result in a replay of the last four years, with further erosions of civil rights for black people/minorities, women’s rights, and social programs, possibly staved off by the Democrat majority in the House of Representatives (if their majority holds). Chances are Democrat bills will continue to fail in the  Senate if the Republican hold their slender majority there. Trump family fortunes would be replenished, the Treasury would continue to erode with the economy. Billionaires will get wealthier, America’s poverty rate will climb, while lawsuits against Mr. Trump accumulate, waiting for the 2024 election to be over.

  1. Joe Biden gets 270+ in EC, yet Trump claims victory.

President Trump has been questioning the validity of mail-in ballots. He has refused on numerous occasions to agree to an orderly transition of power. We should expect conflicting claims in the press with states’ EC votes questioned for weeks. If Mr. Biden wins an overwhelming majority in the vast number of states, as well as two of the three (PA, FL and TX), expect Republicans in the House to question results. A strong youth vote could tip the tables in favor of Mr. Biden. To this end, on Nov 21, Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) joined online gamers playing “Among Us” on Twitch, attracting 435,000 young adults to her message “Please vote!”

  1. A tie with neither candidate getting a clear majority is unlikely.

But this scenario is possible due to ‘Faithless electors’ who vote against their state majority. In case of an equal 269 split-vote, the election would be decided by the House and the Supreme Court. In 2000, SCOTUS halted the recount of ballots in Florida where George W. Bush had only a narrow lead, resulting in a 271-266 EC win. (Al Gore won the popular vote, but lost the presidency to Bush.) In this case, expect Mr. Trump to declare victory early and often, with a protracted challenge in both House and SCOTUS. In 2016, seven faithless electoral voters cast their votes against the state majority, but in July 2020, SCOTUS ruled that states can now enforce electors’ pledges.

Either way, the next two weeks will be tumultuous. Two critical swing states Wisconsin and Pennsylvania do not begin counting ballots until Election Day, so expect to wait until at least Nov 6th for their results. The Republican Senate majority could be overturned: 35 of the 100 seats are up for grabs.

In the final days of the election, anything is possible (remember the planned abduction of the Michigan Governor): leaking of videos from Mr. Biden’s campaign, a hoopla about mysterious emails or laptops, National Security Advisors picking sides, white supremacist rallies and other efforts at voter suppression. Buckle up your seatbelts, but vote. Democracy is at stake.

Nawaz Merchant

Author Nawaz Merchant is the recent winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award. Nawaz has three degrees in Economics, a Master’s degree in Health Policy and has worked in business analysis for two decades. A Parsi Zoroastrian immigrant, she teaches Creative Writing at Rutgers-Osher Institute. She is a member of the Mystery Writers of America. Murder in Old Bombay is her debut novel.

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