November 3, 2020
Today is Election Day and this presidential election has set itself up to be one like no other. One thing, however, that this election has in common with elections past is that the swing states still play a crucial role—for different reasons though. Let’s go over what will make this election challenging to operate and quickly get the results of as well as which swing states, as of the final polls, will likely have the closest margins.
Major challenges facing this election
Due to risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of voters have cast their ballots through the mail (both the “absentee” and “mail-in” types of ballots). Not to mention, stations for early voting in person have been set up all across the country. Altogether, this unprecedented amount of ballots arriving prior to Election Day has placed a never-before-seen amount of stress on each of the 50 states’ (plus the District of Columbia’s) election systems.
For an explanation about the difference between mail-in and absentee ballots, check out this piece here by Ben Wilson: The Difference Between Absentee and Mail-In Ballots.
These factors mean that we may not know the likely victor on Election Night. I say “likely victor” because, even if we receive preliminary results tonight, the results will be likely incomplete with many states forbidding election workers from counting the ballots before Election Day to some degree or another. As a result, in many states there will likely be a backlog of ballots that will need to be counted on top of those cast Tuesday in person.
In addition to that, Democratic voters are overwhelmingly more likely than Republican voters to cast their votes through the mail while the latter tend to vote in person more. Because of this, the preliminary results will likely not be reflective of the whole electorate within a given state, since the votes cast in person today, November 3, will most likely be disproportionately Republican.
Then there’s the integrity of this election. Incumbent President Donald Trump has repeatedly refused to say that he will accept the results of the election no matter what they may turn out to be. He has also cast doubt onto the efficacy and security of vote-by-mail. While most studies support that vote-by-mail is reliable and safe, there have been multiple incidents in many states that have raised eyebrows about how ready the states and the United States Postal Service (USPS) are to handle the largest deluge of mail ballots they’ve ever witnessed. Plus, the wait times at lines for polling stations are through the roof.
In New York City, for example, nearly 100,000 people were sent absentee ballots with the wrong names and addresses back in late September. Additionally, the City’s wait times at polling station lines have been a source of frustration and outrage at city and state government officials.
There will most likely be a legal challenge to the results—already, both the Trump and Biden campaigns are preparing for a harsh legal battle. Whether one side’s arguments have more salience than the other will depend on how widespread there are issues or allegations of mishaps and fraud Tuesday as well as during the counting process that will likely happen for days after Election Day.
The pivotal swing states
Now, onto the swing states. Assuming that the polls and their margins of error are to be trusted, this election between President Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, will potentially be determined by slim margins of error in a handful of swing states.
As of today, the states with the closest margins of error according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average are: Ohio (Trump +0.8), Texas (Trump +1.1), Georgia (Biden +1.2), North Carolina (Biden +1.8), Florida (Biden +2.5), Arizona (Biden +2.6), and then Pennsylvania (Biden +4.7) to a lesser extent.
Since this presidential election in these states will likely come down to a slim vote difference, nearly all of the ballots will have to be counted before it is possible to certify who wins a certain state. Thus, it is paramount that these states are allowed to count all of their ballots and that all of us wait patiently for the full independently verified results. All this goes hand in hand with taking the polls with a grain of salt since they were mostly wrong in 2016 when it came to the chance of Trump winning that election.
Remember: Nobody has the right answers about the election. All we can do is formulate educated guesses, account for different possible scenarios, and urge that people listen to their better angles and don’t commit acts of politically motivated violence.
The best we can do is wait.
You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.