Imagine the scene. It’s the morning of 4 November, 2020. After a long night waiting for the election results to trickle in, Donald Trump is addressing the country on national TV, thanking Americans for re-electing him as president. But as some viewers change the channel in disgust, there’s something strange going on. Trump’s rival for the White House, former vice president Joe Biden, is also on TV, addressing raucous supporters at his Philadelphia campaign headquarters and thanking the nation for electing him the 46th president of the United States.
A little over 12 hours earlier, the major TV networks had started the steady march of declaring winners. Just after 7pm Eastern Time, Indiana and Kentucky go to Trump and Vermont goes to Biden. So the night continues with no surprises as reliably Republican states fall to Trump and Democrat stalwarts line up behind Biden. The first real signs that 2016 could be repeating itself come at 10.47pm, when CNN declares Florida for Trump. Americans settle in for a long evening.
The path to the White House once again meanders through the cornfields and the former industrial heartlands of the Midwest. But this cold autumn evening in 2020 is different from its 2016 counterpart. The networks refrain from calling Midwestern swing states for either candidate, despite flashing results from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan showing comfortable leads for Trump. Democrat governors in those same states address TV cameras saying their election boards will not declare a winner until all of the absentee ballots — estimated at 40% of total votes cast — are counted. This could take up to a week.
Thus begins more than a month of legal filings and PR battles, as both sides try to gain the upper hand not just in terms of votes cast but also legitimacy in the minds of most Americans. The nation’s and the world’s eyes are trained on beleaguered staffers reviewing ballots in places like Ypsilanti, Allentown and, yes, Kenosha. Meanwhile, an army of lawyers on both sides battle it out in the courts, while world leaders wait with bated breath for a result.
Ultimately, Wisconsin and Michigan turn blue. As in 2000 when Florida hung in the balance, the result comes down to one state — Pennsylvania. ‘Naked ballots’ become the ‘hanging chads’ of 2020, as many Pennsylvanians forget to mail their absentee votes in extra ‘secrecy’ envelopes. This time election officials are more sympathetic to voters’ intentions, and Biden surges into the lead while Trump’s lawyers file appeals all the way to the US Supreme Court.
But time is running out. In a nasty bit of irony for the Trump team, the justices, including a newly minted Amy Coney Barrett, cite the precedent of Bush v Gore (2000) and call time on the vote count. The decision of Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State, Kathy Boockvar, to award Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes to Joe Biden stands. On 14 December Joe Biden wins the Electoral College 280 to 258.
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