Here is some good news for those who fear a messy, long-drawn out battle after next Tuesday to determine who will be America’s president. Unless the contest proves a great deal closer than the polls now indicate, we shall know by the end of election night who has won.
That ought to be an obvious, non-controversial point to make. But there have been plenty of lurid accounts of how Donald Trump might declare victory on the basis of on-the-day voting, and leave Joe Biden struggling to play catch-up as mail-in votes are counted in the days afterwards. My point is not that Trump won’t try to pull a fast one — he might very well do so — but that the television networks will have plenty of evidence to shut him up.
Let’s set out the problem, before discussing the solution. A minority of states do not open, let alone count, mail-in votes until election day. There will be so many of these votes that most of them may not be counted until the days following the election. Polls, and early data from states that know the party affiliation of the mail-in voters, tell us that they include many more Democrats than Republicans. Republicans, far more than Democrats, prefer to vote on the day.
What is more, three of the states that leave the opening of mail-in votes until election day just happen to be Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin: the three traditionally Democrat states that Trump won narrowly last time to give him the presidency. They will almost certainly report Trump leading Biden in on-the-day votes counted next Tuesday night.