Image: Unsplash/Gayatri Malhotra

US elections 2020: what happened?

On 3 November, all eyes were on the US to see the outcome of the Presidential election. Many in America viewed this election as a litmus test as to whether ‘Trumpism’ would be re-endorsed by the American electorate or if the past four years under Donald Trump had proven too extreme.

As usual, the entire House of Representatives was up for election as well as one-third of the senate with the latter coming to the end of their six-year terms. Multiple other positions within states were also up for contention. However, the main focus was on the national elections, primarily who would be in command of the executive branch.

This year saw the White House returned to the Democrats, with former Vice-President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris chosen to hold the office of President and Vice-President from January next year. However, this victory was not declared on the night and developed into a four-day wait for media outlets to call who had won.

Despite many of the polls putting Biden way ahead of Trump and predicting a landslide victory for the veteran politician, results on the Tuesday night projected the opposite result. After the day of in-person voting, the so-called ‘red mirage’ appeared with Trump looking set to continue with four more years in office after winning key swing states such as Florida and Texas.

Yet over several days, states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania all went from appearing to be strongly in support of Trump to flipping to push Biden towards the 270 Electoral College votes required to win the Presidency

Yet over several days, states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania all went from appearing to be strongly in support of Trump to flipping to push Biden towards the 270 Electoral College votes required to win the Presidency. These states had also been Trump supporting back in 2016 and their potential to flip to support Biden was viewed as vital by the Democrats if they were going to get their candidate elected.

An extensive delay in calling the election was down to two key issues colliding with each other. First, the electoral system used in the US and secondly, the change in voting behaviour caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Within the US constitution there are very clear processes and rules when it comes to electing the president, most notably the existence of the Electoral College (EC). Founded with the intention as being a safety net between direct democracy and the highest office in the US, the whole system has become increasingly contentious over recent years.

The way the electoral college works is that each state has as many electoral college delegates as they have representatives in Congress. This is created by adding the number of senators it is allowed, which is always two, and the number of House representatives which itself is calculated off of state population. There are also three delegates that represent the District of Colombia (DC).

The President does not need to win the popular vote in order to be declared winner, just a combination of states whose EC votes tally up to 270

Overall there are 538 electoral college electors, meaning that it takes 270 EC votes for someone to have the majority of electoral support and become the President. However, this does mean that the President does not need to win the popular vote in order to be declared winner, just a combination of states whose EC votes tally up to 270.

Voting results go through several tiers of the American state such as counties and districts before they begin to paint a picture of how the state has voted. This is what then dictates the national picture. But with the coronavirus pandemic, voter behaviour changed and put ballot counting abilities to the test.

With over 100 million voters estimated to have opted to vote via postal ballot, many states had to count a mass of backlogged votes that had been cast weeks before the in person voting day. On top of this, the pandemic and social distancing potentially impacted how many people could be processing ballots in centres at a time.

Furthermore, due to the constitution allowing each state to have its own electoral process, some states could not start counting these votes as they came in. Pennsylvania, that became one of the tensely watched states in the post-election day announcements, had to wait until 3 November to start the count of postal votes. Places such as Texas and Florida could begin to count them two weeks before the in-person election day and therefore were able to be called on election night.

During this time of uncertainty and what looked like an incredibly tight race, the two candidates had very different approaches to the developing wait. Biden made a speech that saw his commitment to getting all votes counted which also demonstrated that he was feeling confident about winning. President Trump declared himself the victor of the election before the majority of postal votes had begun to be processed.

Over time as he began to lose his majority in battleground states, Trump took to Twitter where he let off a series of enraged tweets. A variety of claims were made by the incumbent that ended up being flagged by the platform as containing unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud. The President accused the Democrats and fake news of stealing an election win from him. As well as this, he promoted conspiracy theories that dead people were casting ballots and legal observers were denied the ability to be present for vote counts.

Alongside his social media attacks of vote counts, several states saw lawsuits from the Trump campaign to prevent states from counting postal ballots. Although many people thought that this election could be decided by the Supreme Court like back in 2000, it is increasingly believed that the lawsuits will not stick and that the democratic process will see every ballot cast counted.

By Saturday, the race was all but certain to go to Joe Biden, who was declared the victor by CNN at 11:24am EST/17:24 GMT. With some states still not reporting, as of 9 November, Joe Biden had 290 electoral college votes and was projected to potentially finish with 306 after edging ahead by 0.2% of the vote in Georgia who had begun the process of a state-wide recount.

Over 70 million people did vote in favour of Trump and he saw an increase in votes compared to those that he received in 2016

However, whether Trump will see the end of his ideas, rhetoric and behaviour in politics is still uncertain. The President is yet to formally concede the race as is customary after the press outlets unanimously agree on a projected winner. Furthermore, over 70 million people did vote in favour of Trump and he saw an increase in votes compared to those that he received in 2016.

Beyond the drama of the of the Presidential race, many other elections are yet to be called almost a week on from the final day of voting. The House of Representatives looks set to remain in control of the Democrats with a slightly diminished majority, allowing for one of the chambers of Congress to be more susceptible to the will of the incoming president.

With the past four years characterised by many as being defined by division, hate and partisan politics, a lot of America is seeing this win as a shift back towards unity, hope and cooperation

The Senate is still up for grabs after two races being too tight to call. Georgia will go to the polls to pick both its senators in January after a run-off election after no candidate reached the 50% majority required by Georgia state law. The Senate currently sits at 48 to the GOP and 46 to the Democrats with two independents acting with them. This means this election two weeks before President-elect Biden’s will help to determine how easily the new Commander-in-Chief will be able to enact his vision for America.

The end of the days long electoral process leads into one of the longest transitions of power too. With two months until Joe Biden’s inauguration, there is a massive undercurrent to try to unite the country going forwards. With the past four years characterised by many as being defined by division, hate and partisan politics, a lot of America is seeing this win as a shift back towards unity, hope and cooperation.

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