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A field guide to the US election
Nader Rahman, New York
Published : Tuesday, 3 November, 2020 at 6:41 PM, Update: 08.11.2020 11:54:51 PM

What to look for on election night

Americans take to the polls today (Tuesday night, Bangladesh-time) in an election that both candidates have billed as a battle for the soul of a nation.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic an astonishing number of Americans have voted early. With over 93 million votes having been cast that number already represents 68% of the total turnout from 2016, and the US is on course for the highest voter turnout since 1908.

The vagaries of individual state led election commissions means that while some states would have been counting absentee and mail-in votes for up to two weeks while others can only do so from election day.

This means that while Florida will probably be called soon after 8pm EST (6am BST), other states like Georgia and Pennsylvania could potentially take days to get their final results in.

Red Mirage

While Biden holds a polling lead in a number of swing states, such as Georgia and Pennsylvania, the fact their final results might not be announced on election night has led to the much publicized ‘red mirage’ scenario dominating headlines in the US.

The red mirage scenario posits that in-person voting on November 3 which will be counted immediately and typically favours Republicans will put Trump in a strong position on Tuesday night.

So much so that it might even look like he’s cracked the magic 270 electoral college votes needed to retain the presidency.

However, after all the mail-in ballots which tend to lean Democratic have been counted, Biden could well be the people’s choice.

Thus, while Trump could look very competitive on election night, after the dust has settled and all the votes have been counted Biden could well be the one to emerge victorious.

For any reasonable election campaign this should not be much of an issue. The winner will be decided after all the votes have been cast and counted. But Trump is not a normal candidate.

He has consistently stated that the results should definitively be announced on election night, whether all absentee and mail-in ballots have been counted or not.

The real concern is that he declares victory early in the evening and in the process disenfranchises voters who might be discouraged from going out to vote if they have heard that a winner has already been announced.

On election night watch out for the media not to officially announce a winner even if Trump claims victory.


The Republican efforts to stymie this election have been well documented, but on election night be prepared to hear that lawsuits have been filed to stop the counting of votes after midnight.

President Trump’s team believes their best path to a contested victory could be through the courts, a la Bush v Gore in 2000.

Much like their efforts in 2000, the Republican party seems prepared to do everything possible to stop the count and after having just confirmed a 6-3 conservative majority in the Supreme Court it would be foolish to underestimate them.

Best and worst case scenarios

The best-case scenario is that either Trump or Biden wins on election night with an overwhelming majority.

While that seems highly unlikely, the polls indicate that Biden is most likely to benefit from such a scenario if it is to materialize.

The worst-case scenario is that there is mass confusion after the elections with lawsuits and counterclaims filed, which could result in dueling slates of state electors or with the final decision being left in the hands of the House of Representatives, neither scenario being ruled out by the US constitution.

How does it end?

In all likelihood the final results will be announced a few days after the election and only after all the ballots have been counted.

Potentially the process could take longer than that and be defined by litigation.

Whatever the case, there may well be no winner declared on election night.


If you’re feeling superstitious and looking for a quicker answer, then stay tuned for the results from Valencia County, New Mexico.

Since 1952 these roughly 75,000 souls have voted for the candidate who ultimately wins the US election.

They have correctly predicted the winners of 17 straight US presidential elections including 2000 and 2016, when the candidates lost the popular vote yet still won the presidency.

With a 17-0 record, one would be hard pressed to bet against them.


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