Late Wednesday night, results of the 2020 presidential election were still too close to call as boards of elections in several key swing states had not yet finished counting a slew of mail-in ballots, but former Vice President Joe Biden held a clear electoral map advantage.
While President Donald Trump took to Twitter to question mail-in votes as “surprise ballot dumps,” Cornell professors and Ithaca’s elected officials condemned the president’s messaging as irrevocably damaging.
All eyes now rest on the close races of Georgia, Pennsylvania and Nevada, as Biden currently leads Trump in the formal electoral vote count (264-214, as of midnight Thursday).
Throughout Wednesday afternoon, Trump’s narrow lead in Georgia shrunk as votes from the Atlanta metropolitan area filtered in. Over 130,000 mail in ballots remain to be counted, mostly from Atlanta, and Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger pushed for results to be delivered Wednesday. As of Wednesday night, Trump led the state by a razor-thin margin of 0.7 percent.
As results trickled in late Wednesday, Prof. Richard Bensel, government, a political historian who studies voting and electoral history in the United States, did not think any of Trump’s suits would matter and distinguished the situation from the procedural posture of Bush v. Gore.
“If there’s really a serious suit on a legal question, then it will end up in the Supreme Court,” Bensel said. “The problem the Trump [legal team has] is that they are going to have trouble selecting or identifying a large enough discrepancy in the voting –– failure to to follow the law or outside outright corruption.They’re gonna have trouble with that.”
He pointed to two problems: Biden is poised to win by more than just one state, meaning one state lawsuit won’t affect the outcome of the race; the suit’s Trump’s team filed are statutorily weak.
“It’s a remarkably clean election,” Bensel said.
Prof. Alexandra Cirone, government, studies party systems and teaches courses on fake news. She lamented the president’s false statements regarding mail in voting.
“There is no evidence of fraud, whatsoever,” Cirone said. “This narrative has been circulated by the Trump campaign and the RNC for months now, precisely to set the stage for fraudulent election claims on election day.”
Trump’s persistent messaging around voter fraud as the reason for his loss has undermined faith in democratic institutions, Cirone said: “The damage has been done.”
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 also blasted the president’s statement opposing vote counting Wednesday morning, tweeting, “This is why Trump wants to stop counting early. If you don’t count the votes, it looks like he’s won.”
A surge in mail-in votes across the nation overwhelmed postal service offices and caused delays in vote counts. An unprecedented 64.6 million Americans cast their ballots before Election Day via mail-in voting, against the backdrop of a COVID-19 pandemic that has continued to spike across the nation; on Wednesday, the United States topped 100,000 new daily coronavirus cases for the first time.
In New York, a prelude to Tuesday night’s reporting delays occurred in June, as primary races took weeks to count after a surge in mail-in voting; in Ithaca, Democratic primary candidate for District Attorney Edward Kopko led incumbent Matthew Van Houten with 57.5 percent the day after the primary, but Van Houten ultimately won the race after absentee ballots were counted.
Biden, speaking from his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware expressed optimism Wednesday afternoon: “I’m not here to declare that we won; but I am here to report when the count is finished, we believe we will be the winners.”
Early Wednesday morning in the White House east room, Trump appeared to claim an unsubstantiated victory, saying “As far as I’m concerned, we already have won.” Both the left and the right saw Trump’s preemptive declaration as inaccurate and “irresponsible.”
In Tompkins County, unofficial results indicated Biden carried 69.89 percent of the vote to Trump’s 27.52 percent. Libertarian Presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen, a senior lecturer at Clemson University, received 1.11 percent of the county’s vote. It wasn’t immediately clear if these figures included absentee returns; the Board of Elections did not respond to repeated requests for comment in time for publication. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried 60 percent of the vote in Tompkins County.
On campus Tuesday and Wednesday night, students sat in uncertainty as unconvincing results slowly trickled in. For students of color recounting first-time voting experiences, the increased implications and impact of the election’s result were at the top of their minds.
In Wisconsin, the Associated Press called the race for Biden Wednesday afternoon after election officials stated that all ballots had been counted and he held around a 20,000 vote lead. The president has pledged to file a recount petition under Wisconsin law. In Michigan, the race was called for Biden by AP at 6 p.m.
As predicted, Pennsylvania had yet to report a sufficient number of votes for the AP to definitively call the races, even into late Wednesday. In the do-or-die state for Trump’s re-election, votes reported on election night heavily leaned toward Trump, but officials in both states expect mail in ballot counts –– which lean Democrat –– to be completed within three days of Nov. 3. Trump’s lead in the state shrunk considerably through Wednesday.
Across the South, Trump appeared to have the lead in North Carolina and AP called Florida for Trump early Wednesday morning.
Amanda H. Cronin ’21 contributed reporting.