Be pre­pared for Elec­tion Day re­sults to change

The Morning Call - - Town Square -

Penn­syl­va­nia is shap­ing up to be the most im­por­tant state in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. It’s likely the tip­ping point state, and ei­ther can­di­date’s chance of win­ning the elec­tion strongly de­pends on win­ning Penn­syl­va­nia.

Pres­i­dent Trump told his sup­port­ers: “The only way we’re go­ing to lose this elec­tion is if the elec­tion is rigged.” That’s a re­mark­able state­ment from any pres­i­dent, but es­pe­cially one whose ap­proval rating has been in the low 40% range for his en­tire pres­i­dency.

Fur­ther­more, Trump has been con­sis­tently well be­hind his op­po­nent in the av­er­age of na­tional polls since track­ing by the re­spected FiveThir­tyEight or­ga­ni­za­tion be­gan in March. Bi­den is also cur­rently pre­dicted to win Penn­syl­va­nia by al­most 7%.

On Sept. 23, un­der ques­tion­ing from a re­porter, Trump re­fused to com­mit to a peace­ful trans­fer of power. “We’re go­ing to have to see what hap­pens.” That’s an alarm­ing state­ment by any mea­sure. Fail­ure to re­spect the out­come of a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion could lead to mas­sive civil un­rest. Trump has laid the ground­work to cast doubt on the elec­tion by claim­ing, with­out ev­i­dence, that vot­ing by mail will re­sult in wide­spread fraud.

Fur­ther heightenin­g ten­sions, poll work­ers in Penn­syl­va­nia will not be legally al­lowed to count bal­lots un­til Elec­tion Day morn­ing, and it’s es­ti­mated it will take at least sev­eral days to count the bal­lots.

The fol­low­ing are facts. About twice as many Democrats as Repub­li­cans have re­quested mail-in bal­lots. And, of course, the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of vot­ers reg­is­tered to a party will vote for their party’s can­di­date.

So what can vot­ers ex­pect to see as Penn­syl­va­nia’s votes get counted?

To ex­plore this ques­tion, we put to­gether a sim­ple model. We as­sume:

• Six mil­lion Penn­syl­va­ni­ans vote, sim­i­lar to 2016;

• Fifty per­cent of votes cast for Bi­den and 25% of those for Trump are cast by mail (roughly con­sis­tent with known mail-in bal­lot re­quests by party);

• It will take four days to count the mail-in bal­lots, and 25% get counted each day;

• The true re­sult of the elec­tion based on all the bal­lots is a 5% mar­gin of vic­tory for Bi­den.

Note: We are not say­ing that Trump is go­ing to lose. Cur­rently FiveThir­tyEight gives him about a 1 in 8 chance of win­ning. And while those odds are not good, they’re not in­signif­i­cant. Trump beat the odds in 2016, when FiveThir­tyEight gave him a 1 in 3 chance. This is a model.

We’re just pos­ing the ques­tion: If th­ese as­sump­tions are true, what will the vote count look like as the mail-in votes slowly get counted?

At the end of elec­tion night, af­ter only a quar­ter of the mail-in bal­lots are counted, Trump leads by nearly 350,000 vot­ers (8%). But wait — there are still 1.7 mil­lion le­gal bal­lots to be counted.

The pic­ture changes as votes get counted. By the end of day two’s tally, Trump’s lead is only about 130,000 votes. Af­ter day three, Bi­den is lead­ing by 84,000 votes (1.6%), and with the fi­nal count Bi­den wins by 300,000 votes.

We can eas­ily model other out­comes in our spread­sheet. Un­der our as­sump­tions, Trump squeez­ing out a fi­nal 1% vic­tory (like he did in 2016) would re­quire a 14% lead af­ter day one. For Bi­den to ap­pear to have a slight lead af­ter day one would re­quire a whop­ping 14% fi­nal mar­gin. This is be­yond the most op­ti­mistic Bi­den poll (13%) of which we are aware.

Pres­i­dent Trump may de­clare vic­tory af­ter the first day’s re­sult. Don’t you be­lieve it.

The very sur­vival of our demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions may de­pend on our abil­ity to wait for the votes to be counted. Most im­por­tantly, re­gard­less of who ul­ti­mately wins, a swing to­ward Bi­den as mail-in bal­lots get counted is not in any way a sign of elec­tion shenani­gans. It’s a vir­tual cer­tainty given the large per­cent­age of mail-in vot­ing and the markedly greater in­cli­na­tion of Democrats to vote by mail.

Fi­nally, this po­ten­tial cri­sis of faith in our elec­tions can eas­ily be averted. Our Repub­li­can-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture needs to pass a clean bill to al­low mail-in bal­lots to be counted start­ing at least three days be­fore the elec­tion. That way we can know the real re­sults on Elec­tion Day.

Fritz Walker is a South White­hall Town­ship res­i­dent who is ac­tive in Penn­syl­va­nia elec­toral re­form ad­vo­cacy through Fair Dis­tricts PA. Mike Betker is an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer who re­sides in Up­per Ma­cungie Town­ship.

MATTSLOCUM/AP

An of­fi­cial mail-in bal­lot for the 2020 Gen­eral Elec­tion in the United States, from Delaware County.

Mike Betker

Fritz Walker

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