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Trump wants election night result, but GOP has fought to make sure many ballots won't be counted by then

Jon Ward
·Senior Political Correspondent
·4 min read

President Trump demanded on Monday that the election winner be announced on Election Day, Nov. 3 — something his own party has made highly unlikely by fighting to keep ballots from being counted quickly in key swing states.

Trump claimed that the presidential contest “must have final total on November 3rd” in a Monday-evening tweet in which he also once again made baseless claims about “big problems and discrepancies” with mail-in voting.

He made similar comments to reporters on Tuesday, making the incorrect claim that it’s “inappropriate” to count ballots after Election Day. Many states, lawfully, will be counting ballots after Election Day, including military and overseas ballots.

But in three swing states that decided the 2016 election — and could do so again if Trump and Democrat Joe Biden are locked in a close contest — the Republican Party has refused to adopt measures that would have sped up the vote count.

And so, unless one candidate has a clear path to 270 or more votes in the Electoral College on election night, there won’t be a result on Nov. 3. A blowout is possible, but it would mean that one candidate led the other by significantly more votes than were yet to be counted.

As a result of actions by Trump’s party, mail ballots in these three states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — will not be fully counted for several days. Michigan and Pennsylvania officials have said they hope to have all mail ballots counted by Friday, Nov. 6.

The key issue here is when election clerks can open mail ballot envelopes and process them, either to count them or to prepare them for counting. All but a handful of states in the country allow clerks to do this well ahead of Election Day.

President Donald Trump holds up a paper he said had the recent poll numbers during a campaign rally at the Altoona-Blair County Airport in Martinsburg, Pa, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
President Trump holds up a paper he said had recent poll numbers during a campaign rally in Martinsburg, Pa., on Monday. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

But in these three states, the Republican Party has refused to make this change, despite the fact that it knew mail-in voting was certain to reach historic levels due to COVID-19 health concerns. A wide range of experts and election officials have urged these states to let clerks “process” or “pre-canvass” the mail ballots before Election Day.

In Michigan, the Republican legislature gave clerks one day before the election, which will make a small but not significant difference in the speed of the count. In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Republicans control the state legislatures as well and have done nothing.

Republicans claimed in Pennsylvania that they would not be able to challenge mail ballots for validity if clerks were given time before the election to open them, but the secretary of state’s office said that was not true.

In Pennsylvania, mail ballots can be counted if they arrive up to three days after Election Day, if they are postmarked by Nov. 3 or if there is no postmark. This is another potential reason for delay, but a far smaller one than the issue of pre-canvassing.

If Republicans allowed pre-canvassing, then most mail ballots would be counted on or shortly after Election Day, and any that came after that would come into play only if the contest were razor-thin.

Trump’s Monday tweet adds to concerns as well that the president may attempt to claim victory well before all votes are counted if he has a lead on election night, even if the number of ballots yet to be counted is far greater than the size of any potential lead at that moment.

The National Council on Election Integrity, a bipartisan group of over 40 government and civic leaders, said that “our constitution and our state election laws require us to count every vote, including legally cast absentee votes.”

“Because of an unprecedented number of absentee ballots this year, counting every vote is not likely to be concluded on election night. In some states, thorough vote counting can last weeks, even in the best of times,” the council said. “All Americans, including the presidential candidates themselves, have a patriotic duty to be patient as election officials count the votes. Both candidates have a responsibility to remind the country that November 3 is the last day for votes to be cast — not the last day for votes to be counted.”

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