US Heads Towards a Presidential Election Rife With Uncertainties

In a year characterised by uncertainty and chaos, the US is heading to an election heavily riddled with ‘unknowns’.

4 min read
In a year characterised by uncertainty and chaos owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States is heading to a presidential election that is heavily riddled with ‘unknowns’.

In a year characterised by uncertainty and chaos owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States is heading to a presidential election that is heavily riddled with ‘unknowns’.

Besides the usual uncertainty over which candidate will come out on top, 2020 has posed a myriad number of other questions around the election.

Will Trump Relinquish Office or Not?

US President Donald Trump has articulated a concern that due to the increased degree of voting by mail, there may be problems with the election, as a consequence of which he may not relinquish his office. The president has argued that mail-in voting is rife with fraud, claiming that voting through the mail will lead to inaccurate counting or fraud, but failed to provide any proof to back his claim.

Way back in September, Trump said that he would not commit to transfer of power post-US elections day if he loses the presidential post to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

“We’re going to have to see what happens. You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster,” Trump had told the reporters when asked if he would commit to peaceful transition of power.

In the 2016 US elections too, Trump had refused to commit to accepting the election results in his contest against Hillary Clinton.

While the White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany since then has said that Trump will accept the results of a “free and fair” election, the concern over a peaceful transfer of power still remains, naturally.

Voting Amid a Pandemic

The qualms and the concerns of voting in person amid a pandemic is also one of the factors weighing heavily on the presidential election. Despite a huge increase in early voting with many choosing to limit the risk of infection by voting in person, this still remains the most common way Americans will cast their vote, reports BBC.

Some states have even reduced the number of locations where people can cast in-person votes, The Guardian reports.

A CNN report from August said that states were scrambling to find enough resources for polling stations with older election workers dropping out over health concerns. States were reportedly facing shortages of thousands of workers and coming up with innovative solutions such as enlisting the help of the National Guard, advertising for election workers on beer cans, paying government workers to staff polling booths and lowering the age limit for for poll workers.

However, an uncertainty remains about the shortfall and the gap between how many shifted to mail-in voting and how many will still vote physically on 3 November, leading to a consequent delay and bigger queues. With many states which allowed early in-person voting having reported extensive queues, there’s proof of things not having gone smoothly.

Add to this, usual problems such as faulty voting machines, which would be true of a normal election as well.

Mail-in Ballots

Early voting has dominated this election, with 93,131,017 people already having cast their votes as of Sunday. According to CNN, this represents about 67 percent of the votes cast in the 2016 presidential election.  

According to a report by The Guardian, early voting includes both in-person votes and mail-in and absentee ballots. As of Sunday afternoon, there have been 59,126,562 mailed ballots returned to the election authorities, while there are still 32,084,041 outstanding mail ballots.

Voice of America says that every year, a huge number of mail-in ballots – extending to hundreds of thousands – are discarded by election officials for a variety of reasons such as having arrived too late to missing a proper signature. Naturally, with the number of mail-in ballots having gone up this year, even more absentee ballots are being tossed out. The report from 28 October says that in Florida, there was a rejection rate of 0.4 percent, while North Carolina saw a disqualification rate of about 1.3 percent.

Why are rejected ballots important? Because they could potentially surpass the margin of victory between candidates, specially in closely fought races in the battleground states.

There are fears that the ballots will not arrive in time, after cost-cutting measures in the summer slowed down the US Postal Service.

The Republicans have been targeting mail-in ballots of late, with a lawsuit having been filed by the Trump campaign this week in Nevada challenging individual votes on grounds that the signed ballots don’t match the signatures on file, reported Washington Post. In another similar attempt, GOP officials asked the state Supreme Court to disqualify more than 100,000 ballots that had already been cast in Harris County, which is a Democratic stronghold in a state which is Republican-leaning.

The petition was denied by the Texas Supreme Court but it goes to show the potential risk regarding mail-in ballots.

The Biggest Uncertainty: Results

This is obviously the biggest uncertainty of them all. When will we know the results? It’s difficult to say. Usually, the results are known on the night of the election itself. But this his year, due to the increase in mail-in voting, the results in many states are expected to be delayed since counting postal votes can take more time.

According to The New York Times, even after the early and in-person ballots are counted, a significant number of votes could still be outstanding. Only eight states could have at least 98 percent of unofficial results reported by noon the day after the election.

If due to the delays, there are no clear winners on 3 November, there will be a long wait for a clear picture, possibly extending up to weeks.

Additionally, since Trump has hinted that he may not accept the result of the election, the matter could end up in the Supreme Court. This had happened back in the 2000 election, when Democrat Al Gore asked for a recount. It took 36 days and the Supreme Court to finally decide against a recount and the the contest was settled in favour of Republican George W Bush, reports BBC.

(With inputs from BBC, The New York Times, Voice of America, CNN and The Guardian.)

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