When Will We Know For Sure?

Not today, and probably not tomorrow either. Sorry, but that’s the truth.

In a normal year, we’d have most of these things figured out by now, but this is not a normal year. Thanks to COVID-19, a record number of votes came in by mail, and the outdated laws in most states haven’t yet caught up with the new normal. As a result, some states will still be receiving votes through Friday, one or two over the weekend, and so on. It gets complicated, and there’s no reason you should have to know all the details.

But, what the hell — that’s what we’re here for. Right? …Right?

…Oh, very well.

So, yes, it’s largely about counting the mail-in ballots. California routinely takes days to do this; they’ve been working with these for years now, and have grown quite proficient. They also have extremely lax laws about when they need to be received, which is fine because everyone already knows who’s going to win in California and there’s no motive for cheating. Pennsylvania, on the other hand, has only just begun this practice, and they aren’t very good at it yet.

It’s not just a matter of counting the votes; they’d need to be counted in any event, and most states use computers to tally the results. It’s about when the mail received them, when they get delivered, and so on. Even once they’re finally counted, a great deal of matching will take place, because it’s expected that a lot of mailed-in ballots will be supplanted by in-person and vice-versa — a lot of people on both sides of the aisle didn’t trust the system.

So, over the next few days, expect numbers to shift drastically and even some states to flip from one candidate to the other. All we have right now for many places is an educated guess — and some, it’s not all that educated.

Pennsylvania:

Not only are we subjected to a delay due to mail-in ballots, we’re also looking at probable court challenges. State law never authorized drop boxes, for example, yet the state board of elections went ahead regardless of the Legislature. If there were a simple right or wrong here, it wouldn’t need to go to the courts, so please don’t think it’s this easy to understand. In Pennsylvania, we’ll know the raw count Friday midnight, but the lawsuits are likely to continue for a month because the state couldn’t get its crap together in time.

Arizona and New Hampshire:

Though these two states appear to be firmly in the Biden camp, there exists the possibility that the final counts will be impacted unexpectedly by mail-in and military ballots. In each case, it will take some time to get through the entire backlog. Additionally, some ballots will inevitably face challenge. It should be understood that no result is final until it’s certified, and these states may even switch — unlikely though that appears at present.

Georgia:

A truly vast number of ballots remain uncounted at the time of this writing, mostly in Fulton County — which is densely populated. Most should be in by the end of the day, but not all. Still, there’s every likelihood that we’ll get a “close enough to call” number by tomorrow morning, even before overseas ballots come in.

Wisconsin:

The margin here is so very narrow that the Trump camp is probably justified in activating the recount process. The initial count is still underway, and the margin for a possible Biden win is too thin to reasonably rely on given the high number of absentee ballots.

Michigan:

The initial count is taking a while, and it’s important to note that, as with many other states, some mail-in ballots may continue to arrive in the mail for days yet. It’s unlikely that the results here will be known with certainty any time soon.

North Carolina:

Trump is ahead, but by an extremely narrow margin, and some precincts are slow to report — as always. We should expect an answer by tonight or tomorrow morning, though to be sure there’s always the possibility that it will be challenged and a recount demanded.

Nevada:

“Hun, they’re just plain slow. Don’t worry about it.” -Edna the waitress

As with several other states, the margin is far too narrow to permit a call at this point. The state election board has suspended announcements while they determine the proper path forward; unlike many states, they prefer a closed environment for this process.

The Bottom Line…

…is pretty simple: We don’t know, and we won’t know. Even when we do know, because so many of the procedures this year weren’t determined with absolute legal certainty, there are apt to be legal challenges to many of the state results.

Despite what some pundits may be saying — or, for that matter, how you yourself may personally feel — this is not an attempt to steal the election. This is a direct consequence of our political process, and the many systems we have in place are functioning properly. If they weren’t, we’d have a final definitive answer right now.

Because, regardless of the actual winner, we’ve just held an election where neither candidate has an overwhelming mandate. Both are unpopular. As such, while sweeping societal changes as a result of the recent election are possible, they may well not be morally justified or, for that matter, practicable in a narrowly divided legislature.


Keep watching. We’ll do our best to keep this updated as new information comes in.


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Update, 5PM: New Hampshire appears to be stabilizing as pro-Biden. Arizona has been un-called by most major networks pending the Maricopa County count, due in tomorrow.

Update, 5:45PM: Tentatively, Michigan and Wisconsin have both been called for Biden. The margins are both narrow, and this may be premature.

Update, 7:00PM: Nevada has determined they’ll be unable to give a definite answer tonight, and instead will announce tomorrow. Georgia is still counting.

Update, 7:15PM: Arizona has announced they will be sure to count even those ballots marked with Sharpies, in response to an internet rumor to the contrary. Ballot instructions clearly forbid Sharpies.

Update, 11:00PM: Arizona and Georgia are still counting. The vote in each state is at a vanishingly small margin’s difference between the two candidates, and either could win. Arizona could well take several days.

Update, 1:00 AM Thursday: CNN is reporting a violent right-wing mob shutting down the vote count in Maricopa County. @Cernovich had just finished live-Tweeting a video of the –unarmed– crowd, which isn’t protesting anything, but instead appears to be standing a largely silent vigil. And Arizona is still counting, using three shifts of workers.

Update, 3:00AM Thursday: Arizona is now within 70,000 votes, of about 3 million cast, with Trump gaining.

Update, 7:00AM Thursday: Georgia is within 19,000 votes, with Biden gaining.

Update, 1:15PM: Nevada has released some new totals. They remain under 90% reporting, with several rural areas still silent, but Biden’s lead has increased to nearly a full percentage point. It’s still anyone’s state.

Update, 6:00PM: Georgia is down to a 10,000 vote margin. It will be razor-thin, and a recount is probably wise. Michigan, the margin isn’t so narrow, but there’s been some suggestion that mailed-in ballots may be duplicated, so again a recount makes sense — though it probably won’t swing the state. Again, there’s insufficient movement in Nevada or Arizona to determine anything, and Pennsylvania we still won’t know until tomorrow midnight.

Update, 8:15PM: The margin in Georgia is down to a mere 4,000 votes, with Trump leading Biden and 99% of the vote in. There remain approximately 17,000 votes to be counted, mostly absentee; in addition, there are some thousands that require adjudication due to some irregularity. Counting in most counties will end at 9PM and begin again tomorrow.

Update, Friday Noon: Biden has pulled ahead in Georgia and Pennsylvania, establishing definite though not substantial leads. Recounts are likely in both states and Wisconsin, and the courts will have some authority over the Pennsylvania results due to poorly written (and badly followed) election laws. However, at present it seems unlikely that Trump can recover.

Update, Friday, 3:15PM: The Georgia senate races are becoming key. The special election to replace appointee Loeffler (R) will advance to a runoff election on January 5th, with Loeffler serving until her seat is filled. The vote regularly scheduled for the seat presently occupied by Purdue (R), however, will also very likely advance to a runoff in January. As we understand it, this will leave his seat vacant until then, subject to appointment — and he’s likely to receive that appointment, if it’s considered appropriate. Sullivan will hold his seat in Alaska and Tillis likely the same in North Carolina, which means the new Senate will have a Republican majority going in to the new year.

Update, 7:00PM: Pennsylvania will continue to update through the night, but we’re almost ready to call it. There, Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona are all likely to have marginal wins for Biden. However, Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are all close enough for recounts to matter. Meanwhile, Nevada will continue curing ballots for a short while before releasing quasi-final numbers, after which the state deadline will likely be the next update from them.

Update, Saturday 2:15AM: We have confirmation that Georgia is planning a recount, and Pennsylvania is about to get… interesting. Court challenges; some valid, some not so much. Meanwhile, Nevada has six figures left to count and so does Arizona. CNN is refusing to call Maine‘s second district or Alaska despite the fairly obvious nature of the results, and Trump’s margin in North Carolina is narrowing… but not faster than the ballots are being counted. States are projecting some answers by Monday, but with margins this narrow we’re looking at two to three week waits for the recount process to complete in each of up to six states.

Update, Saturday Noon: The collective news agencies have all projected Biden wins in Pennsylvania, which, pending recounts (which will happen, regardless of candidate preference) should give him the Presidency — by an extremely narrow margin. Vote counting will continue until it is finished.

Update, Sunday Noon: The Nevada count in Clark County (Las Vegas) is proceeding with near-glacial speed. Rural areas of the state have yet to report 100%, but then rural areas of the state contain very few voters. TNFN is ready to call Nevada for Biden, and to suggest that sufficient oversight exists that the recount will be a mere formality. Margins in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin remain razor-thin; recounts are inevitable — but likely won’t change results.

Update, Monday Noon: Nevada is now solidly Biden’s, with a 35,000 vote advantage out of 1.3 million cast. The race in Arizona has narrowed a bit, to 15,000 votes. In Georgia, the Biden advantage has inched up by a few hundred to just a hair over 10,000 votes. In Pennsylvania, Biden’s advantage is increasing to 45,000 votes.

Update, Tuesday 2:45PM: Vote counting has slowed even further, if that were possible. Today marks the last day in some states that mail-in ballots will be accepted; the theory is that overseas ballots might easily take a week to arrive. RealClearPolitics has un-awarded Pennsylvania to Biden due to the nature of the controversy, but due to the other states it’s unlikely to matter even if the audit reveals malfeasance — which also is unlikely.
(Link to Pennsylvania House Leader’s letter)

Update, Wednesday 3:00PM: Updates from multiple states have come in, as the common absentee ballot deadline passed at midnight. Counts have changed a very little, but no state has flipped or even come close. The counts are as final as they’re likely to be at this stage. Alaska has been called for Trump, and it’s likely North Carolina will be too. Meanwhile, Georgia has agreed to a hand-recount of all ballots, which must be completed before that state’s certification deadline of 20 November. This is an important date, since given the present numbers Trump cannot possibly win without Georgia’s 16 electoral votes even if his other challenges prove fruitful.

Update, Friday 4:00AM: Its internal audit well underway, Arizona has been called for Joe Biden, with a margin of 11,000 votes. While his margin of victory is narrow, it is not narrow enough to permit a recount under state law. Legal challenges are presently underway, but even combined they do not impact enough votes to change the election barring an unexpectedly broad judicial intervention. It must be acknowledged that some of the allegations appear to have foundation, but the number of votes impacted is both small and randomly scattered among in-person voters.

With no path remaining in Arizona, Trump’s only chance at victory would be if legal challenges in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Wisconsin all go his way — and Wisconsin is a long shot if ever there was one.

Update, Friday Noon: Arizona is officially out of the game, as Trump’s team drops all remaining lawsuits. That vote count is heading for certification. There is still an audit in process, but the totals are unlikely to be impacted. Meanwhile, Georgia‘s hand-recount has officially begun.

Update, Friday 8:30PM: In Pennsylvania, one Trump-backed lawsuit has succeeded in eliminating a handful of uncounted votes. Six more have been struck down or withdrawn, including the largest, which targeted nearly ten thousand late-mailed ballots. SCOTUS has been asked to look at this last, but even if it were granted it would not be enough by itself to flip the state.

Update, Monday 16 November, 6:00AM: There are four days remaining for Georgia to certify their election results. There exists a real chance the state will be unable to complete the hand-recount by that time, which would generate some interesting potential results. However, there is no very high probability for Trump to carry the state at this point without a plausible argument of deliberate malfeasance. We can reasonably anticipate that the hand-recount will provide very different numbers than the initial machine count, but this is no indication of any problem; neither is it highly unlikely to change the final results. If Georgia fails to flip back, that (as they say) is the ball game.

Update, Noon: Trump dark-money allies have dropped four suites in four states following an appellate ruling that removes their grounds for existence. This is significant but not decisive.

Update, 11:00PM: Nevada‘s Board has certified the canvass of the election; the only race to be re-decided is their own (the Board’s), in Clark County. Ironic yet meaningless in the greater picture. Next stop is the governor’s office. This state is out of the picture bar a highly unlikely court decision. Meanwhile, nearly 2600 uncounted votes were discovered in Georgia; this may result in a net gain of nearly a thousand for Trump — significant, but not nearly enough.

Update, Tuesday, 11:00AM: Pennsylvania‘s largest election case is presently in court. Of thirty-odd that the A.P. is tracking, seven remain active and none is likely to strongly influence results.

Update, Friday 20 November 5:30AM: The Georgia hand-recount is complete and will be certified later today. 5900 votes had gone missing in four counties due to human error and were not caught by the new system. Biden’s lead has decreased from 14,000 votes to 12,000 votes, though this total will remain unofficial; after all, this has only been an audit. After certification, the Trump campaign will have up to two days to demand a full recount, and it’s nearly certain they will. Something that hasn’t yet reached the public eye is that the apparent difference in votes counted, presuming ratios remain consistent by county, would be sufficient to give David Purdue his Senate race outright. We at TNFN are, however, unfamiliar with the letter of Georgia state election law with respect to Senate race recounts.

Clarification: We are reliably informed that the candidate would need to request a recount citing irregularities, and that the four memory sticks missing from the initial numbers should be sufficient cause. A finding from the Secretary of State’s office says that the state would pay for such a recount. Each recount is exhaustive, and deals solely with the race being recounted. The Senator’s office has until Sunday to file the complaint.

Meanwhile, Nevada is well on the way to certification, with the majority of the lawsuits ended.

Update, Saturday 11:00PM: The major lawsuit in Pennsylvania has been thrown out of court, and the legal team sharply admonished by the judge. While it’s possible the state legislature may still take action with respect to certification, at this point it’s highly unlikely. The Wisconsin recount is underway, and the Trump campaign has just now filed for an official recount in Georgia. It remains to be seen whether Senator Purdue’s campaign will do the same.

Update, Sunday Noon: At this point it appears unlikely that the Purdue campaign will ask for a recount in Georgia. Doing so will make him look weak, and it’s not a guaranteed victory — but not doing so appears to TNFN analysis to be a guaranteed loss in the runoff. We confidently predict a 50-50 Senate split.

Meanwhile, tomorrow will be a big day for the Trump certification opposition. Michigan‘s Board of Canvassers will meet, among others, and his odds can either rise dramatically or drop even further than the less-than-1% Hail Mary shot we now have him at.

Update, Tuesday 24 November 9:00AM: That’s a big no.

There are still pending lawsuits and some state legislatures need to weigh in, but that Hail Mary is looking ever more farfetched. Barring unforeseen circumstances, this may be the last update.

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