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It’s Election…Week—What To Watch For In The Coming Days

sign taped on blue door with "vote here" printed in multiple languages
Mark Makela/Getty Images

The date is at last upon us: Election Day, the deadline by which all votes must be in, or at least postmarked depending on your state.

But Election Day is really the start of a longer process of vote tabulation, the results of which won’t be final in some cases for several days, or even weeks. Why does this matter?

Election monitors are warning us that, as Trump did in 2020, Republican extremists intend to leverage the cumbersome nature of vote counting to help spread a false narrative of election fraud, particularly if their candidates stand to lose the longer the vote counting goes on.

So how will this play out?

Let’s look first at how we got here and then examine what likely will happen in three states as returns come in tonight. Hang on tight, because it may be a rough ride.

The Red Mirage

During the 2020 campaign, Trump and his allies were already planning to contest the election and use the so-called “red mirage” to advance their false claims of a stolen election. As a primer, the red mirage is a relatively new phenomenon.

In 2020, the GOP, following Trump’s lead, began baselessly attacking mail-in voting as unreliable and fraud-ridden, even though they had used it themselves for years without issue. Today, Republican voters are so mistrustful of mail balloting that they increasingly wait till Election Day to vote in person.

This delay till Election Day results in the high likelihood that early Election Night vote tabulations, coming in from less populated rural precincts where Republicans voted in person, will show a huge surge of GOP votes. That number might stay high until the mail-in ballots and more populated Democrat-heavy counties are counted, which could take many hours or even days to complete.

What people will see, however, are big, blue so-called “vote dumps” late in the evening or even in the wee morning hours the day after Election Night as these vote tallies are added. Donald Trump falsely cited these sudden surges in blue votes as evidence of fraud, when in fact they were just votes being added.

Then the mail-in ballots will start to creep that number even higher while Republicans renew their accusations of fraud over what are normal vote counts.

Exploiting the Count

Trump allies and right-wing pundits have already signaled not only that they might not accept the results of the elections, but that they might demand the vote counting stop on Election Night, particularly if they are ahead.

Trump attorney Christina Bobb sowed doubt with the MAGA base on Monday, stating in bad faith:

“There should absolutely be a result no later than the middle of the night, early Wednesday morning."
"I think those areas that don’t have a result, it’s gonna look very suspicious.”

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson derided the very idea of a red mirage and told his millions of viewers the Democrats actually intend to steal the election, warning:

“Bottom line, Democrats absolutely cannot lose tomorrow's elections. That’s their view. This cannot happen."
"So with that in mind, they’re already preparing the rest of us for election theft which if you don’t want a civil war, you shouldn't complain about."
"You should just passively accept.”

Not to be outdone, Jesse Waters of Fox News told viewers not to “listen to the lies that this could take days” to learn the election results and America “should know that night, basically, who won the Senate and the House.”

Of course, it very well may take days or even longer to decide who controls the Senate.

They might still be counting House mail-in ballots in California a week from today if the vote is close; in 2018, the House majority for the Democrats gained considerably as the slow moving mail-in ballot count toppled Republican after Republican Representative across the biggest state in the nation.

In a close election, those same districts could actually decide control of the chamber.

Here Are Three States To Watch Closely

It is by no accident that the swing states that decided the last election remain bogged down when it comes to processing election ballots or determining final outcomes. These states often had split governance (a gerrymandered GOP legislature and a Democratic governor) which meant real election reform was difficult to pass.

Here is a quick peek at the election count issues we could face in at least three important states.

Pennsylvania. The Keystone State does not permit the counting of mail-in ballots until after 7am on Election Day, despite years of efforts to change this obvious problem. The process is long and laborious, and this year there are over 1.1 million mailed ballots to count, predominantly from Democrats—currently around 70 to 21 percent, Dems over GOP.

Pennsylvania likely will experience the biggest effect of the Red Mirage, and we shouldn’t put it past Trump or Dr. Oz to claim early victory even while votes are being counted.

As I wrote about earlier, the effect is doubly weird because there will be a crush of blue votes as the first batch of mail-in ballots are reported from the count earlier that day, then a red wave will follow as Election Day in-person ballots are tabulated.

It might appear to all the red wave has ultimately overcome the blue vote.

But there will be much left to count.

In 2020, it took four days for officials to declare Joe Biden the winner of the state, and the actual final count wasn’t finished until 20 days after the election. Add to this the current confusion over whether “undated” or “wrongly dated” ballots will be counted after being set aside, and the process could drag out even further.

That the outcome of Pennsylvania’s Senate race also could determine control of that chamber likely will add to the stakes, the chaos, and the spread of election misinformation.

Arizona. Arizonans have voted in large numbers by mail for years. Maricopa county, which is the largest in the state, has already warned it might take days to complete the count, especially because ballots appear to be late arriving this year and because the ballot is the longest in the state’s history, with over 87 races among which some of the residents must choose.

The balance of power in the Senate might hinge upon a win by Democratic incumbent Senator Mark Kelley, who is up against a Trump-backed extremist.

Add to this that election deniers are at the top of the GOP ticket across three key statewide offices—governor, secretary of state, and attorney general—and that conspiracies and election denialism are so rampant in the state (remember Cyber Ninjas?) even GOP election officials and regular poll workers have received death threats, and it’s clear the state is now a powderkeg for these midterms.

Arizona came down to just a few thousand votes in 2020, and the same could happen again, with Maricopa County once more the epicenter of the controversy.

Georgia. While Georgia voters have turned up in record numbers for the early vote, largely driven by the metropolitan vote, the state has a unique run-off election system should no candidate receive more than 50 percent. It is likely the race between Democratic incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker will go into a run-off with another election held on December 6.

If the Senate balance of power is 50/49 with a slight GOP advantage, then once again the Georgia runoff will determine control of the entire body.

Complicating all of this are new Georgia laws that made it harder for some Georgians to vote. In-person voters may wind up using a high number of provisional ballots if they are challenged based on purged voter rolls or their identifications.

Mistakes in mail-in ballots not being sent out in Cobb County already means some 1,000 voters there will have extra time to get their ballots in. We should prepare for a messy and drawn out election that could wind up taking us into December.

In sum, we are probably looking not at an Election Night but rather an Election Week—and if Georgia goes to a run-off and the Senate is split, then an Election Month.

We should reject outright any calls by GOP candidates or Trump and his allies to stop the counting of mail-in ballots or to declare early victory, especially since we know and already understand this will be the bad faith Republican strategy.

Instead, we must insist they count every vote and not stop until the counting is done. While that may seem like an obvious and clear mandate, it is not one accepted by the GOP, so we must defend it through public pressure, media messaging and lawsuits when necessary.

So Happy Election Day!

Er, week.

Or month?

And remeber to Vote!