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Election Updates: It All Comes Down to Pennsylvania, And That Is Very Worrying

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | October 29, 2020 |

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | October 29, 2020 |


In 2004, we were a 5-month old site when the November election came around. Even in 2004 — before the crash and the Great Recession — George W. Bush was kind of a joke, and he’d won in 2000 only by virtue of the Electoral College and a Supreme Court that basically gave him the election. Polls looked good for Kerry on election day, and earlier that day, exit polling suggested a narrow John Kerry win. By 4 p.m. that day, we had a fairly good feeling that Kerry would win, so much so that we were predicting as much on the site.

It didn’t turn out like that, obviously. Late deciders swung to W., and there was a lot of talk about supporting the incumbent during times of war (nevermind that it was a war that W. completely manufactured), and in the end, W. pulled out a fairly clean victory. As it so often does, it came down to Florida, where W. ultimately won by 5 points.

I mention all of this not to remind everyone to be vigilant, and to register every vote, but to also prepare you for the possibility that Donald Trump might win. Until the coronavirus and George Floyd — despite the impeachment and the racism and everything else — I just assumed he would win. Now, I’m 50/50. I’m not saying that to scare you, or to motivate you, or to depress you. I am saying that because incumbents almost always win. I am saying that because Republicans play very dirty, and they are very good at suppressing and disenfranchising the vote, and that there is still a very real path to victory for the President. I think it might be better in 2020 to hope for the best and prepare for the worst than be absolutely gobsmacked like we were in 2016. I don’t know what it will mean for the country if Trump wins again, or how any of us will be able to go on. I don’t know if we will collapse into a civil war or just collapse into exhaustion.

The prospect absolutely terrifies me, but the path to victory for Trump at this point all seems to converge around one state: Pennsylvania. If the Electoral Map remains relatively stable from 2016, Biden can take back Michigan and Wisconsin (where the polls are now comfortably in his favor), and still lose if he loses in Pennsylvania, so long as Trump wins all the states he won in 2016. All of those battleground states are currently toss-ups, and there are new toss-ups in the mix this year, too. For him to win, they all have to break to Trump: Arizona, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, and even Texas and Georgia are in play (although, everyone said that Texas and Georgia could be in play in 2016, too, and that did not turn out to be the case).

But as they say, the tie goes to the runner, and in this case, that’s the incumbent. He only needs to win all those toss-ups, and then take Pennsylvania, where polls have Democrats up by 5 points.

Five points is terrifyingly not enough in Pennsylvania right now.

You may have noticed that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Democrats yesterday in saying that Pennsylvania could continue to count mail-in ballots that came in after 8 p.m. on Election Day, which sounds great, except that that’s not exactly what some of the conservatives on the bench said. They said that they didn’t have time before election day to make a decision and that it’s possible they may rule on it after the election. Therefore, county clerks are putting aside mail-in votes received after 8 p.m., and putting them in a separate pile, just in case they have to toss those votes out, should the Supreme Court return to the decision and decide against the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Can you imagine the sh*tshow? But if the margin comes down to those mail-in ballots that are received at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, the White House will go full-court press to get those votes tossed, even if it means — and it likely will — throwing out hundreds or even thousands of votes from military personnel overseas.

In the meantime, as the NYTimes is reporting this morning, the White House is using a three-pronged attack in Pennsylvania to supress the vote. That strategy includes ensuring that county clerks do not begin processing the avalanche of mail-in ballots until election day, which means that more in-person votes will be registered on election day, and those in-person votes favor the President, which will allow Trump to create the narrative that he is winning. In fact, some counties — as Mike is pointing out — are going to ensure that they create a “red mirage” on election day. This is terrifying:

Trump, of course, is hoping to create the illusion of winning — the votes notwithstanding — and then to sow confusion and undermine the remaining mail-in ballots, many of which won’t be counted until after election day. Trump even has some on the Supreme Court who are intent on helping him. And trust that most of those mail-in ballots will not be counted until as many as three days after election day, because not only will there be hundreds of thousands of them, and not only can they not start until 7 a.m. on election day, but in Pennsylvania — thanks to Republican efforts — every ballot has a “secrecy envelope,” meaning that the ballot must be placed inside an envelope before being placed in another envelope. Failure to include the secrecy envelope will result in the ballot being discarded (and that could happen to thousands of those ballots) and the extra envelopes make it take even longer to count the ballots.

The other prong — as explained above — is to toss out any and all votes received after election day (again, if you live in Pennsylvania, do not mail in your ballot at this point. Take it in person).

Trump is spending a lot of time holding rallies in Pennsylvania right now, and the one bit of good news there, at least, is that those rallies may be hurting him as much as they are helping him. Unfortunately, he’s also using these rallies to send rallygoers out to “watch” (intimidate) voters at the polls in Democratic districts. He’s trying to scare people out of voting, and he’s trying to exclude ballots where one person delivers ballots for both him or herself plus a family member, in the event that a family decided to limit their exposure to the coronavirus by sending one person to drop their ballots.

The GOP has really stacked the deck against Democrats in a must-win state for both parties. I hope it doesn’t come down to Pennsylvania (go Arizona!), but if it does, I don’t have a lot of confidence in how things will ultimately shake out.

Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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