Cause for Concern in the Six Holdouts?
On Wednesday afternoon, seven states—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—remain in play according to most mainstream sources. A Biden win in North Carolina is a pipe dream, so it’s pretty much safe to say that only six remain genuinely undecided. Georgia looks safe enough for Trump, too, but there may be some cause for concern, as we’ll see.
In just about every one of these states, Republican leaders have voiced concern over widespread allegations of Democratic misconduct. Many, including your friendly neighborhood censors at Twitter and Facebook, have been quick to denounce such claims as disinformation, misleading, or “disputed.” Twitter in particular has not hesitated to block or limit posts questioning discrepancies in Michigan and elsewhere, while allowing announcements of a Biden victory in Arizona—a genuinely disputed claim, to say the least—to go unchecked.
While the picture remains incomplete, and we should be careful about coming to any conclusions, we can hardly dismiss these concerns so handily as many have. Let’s take a brief look at the troubles in each of the six states in play—where there’s cause for concern, what’s being done about it, and whether Trump still has a path to victory in each.
One way or another, it looks like Arizona is shaping up to be the story of the election. Called early for Biden on Tuesday evening—notably by Fox News, whose decision-maker Arnon Mishkin is catching plenty of flak today—it looks like the Southwestern state is far from settled after all.
This morning, buzz from the Trump campaign suggested that the president would come out on top by just under 30,000 votes—a claim that seemed to be backed by an ever-narrowing gap as numbers continued to update. This may be due to the fact that AZ counted mail-in ballots first, which have long been expected to favor Biden heavily; once election day tallies started to flow, the trends shifted pretty dramatically. There was also a major snafu in the data: mainstream media reported that 98% of the vote had been counted, casting a Biden win as a sure thing, when reporting was in fact only at 86%. That’s tough to ignore—it’s going to happen nationwide, but Arizona in particular may force a reckoning for our data models, and our data professionals.
Beside reporting errors, Arizona has seen some of the most significant allegations of misconduct over yesterday’s voting practices. Concerns over Sharpie markers—whose bleed might invalid a ballot—being provided instead of ballpoint pens have swept the internet since early this morning. Even if Trump doesn’t pull ahead in the current counts, that means a heated contest can be expected over potentially trashed (or sabotaged) ballots from election day. As of this afternoon, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has demanded answers from Maricopa County election officials, and it’s entirely possible that a flip back to red could result from the Sharpie scandal.
Arizona’s 11 electoral votes open the easiest path to a Trump victory. Doubt over the early call is a bad omen for media trust this election season, and a complete tally alone may flip the state back red. But if not, reports of malpractice are widespread, with state and national leaders joining in on calls for accountability. Republican demonstrations are expected in Maricopa County today, and a fierce legal battle may be in the offing. If Arizona turns out red (whether by tabulation or litigation) either Pennsylvania or Michigan will be enough to secure Trump’s win.
Of the six states remaining, Georgia is the most likely by far to go for Trump—with 93% reporting, he’s up by about two points and 78,000 votes. To pull out a win, Biden would need spectacular numbers in the suburbs around Atlanta. That’s not impossible, but it’s hardly likely.
Nevertheless, concerns in Georgia are big, and they’re coming from big places. State GOP chairman David Shafer has been tweeting today about some of his concerns. The most significant is that, according to Shafer, “Fulton County told our [i.e., GOP] observers last night to go home because they were closing up and then continued to count ballots in secret.” That’s a bad look any way you slice it. On a smaller scale, but no less concerning: “A few minutes ago in Chatham County, our observers watched an unidentifiable woman mix over 50 ballots into the stack of uncounted absentee ballots.” That’s from 3:28 this afternoon.
Again, it’s highly unlikely that Biden turns Georgia blue. But these allegations are important, not least of all because they’re coming from Georgia’s GOP chair and not from keyboard pundits. That’s not a source we can dismiss out of hand, and it’s not a good sign for what might be happening elsewhere.
Michigan may be the key to the race. Trump carried the state narrowly in 2016, a flip that has often been considered the defining moment in 2016. Early returns last night showed something extraordinary: Trump was outperforming his 2016 numbers in key districts by double digit margins.
Late in the night though, Biden started winning big. The abruptness of the turnaround has sparked widespread concern on social media, and there may be something to this. Tabulation in many locations halted in the middle of the night, only to resume a few hours later with massive, sudden gains for Biden. Speculation that old-school Democrat-machine vote-harvesting may be underway in cities like Detroit may be unfashionable, but it’s hardly out of the question.
Even outside of the blue cities, Michigan has seen some problems. Antrim County, a Trump stronghold, is inexplicably supposed to have gone big for Biden. Most observers expect that this is an error, and an impending correction could net Trump an extra 5,000 votes in this key state. That’s not enough to close the gap on its own, but combine it with doubt over Biden’s late-night urban gains, and the state hardly seems as settled as many now assume.
Michigan’s 16 electoral votes are the biggest cache left after Pennsylvania, and could push either candidate over the finish line in a number of likely scenarios. At the moment, many outlets have already forecast Michigan for Biden, and with current numbers his lead seems pretty firm. But a legal challenge is sure to come from the Trump campaign, and we shouldn’t be surprised if it’s followed by a sizable reshuffling of the numbers—and maybe a flip in the state, back toward early-Wednesday, pre-pause ranges.
Trump lost to Hillary here by just over 27,000 votes in 2016. This time around, he’s picking up big-time, trailing Biden by less than 8,000 with 75% reporting, according to the Wall Street Journal. Most of the votes we’re waiting on are in Washoe and Clark Counties—two blue spots that house Reno and Las Vegas, respectively. But a number of precincts across the state are yet to be reported, including 9 of 42 in populous, deep-red Elko County.
That means Trump’s odds in Nevada aren’t great, but they’re far from nil. And if Arizona doesn’t swing back red when all the votes are counted, a Nevada flip could prove vital—just Nevada and Pennsylvania would be enough to deliver a Trump victory, even without a breakthrough in the Upper Midwest.
Of the few real nail-biters in this race, Pennsylvania has seemed by far most likely to go for Trump. In-person voting on election day was a blowout: Trump finished the night with about a lead of about 700,000 votes.
That lead has narrowed substantially as mail-in ballots have started to rack up. The New York Times predicts that, if early trends hold, mail-in totals could deliver Biden a two-point lead in the state.
Republicans are calling the bluff on that one. Rudy Giuliani is heading to Philadelphia—a big, blue city that remains Biden’s best hope of pulling this crucial state—and GOP poll watchers are going to be hypervigilant in Pennsylvania.
There’s good reason for that. Allegations are running rampant online that Democratic campaigning is happening not just illegally close to some polling places, but actually inside. A number of reports have been made that poll watchers are being illegally denied access to polling locations, and one video shared by Human Events‘ Will Chamberlain shows a poll watcher with a confirmed certificate being forced out of a Philadelphia polling place by poll workers.
Combine this with Democratic PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s public announcement that Trump would lose the state (on October 31st) and something stinks. A controversial ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that ballots without a postmark will still be counted after election day is almost certain to head to SCOTUS—especially if Biden sees another vital surge in the eleventh hour.
Trump still has a very good chance of pulling off a win in Pennsylvania. But if Biden comes up from behind, the legal challenges are going to come quickly and come in force. With widespread documentation of misconduct, especially in Biden’s key city, the Democrats’ chances in a court dispute aren’t looking good.
With 20 electoral votes up for grabs, Pennsylvania is the most important state remaining by far. If Trump holds on to his lead, either Arizona or Nevada will deliver him a victory, even if Biden’s disputed claims in Michigan and Wisconsin are left standing.
Speaking of Wisconsin, there’s an emerging consensus that the state is in the bag for Biden—but it has also produced some of the most significant misconduct concerns of any battleground.
The big question mark here is voter turnout. Claims were making the rounds early on today that there were more votes than registered voters in the state. That’s not true, and it seems to have been based on 0ld registration data. But the turnout numbers are mind-boggling nonetheless: about 89.25% of registered voters. Of course, this is technically possible, but to say that this would be record-shattering turnout would be a whopper of an understatement. Caution is key here, but the question needs to be asked and answered.
As with Michigan, a big early lead for Trump was quashed by heavy, late night/early morning drops for Biden in the major cities. This isn’t entirely unexpected, but it’s sure to be challenged in the Trump campaign’s coming fight in the state. As of today, they’ve already called for a recount. Wisconsin alone won’t save the day for Trump, but like Arizona and Nevada, an upset against the Democratic lead could be the final straw in a close race.
What it Means
Though many seem ready to call the race, there are quite a few paths to victory remaining for Trump. The good money is on a GOP win in Pennsylvania, which means only one more state needs to turn red for the president to secure a second term. Arizona seems likely, and the challenges against Biden’s claim there look serious, to say the least. These are the two states that we need to watch, and we need to watch them closely. Valid concerns in Michigan and Wisconsin keep the outside chance of a red flip there alive, but we shouldn’t hold our breath.
Even if none of the expected challenges are successful—or even if they are, and Trump emerges victorious—the accusations that arose today cannot be easily dismissed. We may get the White House, we may not. But we better get answers either way.