It takes longer to count mail-in ballots, and in many states, ballots are still admissible if they are postmarked by Election Day but arrive later. In simple terms, this means the partial results that get reported on Election Night will probably look worse for Biden than the final, complete count.
The data firm Hawkfish, which was founded by former New York mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, recently studied these scenarios and is warning the public about what they call the “red mirage.” (Bloomberg now supports Biden, and Hawkfish is working for pro-Biden super PACs.)
“The way those results will look on Election Night, with those initial tallies, will be really different than the on-the-ground reality,” Hawkfish CEO Josh Mendelsohn told CNN on Tuesday. “In so many places, those vote-by-mail ballots will have quite a lag. Let’s be clear about what we’re seeing on November 3rd, Election Night. Getting the narrative right is more important than ever.”
A pre-coronavirus warning
According to Foley’s research, the “blue shift” is very real in Pennsylvania. He found that the Democratic candidate picked up at least 22,000 votes after Election Day in the last four presidential elections. Typically, that isn’t enough to sway the outcome — but it could happen.
This also played out in the 2018 midterms, in a high-stakes Senate race in Arizona. Republican Martha McSally had a 15,403-vote lead on Election Night. But that turned into a 71,303-vote deficit as Democrat Kyrsten Sinema pulled ahead thanks to mail-in and provisional ballots.
Mandi Merritt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, accused Democrats of exacerbating the situation by pushing states to accept more mail-in votes. This “absolutely leads to more questions, potential litigation, and larger shifts in the post-election vote count,” she said.
Preparing for a fight
Both presidential candidates and their respective parties are gearing up for a fight. Legions of lawyers are studying election laws in the battleground states and will be ready for litigation.
News networks, including CNN, are adapting their approach for Election Day, which many experts believe could turn into “election week.” Some battleground states like Florida and Arizona have a strong track record of quickly counting mail-in ballots, so it’s possible that news networks could project these pivotal states while waiting on slow results in other battlegrounds.
“The election results on Election Night are always partial, unofficial results,” said David Becker, founder of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research, which is working with states to inform voters about pandemic-era voting procedures. “We might be waiting longer and there might be more uncertainty, but the principles are the same that they have always been.”