Despite acknowledging that Democrat Joe Biden won the US presidential election, incumbent Republican President Donald Trump has insisted that he will not concede.
Traditionally, major news networks call the election and declare the future president of the US, based on a certain percentage of already counted votes and expert projections.
While not official until the December 14, when state representatives, known as the electoral college, meet, once a candidate is projected as president-elect, it is highly unlikely for the earlier media announcement to be a false positive.
Biden received 306 electoral college votes, over Trump’s 232, where 270 were needed to declare a winner.
Trump’s White House team, including his family members, remain divided the issue, with some urging him to admit defeat, while others vehemently opposing any concession at this point.
What would have to happen for Donald Trump to remain in the White House?
The election is not officially over until all the votes are counted. The sitting president, however, has claimed that he won the election “by a lot,” in a tweet that was flagged by Twitter for containing inaccurate information.
I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2020
Trump has also claimed the election was stolen by Democrats and that ballots were “found” after polls closed, but has provided no evidence for this claim.
While concession by one of the candidates is optional in legal terms, the question still remains whether Trump can eventually repeat his 2016 victory.
Biden’s team has asked for patience as all the votes are counted, while Trump has announced several lawsuits demanding a vote recount.
While some election results have still not been officially announced as of November 16, 13 days after election day, Trump’s team is particularly focused on contesting the results of Michigan, Arizona and Pennsylvania – all key swing states.
Vote recount is a normal election occurrence and does not imply that the original results are false. The past 20 years have witnessed 31 instances of vote recount in almost 6,000 nationwide elections, according to FairVote research.
Voter fraud, however, is incredibly rare in the US and occurs less than 0.0009 percent of the time, according to a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice after the 2016 election in which Trump defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Likewise, claims of voter fraud through casting ballots on behalf of deceased voters have been widely debunked.
This election witnessed an unprecedented number of mail-in votes, which take longer to process; almost 101 million Americans cast their votes early, more than 63 million of whom cast their ballot via mail.
Officials repeatedly said that mail-in ballots were an acceptable way to cast votes, especially amid the global coronavirus pandemic in which the US is the worst hit country in the world.
Mail-in votes tend to favor Democrats, with 48 percent likely to have voted early compared to Republicans, at 42 percent, according to Voice of America.
Trump started Election Day relatively strongly as a result, winning the battleground states of Florida and Ohio, and securing early leads in key swing states. However, mail-in votes eventually handed Biden victory in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, ultimately securing him the presidency.
As America awaits final votes to be counted, the Trump campaign has launched various legal cases to challenge the results in key battleground states.
In the swing state of Pennsylvania, to shake Biden’s 44,000-vote advantage, Trump would have to argue that those votes were cast illegally.
In Georgia, which has started the vote recount after being too close to call, Trump also made claims that Democrats were running the election process for their own gain. In reality, the election was overseen by a Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger.
Biden’s win in Georgia is the first time a Democrat has won the state since 1992.
Biden also narrowly won in Wisconsin, but Trump has since claimed that more people voted in that state than were registered to vote. An AP fact check found this to be false.
Trump’s team has backed up his allegations with legal cases, promising “a lot of litigation” in the coming period during his latest public address at the White House with full support from the top leadership of the Republican party.
Judges in Nevada, Michigan and Georgia dismissed the Trump campaign’s lawsuits against the electoral process in even before the results were in.
In a memo to the Department of Justice prosecutors, Attorney General William P. Barr approved an investigation in certain cases in order to “appropriately address voting irregularities so that all American people … can have full confidence in the results of our election.”
In Pennsylvania, Trump claimed that, in addition to votes without postmarks being admitted and counted, election observers were banned from the ballot counting centers, similar to his accusations about Michigan’s polling centers.
He also disputed the continuation of vote counting for three days after November 3, despite the US Supreme Court previously ruling that the votes can be received and counted up to three days after the election day. Pennsylvania law prohibited mail-in ballots from being counted until 7 a.m. on election day.
As of Saturday, Republican lawmakers in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have issued statements that they would not intervene in the selection of electors for the December 14 electoral college vote.
The electoral college is a relic of the US constitution before the advent of the popular vote. Electors are traditionally nominated by a political party or the party’s presidential nominee in the months leading up to the presidential election, with implied party loyalty.
Out of 23,507 electoral votes counted across 58 presidential elections, there have been only 90 instances of faithless electors whose vote hasn't aligned with the party lines since 1872. None resulted in a changed outcome, according to FairVote.
What are the possible scenarios?
While Biden may have won the election, tensions remain high in a deeply polarized country.
With social media campaigns such as #AuditTheVote trending, uncertainty may be the defining feature of the next ten weeks.
One potential scenario, considered unlikely by many, would be Trump quickly acknowledging defeat, paving the way for a relatively simple transition of power. While coming close to acknowledging defeat at an event in the White House Rose Garden, President Trump reiterated that he would not concede.
Trump took to Twitter on Sunday, November 15, stating that Biden “only won in the eyes of the FAKE NEWS MEDIA. I concede NOTHING! We have a long way to go. This was a RIGGED ELECTION!” The tweet was shortly flagged as a disputed claim about election fraud.
He only won in the eyes of the FAKE NEWS MEDIA. I concede NOTHING! We have a long way to go. This was a RIGGED ELECTION!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2020
In contrast, a drawn-out dispute over the results in the US Supreme Court would complicate matters. Trump’s biggest claim so far has been the irregularity of late votes that are being counted. Most of the contested votes, however, were cast before or on election day.
There is only one pending case in the US Supreme Court on post-election day votes in Pennsylvania. Even if the judges weigh in Trump’s favor and dismiss the votes as illegal, their number is not enough to swing the state’s result red.
Given the unprecedented political turmoil in the US, Biden appealed to senior Republicans seeking unity.
If Trump’s team can produce evidence of voter fraud, which has proven to be highly unlikely, the days between now and inauguration day on January 20, 2021 could be long and fraught with complexities.
How have Trump’s supporters reacted?
A number of high-profile Republicans have declared their support to Trump with the current vice-president Mike Pence tweeting on November 6 that “we must count every LEGAL vote.”
I Stand With President @realDonaldTrump. We must count every LEGAL vote.— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) November 6, 2020
Others took a more equivocal stance, effectively distancing themselves from accusations of systemic election fraud.
“There’s just no basis to make that argument tonight,” stated the former Republican Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, on ABC News regarding the Pennsylvania vote on election night. “The Supreme Court extended the count for Pennsylvania for three more dates. This might be an argument for a later date.”
“Frivolous lawsuits to drag this out if there is no merit to them is absolutely wrong for the country,” Republican Governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, said on PBS news on November 6.
Almost all swing states have witnessed protests of Trump supporters demanding a vote recount.
Called the ‘post-election meltdown‘ by Richard L. Hasen, a professor at the UC Irvine School of Law, post-election tensions could result in a sharp rise in far-right groups clashing with the minorities who have gone to the street, demanding their rights be respected despite the raging pandemic.
Pro-Trump protestors flooded the streets of Washington DC last weekend, including the far-right group Proud Boys. Visited by President Trump on Friday en route to his golf resort, the protesters shouted slogans such as “stop the steal” and “four more years.”
Largely peaceful throughout the day, the protests turned violent during the night when counter protesters showed up, resulting in the arrest of more than 20 people on assault and weapons possession, among other offenses, according to the Washington Post.
In Delray Beach, Florida, several hundred people marched on Saturday with signs reading “Count every vote” and “We cannot live under a Marxist government,” according to Associated Press.
Have elections been disputed before?
The range and scope of Trump’s false accusations are unprecedented in a US election. However, elections have been disputed before, with similarly messy outcomes.
In 2000, a few hundred votes in the state of Florida decided whether Democrat Al Gore or Republican George W. Bush would become president.
Following the initial count, lawsuits and recounts filled the space of five weeks after the elections. At the time, the US Supreme Court halted the recount on the principle of equal treatment of all votes. The ruling made Bush the first presidential candidate in 112 years to win the electoral college vote without winning the popular vote.
In 2016, Hilary Clinton won the popular vote with a difference of three million votes but likewise lost the election as Trump won based on the electoral college – prompting renewed calls for the abolition of the system.
Clinton ceded the election to Trump, who denied he lost the popular vote, alleging voter fraud.