America’s Election Day has turned into Election Week, as several battleground states remain too close to call. And although we are all ready for immediate resolution, we must take a deep breath. Despite President Trump’s baseless demands to stop counting ballots, the correct and legal process continues, even if that process can be confusing to most observers. For now, at least, the system is working.
The American electoral system is extremely decentralized. Elections—even federal elections—are run by the states, and election laws vary by state. This makes cheating on a large scale very difficult, since it would require coordination from thousands of people across the country (all of whom would be at risk of going to prison if caught).
Indeed, fraud in American elections is exceedingly rare. The Brennan Center for Justice has conducted several studies and found the incident rates of voter fraud between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent. They have also found that mail-in ballot procedures offer numerous security measures to ensure those ballots cannot be tampered with.
Despite this, Trump and his proxies are trying to create a public narrative that the Biden campaign is trying to “steal” votes from them. The attack was expected. The Biden campaign (and health officials) had been encouraging people to vote by mail, given the pandemic. Trump bashed the idea from the get go, trying to convince people mail-in ballots were not secure (again, they are very secure). This meant that in-person voting on Election Day was likely to feature more Trump supporters, while more Biden supporters would mail their vote in. This, in turn, meant early returns would skew toward Trump, making it look like he was winning, since mail-in ballots in some places are counted later.
Why is it taking so long? First of all, officials have to count and certify a lot of votes. It is estimated that nearly 160 million people voted, a record number (and the highest voter turnout since 1900). Huge numbers of those ballots were mailed in. Some states say these mail-in ballots have to arrive by Election Day. Other states will accept mail-in ballots that arrive after Election Day, as long as they were postmarked by Election Day. Still others allow mail-in ballots as long as they were signed on or before Election Day. Furthermore, while some states were able to begin processing those mail-in ballots as soon as they arrived, other states, by law, were not allowed to begin counting mail-in ballots until Election Day, guaranteeing that results would not be known on Election Day. Such is the decentralized, locally-governed system.
The counting process everywhere is transparent. Observers from both campaigns are present. In some jurisdictions, anyone can observe a live stream of officials counting votes.
International observers from the OSCE found no evidence of voter fraud and generally complimented how the election was carried out, with one very big exception: President Trump himself. “Baseless allegations of systematic deficiencies, notably by the incumbent president, including on election night, harm public trust in democratic institutions,” said Michael Georg Link, head of the short-term OSCE election observer mission. The organization added that the election is “tarnished by legal uncertainty and unprecedented attempts to undermine public trust.”
Despite Trump’s calls, local, state, and federal officials have stated clearly what the law is and that counting will continue. This has included a number of Republicans.
As I write this, Biden is ahead by about 3.8 million votes and might clinch Georgia within the hour, putting him past the necessary 270 electoral votes. Counting will continue to the last vote, in any case. Recounting will take place in several places, as well. And Trump is bound to launch more legal complaints, although those he has filed so far have come to naught.