Like a car accident happening in slow motion, the world has been unable to tear its eyes away. But the U.S. election is drawing slowly to a close and we’ll know within days who will be the next president of the U.S.A…
Or will we? With polls tightening, along with Republican candidate Donald Trump’s claims the election is rigged and coy position on whether he’ll concede if he loses, things could get a little more complicated.
For some perspective, we reached out to Mark Niquette, national government reporter with Bloomberg News.
Niquette says understanding what will happen on November 9th requires a little knowledge of how the U.S. system works.
In order to win the oval office, one candidate needs to win 270 votes in the electoral college. Those votes are earned by winning states, each of which carries more or less EVs based on its population. Florida and Texas are worth a lot, Delaware and Alaska not so much.
Niquette says things could be calm and clear the day after the election, supposing someone earns those 270 votes and by a a solid margin.
“But if we have an unclear outcome in the electoral college, and we have one or more states that are too close to call that could effect that electoral margin, then we could have this sort of ‘election overtime,’ where you have really intense scrutiny on these states that have close races,” he says.
He says in that case we could get something much closer to the 2000 Bush-Gore contest, in which Florida was too close to call leading to a protracted recount and legal battle before the winner was declared.
So what would be a reasonable margin that would let everyone breathe easy?
Niquette says there’s no clear answer to that question, since the electoral map is so varied; it depends on which states are close, and who’s ahead by how much.
“It will be sort of this calculation at the end of the night, how far ahead or behind is the candidate from the 270 needed to become the president-elect, which states are too close to call, and how many electoral votes at play,” he said. “If it’s only one state with 11 electoral votes, and the margin is 40 electoral votes, we could probably be safe in calling an election night unofficial winner.”
As for Trump’s claims the election is rigged, Niquette sees that is more likely to mean hiccups on election day than armed insurrection the day after.
He says both sides are gearing up to send election observers to polling places, something confusing on its own since every state has different rules, but says some of Trump’s comments had raised concerns about supporters crashing voting sites.
But Niquette says Trump’s threats not to concede the race – should he lose – may have little bearing on what comes next.
“Legally it doesn’t. A concession by a presidential candidate really carries no legal weight, it’s been a tradition in the U.S. where the candidate who loses gracioucly concedes for the peaceful transition of power, and in this case it’s all going to depend on the margin.”
He says if Clinton has a clear win in the electoral college, a Trump tantrum will do nothing.
But he adds if Trump edges Clinton out and things are close, she may not concede either, until the recounts are done and the lawyers have had their say.