Election Day is November 3: a look at possible outcomes as to when we’ll find out who is the next president

Michael Gartland and Leonard Greene, New York Daily News
·4 min read

Election Day is finally here — and likely to linger long after the polls close from coast to coast Tuesday.

After a political season dominated by an economic crisis, a global pandemic, foreign intrigue and racial unrest, the nation could face several electoral scenarios to ultimately decide the neck-and-neck race between President Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

While Inauguration Day remains in the January distance, it may take almost that long to sort this mess out.

More than 86 million voters cast their mail-in or absentee ballots in advance of Election Day, an unprecedented turnout sparked by both the urgency over this year’s pivotal election and fears of contracting coronavirus at polling sites.

Trump, as he did in 2016, sewed the seeds of political discord by attacking the voting process during the campaign. He described a Supreme Court decision extending North Carolina’s deadline for mail-in ballots as “CRAZY” in a tweet, and declared without any evidence that voting by mail was rife with problems.

The process of counting mail-in ballots likely means neither candidate will raise their hand Tuesday night (or even early Wednesday morning) as the winner in this bizarre, contentious race. And that delay could open the door to several extraordinary situations that threaten to strain both the Constitution and democracy in the United States.

Here are some of the possible fates awaiting the country once the polls close:

The Go to Bed Early Scenario: Call this one the “what-happens-in-our-dreams” outcome, fueled by our early-exit poll-, social media- and cable TV-driven need for instant political gratification.

In this unlikely possibility, CNN calls the election and announces the nation’s next president just one minute after polls close on the West Coast.

Concession calls will be made, balloons will drop from a ballroom ceiling and a victory speech will be wrapped up just in time for Stephen Colbert’s monologue.

Dream on.

The Slug it out in the Key Battleground States Scenario: We’ve been down this road before. Twenty years ago, George Bush beat Al Gore with the help of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision that effectively shut down a raucous recount in Florida.

Bush, despite losing the popular vote by more than a half-million votes, squeaked away with a one-vote win in the all-important Electoral College.

His election provided the nation’s most twisted outcome since 1888, when Benjamin Harrison beat incumbent President Grover Cleveland despite a 90,000 popular-vote deficit. Cleveland came back to win four years later, and became the only president to ever serve two non-consecutive terms. He was the nation’s 22nd and 24th president.

In 1876, New York Gov. Samuel Tilden, a Democrat, lost to Republican Rutherford Hayes by one electoral vote — despite easily winning the popular vote.

Such skirmishes usually lead to contested ballots in battleground states, like Florida. If that happens this year, it is likely to lead to clashes in the courts and possibly in state legislatures.

And because no two election boards are the same, those battles could play out in a myriad of ways.

Charles Stewart, a political science professor at MIT, predicted “hyper-vigilance over every single absentee ballot" if the election is so close that a recount is required.

“Things will slow down even more than they might otherwise,” he said.

The speed at which ballots are tallied is significant for several reasons. Key among them is Americans' desire for immediate gratification, but more importantly because it has implications for the December deadline to certify election results.

If ballots in states aren’t counted by then, it could force state governments to certify election results even though they’re not fully complete. Certifying results triggers the process of installing electors for whichever candidate is determined to have won the popular vote at that point in the count.

This is what happened in Florida in 2000, when the high court determined the state had to certify its election results by a “Safe Harbor” deadline, halting an ongoing recount and tipping the election to Bush.

The Let the Folks in Congress Decide Scenario: This is what happens if neither candidate collects the 270 electoral votes needed to win the Oval Office. If that happens, the House of Representatives would pick the president under a procedure outlined in the Constitution’s 12th Amendment.

Each state delegation would get one vote, regardless of the number of congressional districts in the state. Twenty-six votes, representing a majority of the states, would be required to win. Votes would likely be cast in favor of the party controlling the state’s delegation.

That hasn’t happened since 1824, when John Quincy Adams became president despite trailing in the popular and electoral vote counts. Since none of the candidates had the majority of electoral votes, the contest was decided in the House of Representatives, after which Adams, whose father had been the second president, became the nation’s sixth president.

Adams served one term, and was later elected to the House of Representatives that had earlier put him in the White House.

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