This year has been like no other. During the past nine months, the U.S. has battled an ongoing pandemic, risked war with Iran and experienced a national reckoning with racial injustice. Stress levels among Americans are skyrocketing, and many of us simply can’t wait for this year to end. But before we can ring in 2021, we must clear a daunting and momentous hurdle: the presidential election.
For over two years, the 2020 presidential campaign has dominated the news. As President Donald Trump’s first four years come to an end, he has done numerous polarizing things in the meantime. He has built a wall on the border with Mexico, pulled out of the Paris climate accord, detained immigrants’ children in cages, pulled U.S. troops out of Syria and overseen the longest government shutdown in American history. This election, more than anything, is a referendum on his presidency.
For the record, I despise Trump. But no matter what happens on Nov. 3, the looming threats of misleading results and misinformation mean that the best thing we can do right now, as we vote and watch the results come in, is brace for impact.
The phrase that explains this election’s likely turbulence is one we’re almost certainly going to be hearing in two months: a “red mirage.” This election is unprecedented for a number of reasons, but the fact that so many Americans will be voting by mail due to COVID-19 concerns is chief among them. Because mail-in votes aren’t immediately counted, declaring a winner could take a long time. We’re accustomed to knowing who won on Election Day, but this year’s Election Day could very well become Election Week. Trump has spent the last few months vilifying mail-in ballots, calling them “very dangerous” and “fraudulent.” Even as Democrats have encouraged their use, the demographics of who’s going to be voting in person and who’s not are likely to be skewed, with those voting for former Vice President Joe Biden twice as likely to vote by mail as Trump voters. Therefore, Trump will very likely, and possibly erroneously, appear the victor on Nov. 3. This is a red mirage.
Depending on the candidates’ performances, the election result could very well change in the ensuing days as states count more absentee ballots. Trump could conceivably claim victory that night based on in-person voting, but Biden could still win legitimately a week later. According to data from Hawkfish’s analysis, a nine-point Biden lead in national polls could look like a four-point Trump victory on election night.
We can say with great confidence that Trump will contest a loss in November because he’s spent months laying the groundwork to do just that if he doesn’t emerge victorious. On May 24, for example, the president tweeted, “the Democrats are trying to Rig the 2020 Election, plain and simple!”
Facebook and other social media companies are already developing a strategy to mitigate misinformation if Trump loses and attempts to delegitimize the results. In the election’s wake, no matter the result, we should expect a lot of falsities from all ends of the political spectrum. During that time, it’s important to maintain a clear head. Make sure you obtain your information from multiple reliable news sources, such as NPR, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Russia has already used bogus Twitter accounts to spread misinformation about COVID-19 and our elections in both 2016 and 2020; there’s no reason to expect they won’t stop when the polls close.
Due to the chaotic nature of both the world and our current political climate, this election will be unpleasant. The immediate aftermath will likely be toxic, with both sides claiming voter suppression and irregularities in the process and refusing to accept the results. It won’t be pretty. We need to stop pretending that years of partisan politics will end on Election Day, because it will certainly continue, and may even worsen in the days after Nov. 3. There’s a very real possibility that mass chaos will ensue as people from both sides argue about who has actually won. The nightmare won’t end just yet.
Paige Thielke (24C) is from Claremont, CA.