Is Hillary's tweet "the election will be over when all votes are counted" right?


Fact Box

  • Hillary Clinton was the First Lady to former President Bill Clinton, and became the first First Lady to win a public office seat. In 2016, she ran against Donald Trump as the Democratic presidential nominee. 
  • Clinton officially endorsed Joe Biden for president on April 28 during a women’s virtual town hall. 
  • On November 2, she tweeted “the election will be over when all the votes are counted.”
  • Because of the coronavirus pandemic, election night results might come in later than projected. With more mail-in-ballots this year, it might take longer to tabulate than in-person votes. 
  • As of the morning of November 3, Joe Biden leads 252 Democratic votes versus Donald Trump’s 125 Republican votes.

Patrick (No)

For the US presidential election, election results are dependent on votes via the Electoral College, which represents each state's popular vote via a pre-determined number of representatives. Once a mathematical majority of the popular vote in an individual state goes to either candidate, all electoral votes for that state will be for that candidate as a whole.

A state race will be called early in some instances due to the following known variables: total ballots cast in the state election are known, and therefore, the number of votes needed in that state is present for a candidate to be declared victorious. Due to these circumstances, it is possible and perhaps likely for several votes to remain uncounted at the time a state's race is declared for either candidate.

For historical context we can look to the 1988 presidential election, pitting Republican George HW Bush against Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis. Bush won in a landslide: 426 electoral college votes to 111. However, the battle in California was closer. Bush won the popular vote (and all of California's whopping 55 electoral votes), but only by a slim majority at 51.1%. Towards the end of the ballot count in California's 1988 presidential election race, it's likely thousands or more ballots were yet to be counted when the race was called for Bush as he won by about 350,000 votes.

In American politics, as seen in past election results, victories can absolutely be anticipated and declared in US elections. The same is true for the 2020 US Presidential Election, where some votes will have yet to be counted when the race is considered mathematically over.

Andrew (Yes)

US election laws clearly state each person gets one vote, and so our elections really are that simple; count the ballots and whoever has the most votes is the winner. Any party's attempt to disqualify certain ballots or litigate the election results participates in nothing more than interference in the democratic process. Attempting to affect the outcome of the election by controlling which ballots are counted is a direct contradiction of the concept of representative democracy. Hillary Clinton's tweet expresses this idea succinctly.

Even the perception of election interference could potentially become deadly in the current highly polarized environment. If one side is perceived to be attempting to steal the election, it could result in clashes in the streets. Both sides have been posturing for months ahead of the election, and violence is a real possibility if the election is perceived to be determined unfairly. For the strength of the democratic process and the safety of all, Hillary Clinton is right to say the election ends when all the votes are counted.

It is important that neither side attempts to influence the election result after the votes are counted, not only to preserve the validity of the current election results but because of the precedent this scenario would set for the future. Will all elections become contested? People could lose confidence in the electoral system and the power of their votes, which has possibly resulted in the low voter turnout already seen in the overall trend of voter turnout for local elections all around the country. With her tweet, Hillary Clinton expressed the simplicity and the power of the US electoral system.

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