60 electoral votes. As of now, on Thursday afternoon, all but 60 electoral votes have been determined in the 2020 Presidential Election. The Guardian’s tally has Biden at 264, just 6 votes shy of securing the presidency, and Trump at 214, a more substantial difference of 56. At the time of publication, it has been over 48 hours since the last polls closed, and this is the first time in two decades that the outcome of the presidential race has not been known within hours of the end of election day.
The big question on everyone’s minds right now is: when will we know? How long do we have to wait before we are able to definitively say that we know who the next president will be? While this election is unlike most others in the country’s history, we do have a few precedents that will help us understand how long it will take for the final result to be known. It took weeks to resolve the Bush v. Gore debate, which culminated in a highly contentious Supreme Court decision that prevented a recount in the deciding state of Florida.
However, the 2000 election is not our only metric. National Geographic released an explainer that breaks down what happens if a winner is not known on election day. Essentially, federal law mandates that states resolve any electoral disputes and confirm which candidate will receive which votes by a certain deadline. This year, that deadline is December 8th. In 2000, it was December 12th, and it was one of the reasons that the Supreme Court used in its ruling to prevent further recounts. Once the tallies are finalized, the process is completed on January 6th during a joint session of Congress. Essentially, while it is possible that we may know who won within the next few days, it is also possible, though unlikely, that we will not know for over a month. Legally speaking, we must know by December 8th.
I hope that this explainer is useful for anyone who is worried or confused about how long we have to wait before the election is decided. With that said, it is important to remember that all of this time that we are spending checking news sources, refreshing feeds, and desperately waiting for the electoral votes to come in, is merely a distraction from the struggles facing our most vulnerable communities. The horse-race style of covering elections directs our attention away from the issues that really matter: poverty, structural racism, the military industrial complex, and the list goes on. I am not saying that we cannot pay attention to elections, but rather that it should not be our priority right now. This election, and electoral politics in general, does not offer us any salvation. Regardless of who comes to power at the end of this process, they will be the enemy of our grassroots activism, and of the movements across this country fighting for justice, equity, and liberation.
This is an especially important consideration if Biden wins. The Democratic Party will try to use such a victory to suppress and crush the momentum that Black Lives Matter and other activist movements have gained over the last year. We cannot allow that to happen. Biden would be nothing other than a surface-level, aesthetically pleasing version of the same U.S. imperial machine that has led a campaign of oppression and violence around the world.
Elections are not the source of justice or liberation. Change does not come from the top. It never has, and it never will. Change always has come from people’s power, from mass movements on the ground, and activists who fight every single day to make this world a better place, a kinder place, and a just place. That is where our time and energy must go. It is time to stop waiting, and time to start acting.