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“Election night” isn’t real - it never was

Katarina Dulude

Anchor Staff Writer

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Leading up to and after the 2020 presidential election, President Donald Trump has decried countless times the fact we did not learn the results of the election the night of as “bad for our country.” It isn’t. Bad for him, maybe, but every vote being counted is how a democracy is supposed to work.

Many, from Trump’s most fervent supporters to apolitical types have questioned why we don’t have election results the night of. Quite a few of them assert there’s some grand conspiracy at play. However, the reality is, even aside from the mail-in-ballots that have taken longer to count, we never know on election night. In fact, historically, until the 1930s, the presidential inauguration didn’t even occur until March because without our modern technological advances it took that long to count the ballots and communicate the results. There is no legal obligation to provide results on election night and no state has ever done so to begin with.

“Election night” as it were is a product of radio and television; it’s an invention of the media. News sources project winners and these projections most often are accurate enough, but they are never the final count. Somewhere down the line, this has resulted in many having this expectation that we should somehow know the exact results on election night and Trump has now exacerbated this belief. It’s a problem. “Election night,” while in less stressful circumstances might be a fun way to get together with friends and watch the news as states get called blue or red, is ultimately inaccurate, unproductive and at this point, dangerous.

Trump has insisted the count of ballots be stopped in the states currently favoring him and continue in the ones that are not. He has gotten his followers to make the hashtag #STOPTHECOUNT trend on Twitter. The inane argument to justify this is consistently something akin to “Biden is only winning because they keep counting the ballots,” which is truly so very close to understanding how democracy works and yet missing the mark entirely. Trump’s incessant lies and accusations of fraud create distrust in our government and democratic institutions. This is already having consequences. In swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona, his supporters are attempting to interfere with legitimate vote counting, in Arizona some even showing up with guns to the State Capital.

The media, all media, has a responsibility now more than ever to tell the truth, even if it means sounding partisan. As David Leonhardt writes, it is impossible to both be honest and sound non-partisan in the face of Trump’s fallacious election claims. From the start of his presidency, if not before, Trump has politicized reality itself with “alternative facts.” Now, with our democracy hanging in the balance, there is no time for reporters to get stuck on the fear of being called “fake news.” For democracy to prevail, the truth must as well.


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