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Someone Please Tell Donald Trump That TV News Doesn’t Decide Election Results

Brett Kavanaugh too, while we're at it.

Donald Trump looks confused.

We all know that Donald Trump values television above just about everything else. He sees everything through the lens of ratings. And despite being a purported real estate mogul, the New York Times’ investigation into his taxes revealed that NBC’s The Apprentice was the only reason he had any money at all (until he lost all that, too).

So it’s not surprising that he also seems to think television networks are in charge of deciding who the president is.

Trump has been leading the charge in the argument against counting votes received after Election Day, which is straight-up voter suppression and would lead to the likely elimination of hundreds of thousands of votes. Of course, Trump wants this because according to a number of polls, the majority of people who have voted early or by mail are Biden supporters. So Trump is fighting to have any ballot received after November 3rd thrown out, despite the fact that a number of states have established deadlines after that date.

On Monday, Trump tweeted, “Big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA. Must have final total on November 3rd.” Twitter flagged that tweet as possible misinformation (which it is).

Just this morning, he angrily tweeted about a Supreme Court decision that will allow absentee ballots in North Carolina to be counted if they are postmarked by Election Day and received within nine days after that.

“This decision is CRAZY and so bad for our Country,” he wrote. “Can you imagine what will happen during that nine day period. The Election should END on November 3rd.”

The thing is, the election is never actually officially over and decided on Election Day. The only thing that happens the night that polls close is that news outlets make a projection based on the results available at the time and exit polling. (That’s a major simplification of the process but it’s the basic gist.)

So no matter what Trump thinks and tweets, just because the TV says a candidate won, that is not the end of the election.

On election night, news networks make a prediction of how many electoral college votes each candidate will receive, based on the projected popular vote results in each state. But the electors don’t actually meet and vote until mid-December.

From the Congressional Research Service (which has a thorough breakdown of the entire election process):

Following election day, the states are to count and certify popular vote results according to their respective statutory and procedural requirements. When the states have completed their vote counts and ascertained the official results, the U.S. Code (3 U.S.C. §6) requires the state governors to prepare, “as soon as practicable,” documents known as Certificates of Ascertainment of the vote.

“As soon as is practicable!” Not “on election night itself.” The process takes weeks and that’s by design.

Trump is so committed to his own ignorance on electoral information that it’s hardly surprising to hear him spout these falsehoods, but it’s genuinely scary to hear them also come from sitting Supreme Court Justices.

In a concurrence he wrote on the court’s recent 5-3 decision to block an extension for mail-in ballots in Wisconsin, Brett Kavanaugh wrote that deadlines were needed “to avoid the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after Election Day and potentially flip the results of an election.”

“Those states also want to be able to definitively announce the results of the election on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter,” he wrote, even though states are not supposed to have definitive results that night! That’s not how it works!

Which is what Justice Elena Kagan told him when she wrote in her dissent that “there are no results to ‘flip’ until all valid votes are counted.”

Kavanaugh’s faulty logic is already being used in other cases in lower courts, by the way.

It’s baffling that counting votes has become a partisan issue, but that’s where we’re at.

If you still have an unreturned absentee ballot and you’re able to drop it off in person rather than return it through the mail, it’s probably a good idea to do so at this point. You can find a dropbox near you here.

(image: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.