Man putting his vote in the ballot box for Election 2020
Marco Verch Professional Photographer/Flickr

As of noon on Wednesday, it’s looking probable but not certain that Joe Biden will defeat Donald Trump. While it’s too early to call the race, it’s also too early for quick takes about why the election was so close or the polls were so wrong once again. Biden’s lead in the popular vote is likely to widen. The reason? There are tens of millions of votes still to count, and overall, they seem to favor Biden heavily.

For example, in New Jersey, all registered voters were sent mail ballots and, provided they are postmarked by Nov. 3 and arrive by Nov. 10, they will count. Biden is currently carrying the Garden State by a 61-38 percent margin. A variation on this theme will go on in almost every state, mainly because the U.S. postal service was slow to deliver ballots in state after state.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan held a hearing today to discuss why the USPS didn’t comply with his order to round up undelivered ballots before the close of polls on Election Day. The Washington Post reports that “Nearly 7 percent of ballots in U.S. Postal Service sorting facilities on Tuesday were not processed on time for submission to election officials.”

Some of the votes will never be counted, but many will and they will add to Biden’s popular vote total and possibly change the results in closely contested Senate, House, and state and local races.

For example, in Pennsylvania, incumbent Democratic congressmen Conor Lamb and Matt Cartwright are trailing but may prevail once all the mail-in votes are counted. The same is true for challenger Eugene DePasquale in the state’s Harrisburg-based 10th District.

As more votes roll in, the error we see in the polling will be reduced. It could even prove critical to determining whether Trump or Biden won Pennsylvania and the handful of other outstanding states such as Nevada, Georgia, and North Carolina.

Over time, Biden’s lead will grow, and the apparent polling error will decline. It will even change some early emerging narratives about the election, like what went wrong for the Democrats in Miami-Dade County in Florida. No doubt, Biden did very poorly there compared to Hillary Clinton, but with as many as 27 percent of absentee ballots not delivered on time, the current margins are distorted.

Even with Biden, likely to win, and Democrats hurting in down-ballot races, not all the votes have not been counted. A shameful number never will be, but the results won’t look as bad in a week as they look today.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at