A ‘late-breaking blue shift’ could decide the November elections -- here's how

A ‘late-breaking blue shift’ could decide the November elections -- here's how
A steady stream of students arrived to vote. Election officials said some were lined up at 6:50 a.m. waiting for the polling place doors to open.

On Tuesday night, November 6, 2018, Republicans got some very bad news: they had lost their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. But after Election Night, as the vote counting continued, Republicans realized just how large the blue wave was in the 2018 midterms — an example of what journalist David A. Graham, in an August 10 article for The Atlantic, describes as a “late-breaking blue shift.” And the same thing, according to Graham, might happen in 2020.


“As polling places closed on November 6, 2018, the expected ‘blue wave’ looked more like a ripple,” Graham explains. “Not only had some of the highest-profile Democratic candidates lost, but the party’s gains in the House and the Senate looked smaller than anticipated. The wave, it turned out, simply hadn’t crested yet. Over the ensuing weeks, as more ballots were counted, Democrats kept winning races — eventually netting 41 House seats. In Arizona, the Republican Martha McSally conceded the Senate race to the Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who picked up more than 70,000 votes in post-Election Day counting. Democrats narrowed deficits in races in Florida and Georgia too. Republicans were stunned.”

Graham goes on to say that that the type of “late-breaking Democratic vote” one saw in 2018 “is the new, though still underappreciated, normal in national elections.”

“Americans have become accustomed to knowing who won our elections promptly, but there are many legitimate votes that are not counted immediately every election year,” Graham writes. “For reasons that are not totally understood by election observers, these votes tend to be heavily Democratic, leading results to tilt toward Democrats as more of them are counted, in what has become known as the ‘blue shift.’ In most cases, the blue shift is relatively inconsequential, changing final vote counts but not results. But in others, as in 2018, it can materially change the outcome.”

Graham notes that because of “coronavirus-related complications,” Election Night 2020 is expected to be more like Election Week 2020 or Election Month 2020. But that phenomenon of a “late-breaking blue shift,” according to Graham, was making its presence felt long before the pandemic.

The journalist warns that this year, things could get messy if Americans aren’t patient enough to wait until all the votes are counted.

“Imagine that as November 3, 2020 ticks away, President Donald Trump holds a small lead in one or more key states such as Pennsylvania — perhaps 10,000 or 20,000 votes — and seems to have enough states in his column to eke out an Electoral College win,” Graham writes. “Trump declares victory, taunts Joe Biden and prepares for a second term. But the reported results on Election Night omit tens of thousands of votes, including provisional ballots and uncounted mail-in votes. Over the coming days, as those votes are counted, Trump’s lead dwindles and eventually disappears. By the end of the week or early the next, Biden emerges as the clear victor in Pennsylvania — and with that win, captures the race for the presidency. If that’s how things unfold, Trump is unlikely to take defeat snatched from the jaws of victory graciously.”

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