How does the presidential race 2020 work

Presidential race - “Blue shift” - Why it could take longer in the US election

When the polling stations closed in Arizona in November 2018, everything looked like a victory for Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally. But the more absentee votes were added, the smaller their lead over the Democrat Kyrsten Sinema became.

After a few days it was all gone. On Twitter, President Donald Trump vented his displeasure - "Corruption in the election - call for a new vote?", He wrote. The Republican's move in vain: six days after the election date, McSally admitted defeat.

In the US, Democrats are more likely to vote by mail than Republicans. As in Arizona two years ago, this can mean that the Republican candidates are in the lead for the first available results - those of the so-called face-to-face election, in which the vote is often given by machine.

The evaluation of the votes cast by post, on the other hand, sometimes takes significantly longer. This "shift" of the result gradually in favor of the Democrats is referred to as a "blue shift", alluding to their party color in US politics. Some experts fear that this "shift" could have a particularly strong impact this year, with potentially serious consequences.

Fear of social unrest

In the 2016 presidential election, almost a quarter of voters cast their votes by mail. This year it could be a lot more. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many states have asked their citizens to vote by mail. According to a Reuters / Ipsos poll in August, half of Democrats want to take advantage of this option, but only a quarter of Republicans. That could lead to a strong "blue shift".

The result: Trump could initially be in the lead after the first vote on the evening of November 3rd, but his Democratic challenger Joe Biden could then catch up hour by hour, maybe day by day and in the end possibly even take the lead.

But this does not have to happen inevitably. Federal elections in the US are organized at the state level, not the federal government. Two of the most competitive states this year, Arizona and Florida, have vast experience with voting by mail. You could produce robust results within hours. One of the reasons for this is that in these states it is allowed to begin with the first steps to evaluate postal votes some time before the actual election date.

Trump declares postal voting unsafe

However, this is strictly prohibited in three other potentially voting states: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. "When these three states come out in the elections, and everyone is waiting for the results, I worry about social unrest," said Rick Hansen, a lawyer and election expert at the University of California. "That is especially true if Trump is in the lead on election day."

Trump has repeatedly stated in recent months that postal votes are unsafe and encourage election fraud. He did not provide any evidence for this. Experts reject the claim, citing studies. Trump also refused to state whether he would admit defeat at all. According to insiders, Biden's campaign team is already preparing for Trump to declare the election "stolen" if the outcome shifts in favor of the Democrat. The Republican strategist Dennis Darnoi also says that a lengthy count with an increasing "blue shift" could convince Trump's supporters that things are not right.

A spokeswoman for Trump's campaign team, Thea McDonald, does not want to hear about such speculations. She accuses the Democrats of wreaking havoc by spreading conspiracy theories. "President Trump and his team are fighting for a free, fair and transparent election in which every valid ballot counts - once."

Some experts have a greater confidence in the American electoral system anyway. "The most likely scenario is that we know who the president is on election night," says political scientist Michael McDonald of the University of Florida confidently. "These doomsday scenarios don't worry me very much."