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Opinion | Let’s Fret the Night Together

Bret: My inner Burkean tells me that abandoning the Electoral College would lead to all kinds of problems we can scarcely anticipate today. But it does seem insane that the most consequential presidential election in decades comes down to what a relative handful of people, mostly white suburbanites in six or seven states, happen to think on the first Tuesday in November. Or, with all the mail-in ballots, sometime in the preceding weeks, assuming their votes get counted.

Gail: Someday remind me to tell you the story of why I almost didn’t graduate from college with my class at Marquette because my Ethics of Journalism teacher wanted to give me an incomplete. Long ago, but I was thinking the other night that if he’d won that battle I might never have graduated, or left Milwaukee. On election night I’d be so … popular.

Bret: I hope that teacher lived long enough to either apologize or eat his shoe. But back to my freak-out: We may not know the winner on election night, or even for days or weeks after that. If Trump is ahead on election night, he’s going to want to declare victory long before all the ballots are counted. If he does that, there is going to be unrest. If vote totals are close in several states, we’re going to have a replay of Florida, 2000, but on a much larger scale. You mentioned wildfires, and this just feels like multiple political lightning strikes on millions of acres of dry grass and dead wood.

Gail: Yeah, at least in 2000 we were just looking at one state that couldn’t get its votes counted. The inefficiency of our election system is a scandal we manage to forget once the crisis is over.

Bret: Maybe we can outsource the vote counting to the Netherlands or Taiwan. They wouldn’t screw it up.

Gail: When you combine it with the inefficiency of the mail, the pandemic, the Trump paranoia — yikes. The only way we avoid it, I suspect, is if one candidate wins by a landslide.

And that, by the way, would make our votes relevant again. If the national popular vote is, say, 60 percent Biden, Trump won’t have the traction to resist.

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