vision 2020

Can Florida Save Us From a Contested Presidential Election?

Florida may give us a more accurate Election Night snapshot of national trends than many other states. Photo: Octavio Jones/Getty Images

As we get closer to November 3, a “Red Mirage” scenario, in which Trump takes an early lead based on the higher proclivity of his supporters to cast the first votes that will be counted (in person, on or before Election Day), is becoming more and more plausible. Democrats who fear that Trump will use this statistical anomaly to claim victory based on unsupported assertions of mail-ballot fraud are trying to take countermeasures. At the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama urged Democrats to vote “in person if we can” (though fears of excessive disqualification of mail ballots, or of postal-service failures, provided additional reasons for this advice), an effort that the Biden campaign might well soon join.

But there’s another source of hope for Democrats seeking to head off any Red Mirage or contested election, as Economist election forecaster G. Elliott Morris observes:

Florida is a state with considerable experience in handling large numbers of mail ballots. Moreover, the partisan split in voting methodology that could produce the Red Mirage in other places probably won’t prevail there, since Florida Republicans convinced Trump to express confidence in the Sunshine State’s voting-by-mail system — which, of course, he is utilizing himself. So Florida will likely get returns in relatively quickly, as Morris suggests, and they won’t have a partisan skew, or at least not enough of one to call exit polls into question. And here’s where the Democratic hope comes in: If Biden wins Florida on Election Night, it gets very difficult to project an ultimate Trump victory.

To be more precise, the path to a Trump Electoral College win becomes very narrow if he has lost Florida’s 29 electoral votes. To get to 270 without Florida, he would need to win Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and two out of three among Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. At present, Florida is looking better for Trump than any of the Rust Belt states listed above, so if he’s lost his new home state, it may be difficult for him to claim victory.

It’s a different matter, of course, if Florida is called for Trump or the state is just too close to call as the morning after Election Night dawns. There are definitely some Biden paths to victory without Florida being in his column, but they may not be entirely apparent in early returns if Trump is leading in most of the battleground states. So Democrats would be well advised to kick out the jams in the land of Mickey Mouse and the NBA bubble.

Can Florida Save Us From a Contested Presidential Election?