The 2020 presidential election will be decided in one of two ways: Messy and not messy.
If the polls are right, Democrat Joe Biden wins, possibly in a landslide. And if the polls are wrong (and they have been known to be wrong in the past), ballot counting could go on for days, if not weeks, with the possibility that President Donald Trump wins re-election. And pollsters eat crow.
But whatever the outcome, people can have faith in the voting system, said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, even if election night unfolds in ways different from previous elections and results from some states are not reported on election night. Be patient. Don't assume fraud is being committed. It's just that states — all governed by different election rules — will be counting a historic number of absentee ballots, and it will take time.
"We don't know what's going to happen on this election night, but we do know there may be some states where we don't know the results for a while," Klobuchar said in a Zoom meeting with the Rochester Post Bulletin editorial board. "We just want people to understand that."
Klobuchar noted that the election system is being challenged in ways that are unique and unprecedented. The presidential election is taking place in the midst of pandemic at a time of heightened political rancor. There are reports of Russian and Iranian attempts to interfere in the election. And Trump's refusal to guarantee that he will abide by the result if he loses has added to the uncertainty.
Still, Klobuchar said, her faith in the system's durability rests on election officials, in Rochester and across the country, who are working to guarantee the integrity of the election.
"For the most part, people are doing their jobs. And I think that's very important to keep in mind," she said.
Despite Trump's rhetoric casting doubt on mail-in voting, Republican political and election officials nationwide have expressed confidence in voting by mail. They also have voiced their commitment to a peaceful transfer of power, including Republican leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"They believe in the peaceful transfer of power in our country, so that is what gives us faith that the process will move forward as it should," Klobuchar said.
What makes this year different is the record number of mail-in votes being cast this election — and the fact that each state has its own rules and procedures for counting them. That will influence when vote totals are reported by individual states.
Klobuchar noted that many states don't have the experience and history that Minnesota does with voting by mail. For a couple of states, such as New York, where mail-in voting constituted a small percentage of total votes cast, their election systems have been overhauled to allow much greater numbers of mail-in ballots.
Minnesota, for example, allows the longest amount of time for early voting and has adjusted its rules to permit the processing and tabulation of ballots two weeks ahead of the election. But some states, such as Pennsylvania, don't begin counting ballots until they've all been collected on Election Day. Wisconsin has moved up its ballot counting to 5 a.m. on Election Day. That means the results from those states could take longer.
Georgia requires a run-off if no candidate gets 50% of the vote, and Maine is using ranked-choice voting, like in Minneapolis.
Klobuchar said that if the presidential election is tight, the results could be delayed by some states as the votes are counted. But if it isn't close, states "are going to know their results right away."
"Again, it's a tribute to election officials that we are where we are. We are already counting ballots," she said. "We know how many are out there. They are being tracked."
"The fact that we have some semblance of normalcy in the middle of the pandemic with the divisive politics and the president undermining the election system every single day ... If our democracy can withstand this and get through it, we're all the stronger," Klobuchar said.