Why is it that nearly a week after the US Midterm election on November 8 we still don’t know for sure who has won many races, including control of the House of Representatives?
Each state has its own election rules, most permit voting by mail postmarked on election day, so it is perfectly normal in US elections that it takes up to two weeks to receive all the mail ballots, go through the time-consuming process of manually verifying their validity, checking against signature lists that the signature is valid before counting them, the whole process controlled by observers from both Parties. Official results in US elections always take very long, but normally no one has to wait for them, the media announce the victors on the basis of current votes plus estimates of the votes to be counted, and everyone accepts the predicted outcome. This system works well when there is a large difference between winner and loser, but if the difference is tiny, everyone needs to wait until more votes are counted, possibly until the very last votes in particularly tight races. As the US electorate is increasingly split into two equal halves, leading to more and more very close battles where for us to the outcome virtually all the votes have to be counted, we will have to get used to waiting weeks to know who wins US elections.
As of early Saturday morning, we know: i) against all odds, Democrats will retain control of the Senate, ii) Democrats will win many more down-ballot races, for Governor, Secretary of State, and state Senates and Houses, than forecast, and iii) Republicans will almost certainly win control of the House of Representatives, but with a razor-thin majority. There is no question, the Democratic Party has done much, much better than expected, based on the historical pattern that the President’s Party always loses Midterms, and the Trump-led Republicans have done much worse.
Why did this happen?
We cannot yet give a full answer, but we observe that there was a huge difference between states. In many states where Trump-backed candidates stoked voters’ fear that democracy was threatened as well as women’s right to abortion (now a decision for each state to make) participation was higher than normal and Democrats did very well, far better than expected. In states where these issues were not central, voters were more concerned with inflation or crime, the result fell more in line with tradition, that the President’s Party, the Democrats in 2022, did poorly. The results in New York and Florida were prime examples of this latter explanation, Republicans flipped four Democratic House seats in New York and Ron DeSantis led a noteworthy success in Florida by Republicans, whereas where fear of election denial was prominent, such as in Pennsylvania and Michigan, Democrats did much better than expected. Also, in Swing States, all of Trump-backed election deniers who were candidates for Secretary of State, the official in the state executive who normally supervises elections, were beaten (two were elected in very Republican States).
In this 2022 Midterm election, American voters showed they care about their democracy, to the relief of many.