Election 2020

Why Trump keeps saying ‘the Supreme Court’ is going to win him Pennsylvania

Four possible scenarios to watch for after Election Day.

trump-protest-cityhall
Emma Lee / WHYY
maxmarin-byline

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn email newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.


Pennsylvania sits in the bull’s eye of Tuesday’s presidential election, as President Donald Trump continues to undermine faith in the electoral process with false allegations of voter fraud across the commonwealth.

Election pundits have been projecting for weeks what could happen in the event of a disputed vote count in key battleground states. Some of these outcomes vary from swing state to swing state — Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Michigan are the other top electoral battles to watch.

Experts have pinpointed a couple of possible “what happens if” scenarios for Pennsylvania.

These situations may hinge on the closeness of the race and the speed of counting mall ballots. Over 62 million Americans have returned mail ballots so far — with over 2.4 million in Pennsylvania alone, according to the Election Project. In Pa., election officials can’t begin counting these voters until 7 a.m. on Election Day, and the tabulation process takes time.

Whatever happens in the days and weeks after the election, the clock is ticking against an immovable timeline for states to submit a slate of electors to Congress on Dec. 14 and install the next president by Jan. 20.

Here are four commonly cited scenarios for what could go down.

The Landslide: Trump or Biden wins big on Election Night

If…early returns on Election Day show one candidate winning in a national landslide…

Then…the slow-churn ballot counting and fraud allegations in individual states likely wouldn’t make a difference in the outcome.

Caveats: National oddsmakers project low chances of a decisive victory for either candidate on Nov. 3. In battlegrounds, the margins are expected to be close enough to rule out a clean sweep before all the ballots are counted. Races will not be called in each state until one candidate has an insurmountable lead based on the number of outstanding votes to be counted.

Election experts say the closer the race, the more likely to trigger a chaotic scenario unlike any we’ve seen in decades.

The Tallahassee 2000: Supreme court steps in to halt recount

If…Pennsylvania is the deciding state in the election and the initial count shows an extremely close margin…

Then…the U.S. Supreme Court — which recently cemented a conversative majority — could intervene on state recount efforts. This is what happened in the 2000 presidential race in Florida. A halted recount left Republican George W. Bush in the lead, eventually leading Democrat Al Gore to concede the race.

Caveats: Trump has already said that he will rely on the Republican-controlled Supreme Court to aid his election victory in Pennsylvania. His campaign also plans to file legal challenges to halt the counting of mail ballots that were received in the three days after the election.

But if “Harrisburg in 2020 could be Tallahassee in 2000,” as one political analyst suggested to the New Yorker, attorneys and poll watchers will need to identify evidence to establish voter blunders. In Florida, the focus seized on voters who didn’t fully perforate their punch-card ballots, which snowballed into a dispute that ultimately ended with the high court’s intervention.

Trump calls on GOP-controlled legislatures to create ‘duelling electors’

If: …Trump alleges voter fraud in a close race…

Then: …Some academics say he could call on the GOP-dominated legislatures in states like Pennsylvania to nominate their own “electors” to dispute the nomination process…

Wait, what? Congress gives the final OK on any presidential election results, relying on “electors” from each state to reflect the state’s popular vote winner, according to Reuters. Electors are typically named by the party that wins the popular vote, but in split-controlled states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina all have Democratic governors and GOP-run legislatures — there’s a possibility of “duelling electors.”

This has only happened a few times in U.S. history, once in 1876 and once in 1960, according to Reuters, but chaos ensued. (Notably, the Republican-controlled Florida legislature began prepping their own electors to vote for Bush before the Supreme Court ruled down the recount.)

Trump campaign officials have said they are more likely to dispute the results in court than pursue this route.

The tie? U.S. Congress chooses president and VP

If…neither Trump nor Biden get the majority and tie with a 269-269 electoral votes…

Then…the U.S. House would choose the next president and the Senate would choose the VP…

Caveats: While not specific to Pennsylvania, a “contingent election” has happened only three times in U.S. history, and not since the early 1800s. It’s unlikely that neither candidate will get the 270 electoral votes they need to declare victory, but both President Trump and House

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has raised the contingent election as a possibility in recent weeks, with Trump suggesting at a Pennsylvania rally in September noting that this situation would give him an advantage.

Each state delegation in the House would receive one vote, and in that case, Republicans would have an edge in the number of states they control.

Want some more? Explore other Election 2020 stories.

Thanks for reading another Billy Penn story

Find everything you need to know about Philly, every day — in clear, direct language, like a good friend might say.

No clickbait, no cliffhangers: the Billy Penn morning newsletter.

Thanks for supporting Billy Penn!

Test your local knowledge — join us for the next Philly Quizzo virtual event, or take the quiz online.

Lock in your support

Reader support powers our local pandemic reporting. A monthly membership helps lock it in.

Can we count on you as a Billy Penn sustainer?