Election nights

Published 10:30 a.m. Thursday

By Carter Wrenn

In the old days, when we all voted on election day, election nights had a kind of normalcy – votes trickled in, then rolled in, but huge puzzling swings were rare.

Then early voting started and unexpected swings began to happen on election nights.

For some reason Democrats like voting early while Republicans prefer walking into voting booths on election day.

In North Carolina we collect all the early in-person ballots, and mail-in absentee ballots, stack them in elections boards, and count them at 7:30pm on election night. First. Before a single election day ballot is counted.

In 2018, a bad election for Republicans, when the first returns came in in Wake County my friend George Holding called, ‘This doesn’t look too good.’ George trailed by over ten points.

I explained those early votes were mostly cast by Democrats and that two-thirds of the election day votes – which hadn’t yet been counted – were cast by Republicans. The election day votes started to trickle in and, three hours later, there’d been a huge swing: George went from trailing by ten points to winning by five points.

In 2020, when the first votes – the early votes – came in Biden had a big lead over Trump in North Carolina. Then the election day votes were counted and the swing happened –Trump won. And no Trumpsters howled the swing was evidence of vote stealing.

In Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin they counted the same types of ballots we did: Mail in votes, early in-person votes, election day votes. But they counted them in reverse order: They counted the mostly Republican Election Day votes first while we counted them last.

So on election night Trump soared to huge early leads in each of those states – and looked sure to win. Then they counted the mail-in (mostly Democrats) and early in-person votes and the swing happened – Trump lost.

It looked suspicious – and when Trump howled the swing was due to stolen votes Trumpsters nodded.

Over the next two months Trump’s howls took on a life of their own – but, in fact, we saw only two earthshaking changes in the 2020 election.

First, many more people voted – Republicans, Democrats, Independents flocked to the polls like never before.

The second change decided the election: Four years ago Trump won Independents; in 2020 he lost Independents by over ten points which decided his fate.

During his campaign Trump loved holding rallies – turning out his base was a mantra in his campaign. If his base voted he’d win. And he did turnout his base. But Democrats turned out their base too – which left the election in the hands of Independents.

Why did Trump lose Independents?

Remember the first debate: Trump gave Trumpsters the show they wanted – they loved it. But Independents, watching Trump, shook their heads. It wasn’t that they disagreed with Trump – and agreed with Biden – on issues. It was who Trump was: Independents looked at Trump standing on the stage beside Biden and saw a man they didn’t trust.

And after Trump lost, as he howled the election was stolen that mistrust grew – Georgia hadn’t elected a Democratic Senator in twenty years but, in the runoffs, Independents voted for the two Democratic candidates by almost fourteen points.