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Bahbah: The 50,000 Votes That Could Determine the New President of the United States

posted on: Nov 4, 2020

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By: Bishara A. Bahbah/Arab America Featured Columnist

Three states – Nevada, Wisconsin, and Michigan – and less than 50,000 votes could determine who the next president of the United States will be.

As of approximately 11:00 am Eastern Standard Time, Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for President of the United States, had secured 238 electoral votes while U.S. President Donald Trump had won 213 electoral votes.  Biden’s lead over Trump in those states is less than 50,000 votes.  

If Biden maintains this minimal lead in those three states, he could likely reach the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.  With Biden’s 238 electoral votes and the 32 electoral votes from Nevada, Wisconsin and Michigan, Biden will have a total of 270 electoral votes.

Once again, polls conducted in the United States by various reputable organizations which had indicated that Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger, was leading in the popular vote by as much 12 percent and as little as 7 percent, were inaccurate.  

As of 11:00 am ET, Biden had garnered 69,870,000 (50.1%) votes, while Trump was trailing him having secured 67,233,000 (48.3%) votes.

The Electoral College vs. the Popular Vote

While in any democratic country, Biden would have been declared the winner, the antiquated voting system in the United States has led in multiple presidential elections to the discrepancy between popular votes and electoral votes. Individuals in the United States do not directly elect a president. Americans cast their votes for an electoral college made of 538 votes.  

The electoral votes in each state are made up of the number of congressional districts (members of the House of Representatives) plus two more votes for each of the two senators that represent each state.  The District of Columbia or Washington, DC, was granted three electoral votes only several decades ago.  The six largest states with electoral college votes are:  California with 55 electoral college votes; Texas with 38 votes; New York with 29 votes; Florida with 29 votes; Illinois with 20 votes; and Pennsylvania with 20 votes.

It is therefore possible for a winner of the presidency to lose the popular vote yet become president because of the way electoral votes are allotted to each state.  This system of election favors small states, such as Wyoming, over highly populated states such as California, Florida and Texas.

One electoral vote in Wyoming equates 193,000 individual votes.  By contrast, one electoral vote in California, Florida, or Texas equates to 718,000 individual votes.  The electoral college was set up to encourage smaller states to join the Federal Union and give them an advantage so that they may not be dominated by populous states.  Many in the United States have called for the overhauling of the electoral college in favor of a straightforward popular vote that would hand the presidency to the candidate that gets the most votes nationwide.

Currently, 22 smaller states with a population of 37.8 million control 96 electoral votes while California with 39.5 million people is allotted only 55 electoral votes – the number of the congressional seats plus two votes that represent the state’s two U.S. senators!

In the year 2000, George W. Bush won Florida by 537 individual votes and as a result he won all of Florida’s 29 electoral votes and, in turn, the U.S. presidency.  While in 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.87 million votes yet lost the presidency to Donald Trump.  Trump ended up winning 304 of the 538 electoral votes.

Implications of Who Wins the Presidency

It would be an understatement if we do not point out that the entire world is closely watching this year’s U.S. presidential elections.  Trump and Biden have two very different personalities and stand for different values and policies. A Trump victory would have significant implications for the people of the United States and the country’s future direction with the U.S. Supreme Court solidly in the hands of conservative justices who serve for life.  On the other hand, a Biden win would stand for a whole set of completely different priorities and policies.

Foreign Policy

Trump has roiled up the international stage through his policies of disengagement from the rest of the world by using the slogan of “America First.”  He has disengaged, albeit not completely, from wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Trump’s relations with his Western allies in Europe – with few exceptions such as those with the UK and Hungary – have been strained from the beginning of his presidency with his demands that they pay more of the cost of defending them.  Trump has even floated the idea of withdrawing from the NATO Western military alliance.  

A Biden presidency, by comparison, would improve strained relations with Western allies and would strengthen NATO.  Trump withdrew the United States from various international organizations including the Paris Climate Agreement, while Biden would re-engage with those organizations.

Conversely, Trump has defended his relationship with Russia, Turkey, and Brazil.  He has unabashedly supported right-wing dictators.  A Biden presidency would change the nature of the relationship with those countries and would encourage the rise of democratic, and less dogmatic governments.

If Trump is reelected, U.S. efforts to isolate Iran from the rest of the world will assuredly intensify pleasing his Arab Gulf allies as well as Israel.  These allies view Iran as an existential threat, particularly given Iran’s ambitions to pursue the development of nuclear capabilities.  Trump’s policies toward Iran could also mean that the latter will be unable to export some two million barrels of oil a day and thus contribute to generally higher oil prices.

By comparison, Biden would re-engage Iran and restore the U.S. role in what has become known as the “Iran nuclear” deal by providing Iran with incentives to slow or cease its ambition to develop nuclear capabilities. 

If Trump is reelected, his attacks on China could intensify especially when it comes to trade and intellectual property rights.  The trade war with China could lead to more mutual sanctions.  Trump is also determined to thwart China’s growing influence around the world through its road and belt initiative.

By comparison, Biden would attempt to find common grounds with China and cease the trade war between the two countries which was initiated by Trump.

With regard to the Palestine-Israel conflict, Trump’s reelection could refocus the attention on pursuing his peace plan which was announced in January of this year and which heavily favored Israel at the expense of the Palestinians.  Unless the Palestinians return to the negotiating table, with Trump in power, they would be doomed to live under a permanent autonomy and continued Israeli sovereignty. The Palestinian Authority will either collapse or be replaced by a new regime that is willing to negotiate peace terms with Israel. 

Conversely, Biden and his running mate have already indicated that they would resume ties with the Palestinians, reopen the PLO office in Washington, reopen the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem, and resume aid to the Palestinians including the resumption of aid to UNRWA and East Jerusalem hospitals.  

Trump’s push to encourage the establishment of ties between Israel and its neighboring Arab countries would gain steam with more Arab countries establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.  This is one area that both Trump and Biden see eye-to-eye as Biden would also encourage Arab states to establish ties with Israel.  More importantly, Biden believes in a two-state solution as a way of meeting Palestinian aspirations for a state of their own which would then allow Israel to maintain its Jewish majority.

Domestic Policies

On the U.S. front, Trump would continue with his aversion to closing up the country to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The pandemic has hitherto taken the lives of over 231,000 Americans – the highest number of victims among all nations.

Biden, on the other hand, would pursue a more scientifically led approach to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic including possible closures and restrictions on economic activities to help contain the spread of the pandemic.

Both Trump and Biden believe that the country needs a stimulus package quickly which could stimulate the economy and save jobs that have been destroyed by the pandemic.  Should Biden win the presidency, the stimulus package would be much larger than the $1.8 trillion that Trump had agreed to support.  Biden’s stimulus package could be expected to be as large as $2.5 trillion – a package that would invariably be viewed positively by Wall Street.  

Trump and Biden disagree fundamentally on the issue of taxes and tax cuts.  While Trump supported tax cuts to corporations, Biden would see that those cuts are reduced, and that wealthy people pay are made to pay more taxes to support all the stimulus spending needed to confront the pandemic.   

Racial tensions in the United States could intensify with Trump’s supporters being emboldened by his victory.  Immigrants to the United States would be less and less welcome and the fate of the 11 million dreamers, those who were brought illegally into the United States when they were young, would become increasingly precarious.

Biden, as anticipated, would call for harmony among the races.  He would open the doors of the United States to new immigrants and would most certainly provide the 11 million dreamers with a clear path to citizenship.

Should Trump get re-elected he might have the opportunity to appoint more judges to the Supreme Court thus leading the country to the path of right-wing conservatism.  With Trump’s latest successful rushed nomination and confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the U.S. Supreme Court has six conservative justices versus three liberal justices.  The makeup of the Supreme Court could re-ignite new divisive issues surrounding topics such as abortion, immigration, and civil liberties.

To counter the Republicans’ blatant efforts to cram the U.S. Supreme Court with conservatives, Biden could propose expanding the number of justices serving on the Supreme Court thus allowing him to dilute the current conservative majority serving in the highest court of the land.

To conclude, of the seven states (Alaska, Nevada, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, and Georgia) and one electoral vote in Maine that have not declared a winner at the time this article was written, it appears that Biden could possibly pick up Nevada, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Michigan’s 16 electoral votes, a state where a large number of Arab Americans reside, could provide the tipping balance that would allow Biden to reach the coveted magic number of 270 electoral votes and, thus winning the presidency.

The remaining five states and the one electoral vote in Maine would likely go to Trump.  As this article was being written, Biden’s ability to of secure the 270 votes needed to win the presidency is within reach.  

If Biden reaches the 270 electoral votes that he needs to win the presidency, the question that remains is whether President Trump would allow for a peaceful transition of government and whether he would reign in his supporters from wreaking havoc in the streets of America in protest of Biden’s victory.  Trump could challenge the results of the voting in the U.S. Supreme Court because the counting of the votes in some states, especially the mail in ballots, will continue for days after Tuesday’s election day.  Due to the pandemic, a large number of Democrats resorted to voting by mail.  The continued voting of those ballots could give Biden an edge over Trump.

Notwithstanding all the above, the seven states that will decide the presidential race are still too close to call.  Those states will undoubtedly determine who the next U.S. president will be.


Prof. Bishara Bahbah was the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem based “Al-Fajr” newspaper between 1983-84. He was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Peace Talks on Arms Control and Regional Security. He taught at Harvard and was the associate director of its Kennedy School’s Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America.

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