Opinion | Let the Votes Be Counted

Count all the votes.

This shouldn’t be a remotely controversial proposition in a representative democracy. A complete and accurate count is the only way to determine the will of the people who cast ballots.

During even typical election years, the process can take days. It takes longer in the highest-turnout election in generations — and that’s before factoring in a pandemic that has driven tens of millions of Americans to vote by mail and has made it far harder to carry out even basic tasks, like vote counting, that involve many people being in enclosed spaces for extended periods.

A president who cared about upholding American democracy would do all he could to drive this point home with the public. He would set the example by reassuring the people that the nation’s time-honored electoral system is working as it always has — state by state, county by county, precinct by precinct.

President Trump, as usual, is doing the opposite. As growing vote totals in several key battleground states favored Joe Biden, Mr. Trump began casting doubt on the veracity of the counts.

Shortly after midnight, the president said falsely on Twitter that the election was being stolen.

A few hours later, in a rambling, middle-of-the-night speech from the East Room of the White House, Mr. Trump accused “a very sad group of people” of trying to “disenfranchise” those who had voted for him. He threatened to force the election into the Supreme Court. “We want all voting to stop,” he said. “We don’t want them to find any ballots at four o’clock in the morning and add them to the list. OK?”

“This is a fraud on the American public,” Mr. Trump continued. “This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.”

The speech was one of the lowest, most disgraceful moments in an administration filled to the brim with strong competition. It was also self-contradicting. In the same breath that he cast suspicion on counts in states that appeared to be turning against him, he welcomed more counting in states where his totals looked like they were growing.

On Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump was at it again, compounding the damage with rageful, misleading tweets.

“Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key States, in almost all instances Democrat run & controlled. Then, one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted. VERY STRANGE, and the ‘pollsters’ got it completely & historically wrong!” he wrote in a tweet that Twitter flagged, along with several others he has sent, for containing “misleading” content.

Mr. Trump is right that the polls were off — by a lot, in some key states. But none of this is “very strange.” Neither candidate won the election on Tuesday night. That determination won’t be made by the candidates’ wishes or the media projections. It will be made by the voters and the workers who count their ballots. States aren’t even required to certify their count until Dec. 8.

In the meantime, there are no “surprise ballot dumps” that make votes “magically disappear.” It’s normal for vote totals to change, especially in the hours and days after polls close. When one or the other candidate pulls ahead, it’s not “flipping” the result, because there is no result yet to flip.

The irony is that the count could have proceeded more quickly in several battleground states, like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, had Republican lawmakers there followed their counterparts in many other states and allowed for mail ballots to be opened and processed before Election Day. But despite repeated pleas for them to do so, they refused. Now Mr. Trump and his Republican allies are using that refusal to claim that votes are being counted too late. It’s as though they defunded the Fire Department and then got mad when their house burned down.

On Wednesday, the Trump campaign announced it would seek a recount in Wisconsin, where Joe Biden leads by a little more than 20,000 votes, or less than 1 percent. That is Mr. Trump’s right, although he will have to pay $3 million out of pocket for it, and statewide recounts only change the margin, on average, by fewer than 300 votes.

If anyone has reason to be upset, it is the hundreds of thousands of voters around the country whose mail-in ballots were never delivered to election offices. On Tuesday, a federal judge in Washington ordered the Postal Service to search 12 postal processing facilities in 15 states for any remaining undelivered ballots, which were generally cast overwhelmingly in favor of Democratic candidates. The Postal Service ignored the order, saying it would continue on its own inspection schedule.

It is understandable that Americans want to know quickly and clearly the outcome of the presidential election. But that doesn’t change the fact that it takes time to count 150 million votes. Across the country, election workers and administrators are committed to doing their job and are working long hours to ensure that every ballot is counted.

No matter how much the nation has come to expect this sort of behavior from Mr. Trump, he always manages to exceed expectations. That doesn’t make it better. To the contrary, it is extremely dangerous. Mr. Trump has for years fanned the flames of rage among his supporters and flooded American society with disinformation.

On Wednesday, Mr. Trump tweeted, “They are finding Biden votes all over the place — in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. So bad for our Country!”

Yes, Mr. President. That’s what happens when you count the ballots. It’s up to the rest of us, and especially you, to stay calm and let the electoral process play out as it does every four years. In the end, both parties will have won some and lost some. That’s not fraud. It’s democracy.

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