Speed Reads

Be prepared

America may not know if Trump or Biden wins the 2020 election until Thanksgiving

"Picture this Thanksgiving: turkey, football (maybe), tenser-than-usual interactions with relatives," media columnist Ben Smith writes at The New York Times. "And perhaps a new tradition: finding out who actually won the presidential election."

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to prompt a surge in mail-in voting, at a time when the U.S. Postal Service is grappling with service-slowing cost-cutting measures handed down by the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, a major donor to President Trump. Key states like Pennsylvania may be counting those ballots for weeks after Election Day, and with Trump filling that time tweeting more "false allegations about fraud," Smith writes, "the last barriers between American democracy and a deep political crisis may be television news."

TV hosts, election analysts, network chiefs, and social media executives exude "blithe confidence" about their ability to handle an election that won't be decided for days or weeks, Smith writes, but there's "near panic among some of the people paying the closest attention."

"The nerds are freaking out," Brandon Finnigan, the founder of Decision Desk HQ, told the Times. "I don't think it's penetrated enough in the average viewer's mind that there's not going to be an election night. The usual razzmatazz of a panel sitting around discussing election results — that's dead."

Media companies can prepare their viewers and change how they report election results, "but what the moment calls for, most of all, is patience," Smith writes. "And good luck with that."

"Nobody I talked to had any real idea how cable talkers or Twitter take-mongers would fill hours, days, and, possibly, weeks of counting or how to apply a sober, careful lens to the wild allegations — rigged voting machines, mysterious buses of outsiders turning up at poll sites — that surface every election night, only to dissolve in the light of day," Smith said. But one war game of an election in which Joe Biden wins a big popular majority and tiny electoral college loss ended with the U.S. military casting the deciding vote. Read more at The New York Times.