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An Update On The State Of The Presidential Race

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. Heading into the final hours now of the 2020 presidential election, the Trump and Biden campaigns seem to agree on a couple of things, at least. They both say the stakes of the election are incredibly high, and they both say don't believe the polls. A lot of people are going into Election Day not feeling any certainty about how things will turn out or even when we'll find out who won. So for some clarity on where things stand on this election eve, we're joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right. So looking ahead to tomorrow, what are you going to be watching for at this point?

LIASSON: I'm going to be watching a bunch of states that Donald Trump won in 2016 - states like North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Texas, Arizona. Those states count pretty quickly, and we expect to know the results from those states on election night. So if Biden wins one of those states, it's going to be almost impossible for Trump to win. But if Trump hangs on to all those states, which we should know tomorrow night, then we have to wait for later-counting states like Michigan and Pennsylvania to report all their results, which could take hours or days. So it's possible we'll know who will get the most votes but not who is going to be president.

CHANG: Great. OK. So we have been hearing the president say that he doesn't want votes counted after Election Day, even though that is totally legal; that is totally normal. He has been raising unfounded doubts about the integrity of the election for months now. So given all that, Mara, what might we expect to unfold tomorrow? Like, what should we be bracing for, you think?

LIASSON: Well, actually, no state will report its certified vote count on election night. There's never been an election in American history where all the votes have been counted on Election Day. So what is going to happen tomorrow is that NPR and many other media organizations are not going to project the winner. We are going to rely on the Associated Press, who only calls a state if there's no path at all for the trailing candidate to make up ground. So if the president declares victory without having won, he doesn't have the power to stop the vote count. But he has told his supporters not to accept a result unless he wins, says the election is rigged if he's not the winner. So what you - we should be bracing for is a possible crisis of legitimacy. We do not know. It's possible that the losing candidate and his supporters will just not accept the results. What that means - civil unrest - we just don't know.

CHANG: But that crisis of legitimacy - I mean, that all depends on how close and contested the outcome is, right?

LIASSON: Absolutely. If the election is close enough to be contested, there won't be a clear result. It's much easier for Donald Trump to call into question the legitimacy of the election if it's close. That is why, for the good of the country, people should be hoping for a clear result in either direction on election night. So the closer the election is, the worse it potentially is.

CHANG: Right. OK. Well, close to a hundred million people have already voted. That is according to the U.S. Elections Project. What does that tell us about how close this election might be?

LIASSON: I don't know if it tells us how close it will be, but it certainly tells us that we are heading toward a historically high turnout election. In several states - four states - their early turnout has already surpassed the total 2016 turnout. And in many other states, it's almost equaled it. We know that a lot of people who didn't vote in 2016 have voted. And from what we can tell, Biden has a lead among those voters so far.

What we don't know is if Donald Trump can pull off what his campaign says he will do, which is to turn out Republican voters in huge numbers on Election Day. And in some states, it's estimated that he'll need approximately 60% of the Election Day ballots to make up for the Democratic advantage in early voting. But we also don't know if it's just Republicans who are going to be turning out in large numbers on Election Day. We know that many African Americans are wary of voting by mail and feel the safest way to get their vote counted is to vote on Election Day. But - and we also know that since the president has been talking about not wanting to count any votes after Election Day, a lot of Democrats are telling their supporters, don't vote by mail; turn out on Election Day.

CHANG: That is NPR's Mara Liasson.

Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.