Don’t Declare Victory on Election Night If You’re Running Against Kamala

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Congratulations to the vice president-elect from California, our Senator Kamala Harris.

And a pro tip for anyone who might run against her in any future race: Be careful about declaring victory, especially on election night.

It’s now happened twice in her political career. Back in 2010, L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley declared victory on election night when he took a lead against then San Francisco District Attorney Harris. But when all the votes were counted several days later, she had won.

This election, it was President Trump spiking the ball on the 10-yard line, with his election night declaration that he’d won. It took less than four days for that to prove ludicrous, as Harris and Joe Biden won easily. 

There is a lesson here that goes beyond early over-confidence among Harris opponents. And that is, as our country gets bigger and voting practices change, we ought to learn patience. Californians have struggled with the transition to a system dominated by mail balloting, but we’ve learned to wait a couple weeks. Such waits are common in other large countries.

They are not evidence of fraud—and those who suggest otherwise deserved severe condemnation. They are evidence of a commitment to get as many people to vote as possible, and to count their votes. To paraphrase Jay-Z, California has 99 problems, but vote counting ain’t one.

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