Midnight in the Box with the Electoral Schrödinger’s Cat

As I write this, the clock just struck midnight on the US East Coast as the calendar turns the page to November 5th. It’s been over 48 hours since the clock struck midnight on the US East Coast as the general US election began on its constitutionally mandated date of November 3rd. Thousands of elections and ballot initiatives have ended with a winner or a Yea or Nay, but a bunch hasn’t yet, including the biggest one of them all: the US Presidency.

The news cycle has been on overdrive ever since Donald J. Trump’s candidacy in 2016, and it never has really let down given the regular dose of outrage, dog whistling, gaslighting, and outright lies coming from the Mouthpiece In Chief throughout his presidency. A tired and elated electorate tries to move on from a generally horrible year of 2020 for the United States.

The odds of Trump’s reelection, as predicted throughout the 2020 campaign period, was not great. The toll of coronavirus plus just his general performance was mixed at best. But as the polls close when the sun rises on November 4th, the truth is that we are at another junction like 2016, the electoral vote path shrinks through a few battleground states with very close vote counts. The added stress of moving many votes (with a heavy Democratic lean) from the usual polling process and moving it to mail-in voting further protracts the canvassing process, and gives room for Trump and the Republicans to play the voter suppression gambit, and undermine the legitimacy of the democratic process.

But while vote counters work and results trickle out, we are in a zone where the real-time tally collected by major news outlets lag behind the reality of votes in the bag, giving us real time, non-stop TV coverage since early Tuesday. States with leads from one candidate change into the other as the later-counted mail-in ballots make it into the tally.

If you follow the pre-election coverage and predictions, there will be some swing states that are the tipping point, which makes or breaks a candidate’s bid for the White House due to the cross-state electoral correlation and the weight of its electoral college. During this period of time, the public sentiment for, say, Georgia, might be entirely different than what we thought a few days ago, when it’s a known battleground this year but always had low odds as a tipping point. Pennsylvania and Florida, huge tipping point states in 2016, may play a very small role this year if Biden retake Wisconsin and MIchigan, and take Arizona back for the Dems–piling up to 270 without those big classic turning point states.

But that’s just me writing late night, which might change in another few hours as the votes come in. In the face of uncertainty, we can doomscroll until the sun comes up, which some might have done, but it’s also a weird zone of impermanence. It is a weird piece of peace in the endless horseracing talk of presidential electoral politics.

[Updated because I forgot to mention the first go-around]

This US General Election, with the very heavy use of the mail-in ballot, is a perfect example of what a quantum state means. Fact is, by the time polls closed on 11/3, the voters have already spoken. The results were collected–the collective, final count unknown at the time–and it has been the same this whole time. The counting went on but the truth was established days ago, if not earlier. The horserace-like coverage pinges on the vote counting, not the actual voting. When ballot processing and counting occurs, the collective whole of humanity was in the act of observing, measuring this system. In reaction to that, the system collapses into a known and measurable state.

The people doing math prior to the election are the folks trying to calculate the quantum state of the thing without directly measuring the thing. The use of mail-in ballots merely exaggerates the measurement and lets us take time to observe the observation and collapsing.

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