ORVI Elections Analysis

A democracy status report for the greater Ohio River Valley

As we expected going into election day, no winner has been declared in the race for the presidency, but Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky have been called for Donald Trump. The region now looks to Pennsylvania, a state that allowed no excuse mail-in voting for the first time in 2020. Mr. Trump won the state in 2016 by a 44,292 vote margin–less than 1% of all votes cast–but recent polling has shown Joe Biden with a consistent advantage of around 5 percentage points. Trump currently leads in Pennsylvania, but more than a million absentee and mail-in votes are still being counted, votes that have overwhelmingly favored Joe Biden. Our democracy is at work. Voters have done their job and turned out in record numbers, and now election officials across the country are doing theirs, as they have in every previous election. The greater Ohio River Valley will play a deciding role in this election and we at the Ohio River Valley Institute will be tracking key developments to keep you informed and up to date.

Pennsylvania

President: 43.6% Biden; 55.1% Trump
Estimated 25% of ballots left to be counted 

  • In the US House, Pennsylvania is represented by nine Republicans and nine Democrats.

  • Currently under the control of a 28-21-1 Republican majority (with one independent), 25 of the 50 Pennsylvania State Senate seats are on the ballot in 2020, with six likely battleground seats.

  • The Pennsylvania State House of Representatives is currently under the control of a 109-93 Republican majority (with one vacancy) but with all 203 members on the ballot, four incumbents defeated in the primary, and 17 additional seats with incumbents not running for re-election, the chamber is poised for a shakeup.

  • Also on the ballot are the statewide executive offices of Attorney General, Auditor General, and Treasurer, and for voters in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia ballot initiatives that include policing matters.

In the midst of a pandemic, when state and local resources are already strained, Pennsylvania also implemented 2019 changes to its election law, adding layers of complexity to one of the most contentious elections of our history. Plus, partisan groups have already filed more than 20 election-related legal cases, including challenges to how the new mail-in voting option will be handled. The results in Pennsylvania may take several additional days since more than 2.5 million ballots were cast by mail, and some counties did not even begin counting these votes until Wednesday. And, legal challenges continued to be filed even on election day, such as a GOP challenge to Montgomery County’s efforts to assist mail-in voters in fixing problems with their ballots. The Ohio River Valley Institute has published previously about some of the many challenges to voting in Pennsylvania in 2020.

As election officials work to ensure that all votes are counted and all voices are heard, we will be tracking exit polling and other data to better understand what issues motivated voters in rural and suburban southwestern Pennsylvania to turn out for Donald Trump. We will also be looking closely at the narrowing margin between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden. In 2016, Trump’s margin was 0.7% in the Commonwealth, and the state has an automatic recount provision for any margin within 0.5%.

At stake in the election is not only the presidency, but also Pennsylvania’s 18 US House seats. Among the most important are battleground races for Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District, pitting incumbent Scott Perry (R) against challenger and current Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (D); Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District where incumbent Conor Lamb (D) faces Fox News contributor Sean Parnell (R); statewide executive “row” offices of Attorney General, Auditor General, and Treasurer; half of the 50-member State Senate; and all 203 State House seats.

Ohio

President: 45.2% Biden; 53.3% Trump
Estimated 10% of ballots left to be counted

  • Ohio is represented in the US Senate by Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown. In the US House, Ohio is represented by 12 Republicans and four Democrats, a ratio that will not change in the next Congress.

  • Republicans control both houses of the Ohio legislature, which will not change with this election.

A closely-watched battleground state with 18 electoral votes, Ohio was considered a linchpin in the presidential contest: a must-win for President Trump and a potential gameover if won by Joe Biden. In the days leading up to the election, 538’s polling average showed Trump with an advantage of less than one percent, but the final results will yield a much bigger win for the president. In 2020, Ohioans are not voting for governor, US senator, or any statewide ballot measures.

Under the leadership of Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Ohio has been awash in claims of voter suppression, as detailed by an October 27 story at the Washington Post. The state provided just a single ballot dropbox for each county, including in Cuyahoga County, home to more than 850,000 people. Six major cities in Ohio took to the courts to challenge the order imposing the single drop box restriction was challenged in court, but the suit was dropped after a federal appeals court set a schedule for hearing the matter that would have extended beyond election day.

West Virginia

President: 29.6% Biden; 68.6% Trump
Governor: 30.5% Salango (D); 64% Justice (R)
US Senate: 32.9% Swearengin (D); 64.6% Capito (R)
Estimated 2% of ballots left to be counted

  • West Virginia will continue to be represented in the US Senate by Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Shelley Moore Capito.

  • In the US House West Virginia is represented by Republicans David McKinley, Alex Mooney, and Carol Miller. All three won reelection handily.

  • Republicans retain control of the West Virginia State Senate and the West Virginia House of Delegates.

  • West Virginians also voted for Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Auditor, and Commissioner of Agriculture.

With more than 98 percent of the vote tallied, Trump is once again expected to win West Virginia and secure its five electoral votes, by nearly the same 40-point margin he secured in 2016. The number of mail-in ballots received and early in-person votes cast in the state have hit record numbers of more than 390,000, a 74% increase over this same time in 2016. West Virginians also voted for Governor and US Senator, with incumbents Jim Justice and Shelley Moore Capito poised for reelection. One of the closest races in West Virginia was expected to be the race for Attorney General between Patrick Morrisey (R) and Sam Petsonk (D), with Morrisey ahead by only 5 points before election day, though with 95% of the expected vote reported incumbent Morrisey is projected to win reelection by a near 30 point margin.

Kentucky

President: 35.6% Biden; 62.7% Trump
US Senate: 37.7% McGrath (D); 58.3% McConnell (R)
Estimated 4% of ballots left to be counted

  • Kentucky will continue to be represented in the US Senate by two Republicans, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, and in the US House by five Republicans and one Democrat.

  • Republicans enjoy control of both houses of the Kentucky General Assembly with comfortable margins in both the Senate and the House. Neither chamber is expected to change hands.

A deeply red state, Kentucky was never considered in play for the presidential race. In the final days before the election, analysts at 538 gave President Trump a solid 15 point margin for capturing the state’s eight electoral votes. The contest for US Senator was predicted to be closer, with incumbent Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell likely to fend off a spirited challenge from Democrat Amy McGrath whose campaign drew inspiration from Andy Beshear’s 2018 victory to become governor. With an estimated four percent of votes left to be counted, Republicans significantly overperformed expectations with McConnell cruising to reelection and Trump handily defeating Biden. It remains to be seen whether he will return to DC as leader of the majority or minority party in the Senate.