From marijuana and mail-in ballots to pollsters and the Lincoln Project, it was politics unusual for this year’s election winners and losers

Democracy is demanding, filled with victory and defeat.

And this year, the very act of voting seemed under threat. The coronavirus pandemic mixed with President Trump’s toxicity had some worried the sacred civic exercise could devolve into something life-threatening.


But the stakes were so high, voters didn’t shy away. They cast mail-in ballots at record numbers and braved long lines to make their voices heard.

President Donald Trump and then Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden during the final presidential debate on Oct. 22, 2020.

It took longer than usual to pick a president with nail-biter ballot counts in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada, but some clear winners and losers emerged right away.



Mail-In Ballots — Who knew mail could be so riveting? Fast-rising coronavirus cases led a record number of Americans to vote by mail. In the battleground state of Pennsylvania, an eye-popping 2,630,770 absentee mail-in ballots were cast, a figure that’s ten times larger than the 266,208 absentee ballots returned during the 2016 presidential election, election officials said. In New York, approximately 1,565,000 mail ballots were returned this election, compared to 400,660 absentee ballots returned in 2016, a spokesperson with the state Board of Elections told the Daily News.

Municipal workers extract Luzerne County, Pa ballots from their envelopes on  Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Election officials — Stalwart state election officials successfully staged a pandemic election and labored around the clock to tabulate votes. Despite Trump’s tantrums and lawsuits – even armed protesters trying to disrupt their work ­– they didn’t waver. They let the law, and math, prevail. Yes, one guy in Luzerne County, Penn., tried to vote for his dead mom last month, but he was discovered and criminally charged. The system worked, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman said Friday. “The president can sue a ham sandwich. He can send a thousand lawyers to Pennsylvania, but it’s not going to change (the count),” Fetterman told NBC News. Legal experts agreed the president’s last-minute legal claims lacked merit. “There’s not a lot to them. They’re pretty sketchy,” Richard Briffault, an election law expert at Columbia Law School, told The News.

Armed Trump supporters stand outside of the Maricopa County Recorder's Office where votes in the general election are being counted in Phoenix, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. The man at left, who did not want to give his name, says he came armed to the pro-Trump protest to "exercise his common Second Amendment right".

Women — At least 126 women from both sides of the aisle will serve in the 117th Congress, a new record, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. All four members of the so-called progressive House “squad” – Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) – sailed to victory along with close to 100 other Democratic women. Republicans, meanwhile, appeared on track to at least double their 13 seats held by women in the House. Trump ally Nancy Mace made history as the first Republican woman elected to the House from South Carolina. In New York, House candidates Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) and Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) were both leading Friday in their races against male competitors.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in her Jackson Heights, Queens office on Aug. 7, 2019.

Stacey Abrams — The former minority leader of the Georgia House was showered with thanks and praise on social media as Joe Biden pulled ahead in The Peach State. She spent the last decade building a ground game for Democrats there and was credited as a driving force behind Biden’s success. Her nonprofit New Georgia Project registered an estimated 100,000 new Georgia voters, and her Fair Fight Action project has tirelessly battled voter suppression. The multiracial coalition she activated nearly handed her the governorship in 2018 and kept growing. “This American citizen would love to thank you from the bottom of her heart!!” actress Viola Davis tweeted Friday along with a photo of Abrams.

Stacey Abrams speaks to Biden supporters as they wait for former President Barack Obama to arrive at a rally Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, at Turner Field in Atlanta, Ga.

Marijuana and Magic Mushrooms — Oregon voters capped election night by legalizing the use of magic mushrooms in therapeutic settings. Meanwhile, voters in in New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota and Montana cleared cannabis for recreational use. New Jersey overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment legalizing weed and creating a framework for taxation. The ballot measure’s success is expected to pressure New York lawmakers to work out a similar deal. “I think this year it is ripe because the state is going to be desperate for funding,” Gov. Cuomo said Thursday during a radio interview with WAMC. “I think we’re going to get there this year.”


Blue Wave — It didn’t materialize. There was no resounding Democratic blowout. While pollsters predicted anti-Trump sentiment would deliver Democrats 10 to 15 new seats in the House, the party actually ended up losing some ground while failing to decisively flip the Senate. House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will have to navigate with a much narrower majority come January. And a Joe Biden presidency likely will be stuck with a Republican-led Senate helmed by Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.), though Senate control could hinge on January runoffs for Georgia’s two seats.


Lindsey Graham — He won his Senate race, but Jaime Harrison’s upstart campaign showed his vulnerability. Harrison started as a 17-point underdog but later raised more than $100 million, outpacing Graham as some predicted he might wrest the seat away from the 18-year incumbent. Graham’s grip on his seat took a hit from his unwavering support for President Trump in a southern state that’s trending blue. After his win, he was attacked by Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., on Twitter for not defending the president loud enough as his prospects for a second term started dwindling. Graham then doubled down on Trump’s legacy by pledging $500,000 to the president’s longshot legal defense fund.

(L-R) President Donald Trump shakes hands with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) during an event about judicial confirmations in the East Room of the White House on Nov. 6, 2019.

Lincoln Project — The group of former Republican operatives raised more than $50 million with the promise of persuading fellow GOP conservatives to defect from Trump. They produced attention-grabbing online attack ads and even those Jared and Ivanka billboards in Times Square. Launched in December by Kellyanne Conway’s Never Trumper husband George Conway and John McCain’s former campaign manager Steve Schmidt, among others, the group barely made a dent. Even with a loss, Trump’s 70 million vote haul this election beats every other prior presidential candidate in U.S. history, including President Obama’s former record of 69.5 million votes.

Pollsters — Just like in 2016, pollsters took hits from all sides once the ballots were tabulated and the race for the White House end up much tighter than predicted. Democrats complained when the rosiest predictions of a Biden landslide fell through. Republicans vented that the same polls amounted to voter suppression. “It’s been widely discussed that maybe the idea of polling needs to be reinvented,’” CNBC anchor Shepard Smith said Thursday. Polling guru Nate Silver, founder of the FiveThirtyEight website, was defiant. “If they’re coming after FiveThirtyEight, then the answer is f--k you, we did a good job,” he told his site’s podcast host Galen Druke.