Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Politician season 2 finale, “Election Day.”
The Politician’s season 2 finale tries to trick you. The closing act of the episode, “Election Day,” jumps two years into the future of hero Payton Hobart’s (Ben Platt) life, setting the stage for a potential season 3. Payton is not only successful — he’s content. Payton is a husband, father, and hard-working state senator who is running unchallenged for reelection. Rather than plotting some new power-grabbing scheme (like stealing a ballot box), Payton is simply excited to keep grinding away for the good of his constituents.
Payton's friends are devastated. The audience is supposed to be devastated.
Then, “Election Day” throws us a cliffhanger. Payton is going to be the next Vice President of the United States, at least if his former rival — and the current VP — Dede Standish (Judith Light) has anything to say about it. However, Politician season 2 is littered with proof that Payton may just lose the veep race.
At a basic level, it is obvious that Payton cannot trust Dede. At the close of “Election Day,” Dede is serving as the VP to Payton’s mom, Georgina Hobart (Gwyneth Paltrow), the very bored new POTUS. Since Georgina is already exhausted by the responsibility, the plan is to have Vice President Dede run for president in the next election cycle with Payton as her running mate. But, Dede is the person who — rightfully — leaked photos of Payton’s offensive “Geronimo costume” to discredit him and ruin his chances of winning the state senate race. Her chief of staff, Hadassah Gold (Bette Midler), put a mole in Payton’s inner circle. To make matters worse, Payton and his team committed many equally terrible political sins against Dede. These are two people who fundamentally cannot be a team.
If anything were to threaten Dede’s chances of becoming president she would ditch Payton in a second.
The Politician season 2 reveals Payton has one of those career-ruining secrets hiding in his closet: the stolen ballot box. As we learn in sixth episode “What’s in the Box,” Payton and Dede reportedly tied their race with 45,626 votes apiece. Their teams then agree to allow a game of rock, paper, scissors to decide the outcome. The drama that follows this decision is what leads Dede to concede the race to Payton, allowing him to win the state senate race and her to go on to the VP spot.
However, Payton and Dede didn’t need to go through any of that stress. As Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch) reveals in “Box,” she and her climate action group stole a ballot box from a retirement home hoping to remove an integral number of Standish votes from consideration. Infinity then brings the ballot box to Payton’s campaign office, implicating him, his now-wife Alice (Julia Schlaepfer), and everyone on his team in the crime.
“We are all going to jail!” Payton screams when he finds out what Infinity did. Payton is not wrong. According to a 2017 Justice Department report, political party officials destroyed over 150 voter registration applications and were sentenced to 30 months in jail in 1992. Who knows what kind of legal ramifications Payton and his friends could suffer for stealing an entire ballot box of actual votes? Although it isn’t illegal for a convicted felon to sit in the VP chair, such a story getting out would destroy Payton’s political career and force Dede to publicly disavow him forever — particularly since the ballot box stealing was a direct form of aggression against her campaign.
The final scene before “Election Day’s” flash-forward attempts to convince viewers the ballot box threat is neutralized. As Payton is preparing to give his victory speech, McAfee (Laura Dreyfuss), James (Theo Germain), and Skye (Rahne Jones) arrive backstage to tell him they broke into the ballot box and read the votes — he actually won fair in square. This revelation is posed as a positive, but it’s not entirely. If the authorities were to learn Payton had possession of the box, no matter its contents, it wouldn’t matter that the votes confirmed his win. Payton would still be charged with federal crimes.
Politician leaves this Chekov’s ballot box lurking in the corner of Payton’s world, since we never learn whether Team Payton destroyed it after counting the votes or if it’s merely hiding in James’ dorm room. Early in “What's in the Box,” when Payton begins to reel over the threat of a decade in jail for election fraud, Skye quips, “I’d turn on all of you in a heartbeat.” Don’t be surprised if she — or someone else — does do just that come The Politician season 3.