Explaining the peculiarities of U.S. presidential election
YBTC News-Image result for trump Tuesday, the United States will go to the polls to choose for another four years between incumbent Republican candidate President Donald Trump and his arch-rival, Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
Analysts say the Nov. 3 will be one of the most consequential elections in U.S. history with issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, economy, abortion rights, same-sex marriage, healthcare, migration, and religious freedom at the front burner.
They explained that the U.S. election is unique in many respect and is different from most country’s elections, especially as the candidate who wins the popular votes — like Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016 led Trump by 2.9 million votes — may not necessarily win the electoral college votes.
The U.S. election is decided by the Electoral College made up of 538 persons and not a popular vote, which obtained in most countries; technically, therefore, only 538 ‘electors’ will vote for Biden and Trump in the presidential election.
To be elected a president, therefore, a candidate must score 270 Electoral College votes, representing 50 per cent plus one vote or a simple majority vote.
A professor of Political Science at the Christopher Newport University, Quentin Kidd, U.S., said that electorate vote for the Electoral College, not the candidates.
Kidd said each state has “winner takes all” system, adding “whoever wins popular votes takes all the votes; whoever wins popular votes wins the electors”.
“Americans will not be voting for the president directly in the election; it is the electors that will vote for the president at the Electoral College,” he said.
Electors are allocated based on the number of people each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives, plus two for the number of senators each state has in the Senate.
Kidd said technically, by the day after election, which is Nov. 4, the president-elect would already be known through exit polling, adding “we all wake up (on the next day, which is Nov. 4) and we know who the president is. That will be accepted, that will be spoken of as the incoming president”.
He said the Electoral College would, however, officially meet in December to formally vote for the candidates
“But technically speaking, because the Electoral College doesn’t vote until December, the outcome of the election is not formalised,” he said.
He said, for instance, Virginia State has 13 supporters for each candidate to be their electors if they win the popular vote.
“So, whoever wins Virginia, the 13 electors of the winner goes to the Electoral College to vote and the 13 electors of who loses stays at home.
“So , you can feel confident of who will get the electoral votes in a state because like in Virginia, it is the 13 supporters of who got the popular vote that goes to vote at the Electoral College,” the don said.
Kidd explained that the presidential candidates choose their electors who are usually party supporters and activists.
He added that what the electorate would be doing on the day of election (in this case on Nov. 3) would be to choose who the electors are going to be.
The ballot on Tuesday will indicate “Electors for Joe Biden, Kamala Harris; and Electors for Donald Trump, Mike Pence.
“So our ballot doesn’t list the names of the candidates but the ballot does say electors for’’.
The official paper ballots are batched up and sent to the House of Representatives and the Clerk of the House of Representatives collects them all.
“On Jan. 19, at a joint session of the Congress, the ballots are opened up and officially counted at the House of Representatives.
Even though that is the technical resolution of the election, the process is merely ceremonial because it is the act of casting the ballot on Nov. 3 by the public that produces the president.
“So we call them the president-elect from that day; it usually takes one month to officially get the votes from the states to the Congress,’’ the don said.
According to Kidd, on Jan. 19, the Clerk of the House of Representatives communicates to the winner, intimating the candidate that he or she has been elected the president with the number of votes.
The Clerk would also ask the winner to arrive the Capitol Hill on Jan. 20 to be sworn-in, he said.
However, where no candidate reaches 270, the House of Representatives elects the president, choosing from the three candidates who received the most Electoral College votes while the Senate would elect the vice-president from the remaining top two candidates.
Another uniqueness of the U.S. election is that media networks are the platforms that announce election results and declare winners of elections in the U.S., rather than the U.S. Federal Election Commission (FEC).
Christian Hilland, Deputy Press Officer of FEC, noted that the commission did not tabulate or announce winners of elections.
“The Federal Election Commission does not perform vote tabulation and it certainly does not announce winners of elections.
“While there isn’t an official central body for you to follow on election night, the major news stations will surely be tracking state-by-state vote results” Hilland said.
Patrick Butler, the Vice President, Programmes at the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ), also reinforced Hilland’s position, but said that “the counting of votes is done at the Counties and States levels.
“There is no national organisation doing votes counting or announcement of winners; it is done by the networks such as CNN, Fox News and AP, among others.
“What does happen is that each county has its own electoral board that counts the votes and there are party observers who are watching the counts.
“The Electoral College meets and decides the winner of the presidential election but there is no national election body that announces.’’
Explaining further, Kidd said that networks announce the presidential election results by calling each state through exit polling.
He said: “Exit polling is a poll of people leaving a polling place, asking how they voted, and pollsters use the data to project how all voters or segments of voters’ side on a particular race or ballot measure”.
“So the national networks will be projecting who wins each state through exit polling.
“They won’t start projecting states until about 7 p.m. because they made an informal agreement not to declare states votes until California votes’’.
According to him, however, the state elections board also officially announces the election results at the state level after sorting out absentee and mailing ballots.
“However, it usually takes sometimes a week, 10 days, and sometimes a month to sort out absentee ballots and mailing ballots are sorted out and officially say who the winner is.
“But unless the election is that close, it’s clear who wins; the margin does not usually affect the outcome of the election,” he said.
Analysts are, however, cautious that the 2020 presidential election is an unprecedented election and media networks are being urged to refrain from making projections or reporting results on election night.
They expressed concerns that declaring a winner on election night may be premature because it will take some time to count the unprecedented large number of votes that will be mailed in, which have already become controversial, could swing the votes from the election night polling by networks.
Polls watchers also predict the election would be one of the most controversial and most bitter in history, saying it may end up being decided at the Supreme Court as was the case in 2000 between Democratic candidate Al Gore and Republican former president George Bush.
This, they say, partly explained the fierce opposition to Trump’s Supreme Court’s pick, Justice Amy Barrett, which has swung the ideological leanings at the Court to six conservatives and three liberals.