Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Vox explains how the U.S. counts votes and how the Electoral College works

While my readers are waiting for the results of the election and wondering why Arizona, Nevada, and Pennsylvania are so important, I'm sharing two videos Vox released during the past few days that explain the process and why these particular states matter so much. I begin with yesterday's How the US counts votes.

The US doesn't have one election. It has 3,141.

In a normal presidential election year, many Americans go from casting our vote before work in the morning to turning off the TV before bed, secure in our knowledge of who will lead the country for the next four years. But in 2020, there’s a better-than-average chance that won’t happen.

Even before the coronavirus struck, more Americans each election were either voting early or voting my mail. But in 2020, these numbers are expected to skyrocket, and that means states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which don’t start counting mail-in ballots until election day, probably won’t have results for several days. This year, voters are facing a pandemic, a deliberately underfunded postal service, and the closure of polling locations in battleground states like Georgia, Ohio, Arizona, and Texas.

In this video, we take a comprehensive deep dive into how states count votes. Each of the 3,141 counties in the US has its own rules, but there are some basic steps that are mostly the same across the country. Whether you’re voting in person early, on election day, by mail, or dropping off your ballot, we break down some of the differences and similarities in how and when states collect, verify, process, and count ballots.

Once you understand how votes are counted, it’s clear just how important each vote really is.
The bad news is that America's decentralized system is unwieldy and doesn't report national results quickly, as my readers and I are finding out right now. The good news is that it's too difficult to rig a national election. Along with the reforms to voting machines, it's part of the reason this U.S. election could be the most secure yet. Silver linings, folks.

Next, I'm sharing Vox's follow-up of sorts to CNBC explains why the Electoral College exists, The Electoral College, explained.

Why some Americans’ votes count more than others.
In the 2000 US presidential election, the Democratic candidate got half a million more votes than the Republican. The Democrat lost. Sixteen years later the same thing happened again. In the US, if you run for president, it does not actually matter how many people in the country vote for you. What matters instead is an arcane system for selecting America’s head of state called the Electoral College.

The Electoral College is the reason the US has something called “swing states,” and it’s the reason those places get to decide the future of the country. It’s the reason presidential candidates almost never campaign in the country’s biggest cities. And more recently, it’s also the reason that Republican candidates have been able to eke out victories in the presidential election without actually getting the most votes.

The Electoral College makes some Americans’ votes more powerful than others. In fact, that’s part of the reason we have it to begin with; in the country’s early years, the Electoral College helped give the votes of Southern Whites more weight than the votes of Northerners. The idea at its core, that certain votes simply matter more than others, is baked into the American tradition. In the 2020 election, it may decide the winner.
As I wrote in 'Good Morning America' reports on the results of state ballot initiatives while the presidential contest is still being decided, "While all the states still have not been called, the trends look good for Biden." It's not because of the popular vote; Biden is winning that handily. Instead, it's because he needs either Arizona and Nevada or one of Pennsylvania, Georgia, and North Carolina to get 270 more more Electoral College votes. While the system benefits Michigan right now, I think "America's peculiar institution" is unfair and undemocratic and would like it eliminated.* I know better than to expect will happen any time soon.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is a work-around that will make the Electoral College more democratic, both upper- and lower-case d, without a constitutional amendment. I'd like that, too, but I consider it extremely difficult, while not impossible. That's a long-term effort that I may not live to see accomplished.
Until then, we have to live with it. Sigh.

*I know the connotations of "peculiar institution" and, given the states that traditionally benefit from the Electoral College according to Vox's history, I think it's apt. Besides, no other democracy in the world uses it, so it is both unique and peculiar.

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