US DECIDES

One Man/Woman = One Vote?’ Not in the US

In Summary

• The candidate who wins the most votes in each state captures that state’s electoral votes (except for Maine and Nebraska, where they are apportioned proportionally).

• So one can win a majority of the national vote and still lose, as happened to the Democrat Albert Gore in 2000 and to Hillary Clinton in 2016 

One Man/Woman = One Vote?’ Not in the US
One Man/Woman = One Vote?’ Not in the US
Image: CELESTINE

The delegates who attended the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1787 wrote the Constitution that created the United States. They represented the former 13 British colonies that had declared their independence in 1776.

Given the emerging tensions between these 13 colonies, two contrasting formulas were adopted to populate the bicameral Congress: members in the House of Representatives would reflect each state’s population (determined by a census to be conducted every 10 years), and members of the Senate to be identical with two for each state.

So California, now with a population of 39 million has the same number of senators as Wyoming with a population of 600,000.

There are also large disparities in Congressional districts that have one Representative each but which are supposed to be generally equal in terms of people they represent. California has fifty-three Representatives who each represent about 720,000 people whereas Wyoming has one who represents 190,000.

Those benefitting from the status quo have blocked various attempts over the years to make representation a closer reflection of population distribution across states.

The Republican Party is far stronger in sparsely-populated rural (mainly farming and all-white) areas. This bias makes it much harder for the Democrats to achieve majorities in either House of Congress. The current Senate has a Republican Party majority where its 51 senators represent 11 million fewer people than do its 49 Democrats.

Turning to presidential elections, the total number of seats in the House and Senate combined produces a total of 538 ‘electoral votes’ – representing 435 Representatives and 100 Senators (plus three for several US territories).

So to win the election one must garner at least 270 electoral votes. The candidate who wins the most votes in each state captures that state’s electoral votes (except for Maine and Nebraska, where they are apportioned proportionally).

So one can win a majority of the national vote and still lose, as happened to the Democrat Albert Gore in 2000 when he obtained half a million more votes than George Bush, and to Hillary Clinton in 2016 when she obtained three million more votes than Donald Trump.

Partisan states, whether Republican or Democrat, rarely receive campaign attention, with nearly all resources (visits, media adverts, get-out-the-vote efforts) allocated to the ‘battleground’ or ‘swing’ states, especially those with larger populations.

So what has to happen before the winner of this presidential election will be known? Given Covid-19, record numbers of votes have already been cast, some by post and some in-person with voters going to polling stations.

The Electors of each state must officially declare their results on December 8 and then meet and certify the winner on December 14.

Modern technology with voting machines that tally votes instantly and media coverage creates tremendous pressure to announce the result as soon as possible. This can begin as soon as the polls close. There are two ways this can be done.

The first is to examine the distribution of votes that have been cast in particular electoral districts and compare the results with those of previous elections. It is clear that far more Democrats have engaged in ‘early voting’ than Republicans, apparently in part because of Trump’s repeated dismissal of the threat of Covid-19, so that many of his supporters will have no qualms about going to polling stations en masse on election day. This could result in big leads for Biden being announced that night (in states where early ballots had already been counted) and then a Trump ‘wave’ coming later as the election day votes are tallied.

The second way to foresee the outcome is to conduct exit polls. Even if such surveys will be limited to respondents who turn up at polling stations on the day, it will be possible to determine with a high degree of certainty ‘which way the wind is blowing’.

Whatever the case, indications are that legal challenges to the vote-count are highly likely and could find their way to the Supreme Court where Trump now has a 6-3 advantage in terms of Justices who are expected to ‘see things his way’.

Given that Trump has declared on numerous occasions is that “the only way I can lose is if the election is rigged”, what might he and his followers do in the 10 weeks until Biden would be inaugurated on January 20 and indeed, during the entire four years of his presidency?