US Presidential Elections – the long wait explained

For the last three days now, the tally of the republicans and democrats is at 214 and 264 respectively. The Dems need 6 more votes for Joe Biden to be the next President elect of the US of America. There are 5 states where counting is still going on – Alaska, Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. 

How the US system works

The winner of the election is determined through a system called the electoral college. Each of the 50 states, plus Washington DC, is given a number of electoral college votes, adding up to a total of 538 votes. More populous states get more electoral college votes than smaller ones.

A candidate needs to win 270 electoral college votes (50% plus one) to win the election.

In every state except two – Maine and Nebraska – the candidate that gets the most votes wins all of the state’s electoral college votes.

Due to these rules, a candidate can win the election without getting the most votes at the national level. This happened at the last election, in which Donald Trump won a majority of electoral college votes although more people voted for Hillary Clinton across the US.

This time another has shadowed the elections – the mail in ballots

So, what are mail-in ballots?

Also referred to as absentee ballots – as the name suggests mail-in ballots allow voters to send in their votes early by mail in the event they cannot make it to the polling station on Election Day. Typically, the category of mail-in ballots comprises citizens staying overseas and military personnel.

According to CNBC, this time there has been a surge in the mail in votes. The major reason for the surge is the COVID-19 pandemic and people wanting to avoid standing in queues for long hours on Election Day.

An unprecedented 103.2 million people cast their ballots early in this year’s presidential election. The early birds represent 74.3 percent of the total turnout in the 2016 election. A tally by The Associated Press shows the early vote in several states, including hotly-contested Texas and Arizona, exceeded the total vote of four years ago. In Kentucky, nearly 13 times as many voters cast their ballots early this year than in 2016.

The Democrats have also encouraged their voter base to opt for this voting method. This, in turn, has resulted in a historic high when it comes to voter turnout a U.S. Presidential election which stands at 67 percent.

President Trump has called the mail in ballots as very dangerous and that there is a tremendous fraud involved but the evidence suggests otherwise. The rate of voting fraud overall in the US is less than 0.0009%, according to a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice.

And Federal Election Commission head Ellen Weintraub has said: “There’s simply no basis for the conspiracy theory that voting by mail causes fraud.”

The perennial electoral college

Americans who go to the polls on Election Day don’t actually select the President directly.

They are technically voting for 538 electors who, according to the system laid out by the Constitution, meet in their respective states and vote for President and Vice President. These people, the electors, comprise the Electoral College, and their votes are then counted by the President of the Senate in a joint session of Congress.

How it works

There’s an elector for every member of the House of Representatives (435) and Senate (100), plus an additional three for people who live in the District of Columbia.

Each state gets at least 3 electors. California, the most populous state, has 53 congressmen and two senators, so they get 55 electoral votes.

Texas, the largest reliably Republican-leaning state, has 36 congressmen and two senators, so they get 38 electoral votes.

Six states — Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming — are so small, population-wise, that they only have one congressperson apiece, and the lowest possible three electoral votes. The District of Columbia also gets three electoral votes. Voters in Puerto Rico and other non-state territories get no electoral votes, although they can take part in presidential primaries. The states are in charge of selecting their own electors.

Who supports it

65 percent of Americans supported selecting the President by popular vote, compared to 32% who preferred the Electoral College in a June 2018 PRRI/Atlantic survey. There’s less support if the wording includes changing the Constitution. A Pew survey in March of 2018 asked if Americans supported amending the Constitution to select the President by popular vote and a smaller 55%, still a popular majority, endorsed the idea.

However, the Electoral College is written into the Constitution and changing the Constitution is very difficult. It takes years to accomplish and requires broad majorities in Congress or state legislatures. States that currently benefit from the Electoral College would have to give up some of that power. 

The procedure before vote counting 

When explaining how ballots are counted, it’s important to distinguish between a ballot that is cast early and a ballot that is cast on election day. This can impact the process each ballot goes through before final tabulation. Every single voter’s identification is verified regardless of what type of ballot they cast.

Early Ballots

An early ballot is any ballot distributed to a voter prior to election day. For every election, early voting begins 27 days prior to the election. An early ballot package consists of the actual ballot, instructions on how to complete the ballot and the early ballot affidavit (EBA) envelope. The early ballot affidavit envelope is used to verify the voter’s identity through signature verification. An early ballot cannot be counted unless the voter signs the EBA and the county subsequently confirms the signature matches the voter’s registration record. Once the County Recorder confirms the signature on the EBA matches the voter’s record, the ballot is transmitted to the elections office for tabulation.

Election Day Ballots

When a voter enters a voting location on Election Day, they must provide satisfactory identification in order to receive their official ballot. Once the voter receives and votes their ballot, one of two things can occur. Some counties utilize a method called “central count” and other counties utilize a method called “precinct tabulation”.

If a voter is in a central count county, the voter would deposit their voted ballot into a secured ballot bin. After the polls close, the secured ballots are transported back to election central (the location used by the county to tabulate the ballots) by election workers, whom of which are of a different political party.

If a voter is in a precinct tabulation county, the voter or the poll worker would run their voted ballot through the tabulation machine located in the voting location. The machine immediately tabulates the ballot and saves the vote counts to a removable media device located inside the tabulator.

Tabulation

After early ballots have been processed to confirm the voter’s identity, the ballots are transmitted to the early ballot board which consists of volunteers of opposite party affiliations, they then remove the ballot from the affidavit envelope and prepare to transmit the ballot to the tabulation room. Once the ballots have been transmitted to the tabulation room, election staff begins running the ballots through the tabulators. The ballot tabulation room is required by law to have a live feed so voters can watch all of the activity during tabulation.

For ballots that have been tabulated at the voting location, after the polls closed, the poll worker or sheriff deputies, transmit the removable media that contains the results recorded at the voting location and transmit those results to the central count location. The election official then loads those results into the secure election management system and aggregates the vote totals for all voting locations.

Hence the long wait….

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