Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Popular Vote + Electoral College

When we vote, is the President elected by our individual vote or by the Electoral College?

All votes count!  However, the final outcome of the election is determined by the Electoral College.  When you vote for a presidential candidate you are really voting to instruct the electors from your state to cast their votes for the same candidate that took the majority vote in your state.  This system was established in Article II of the Constitution and amended by the 12th Amendment in 1804.

Four times in history a candidate lost the popular vote but won the election by way of the electoral count. They were John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and George W. Bush.

Each state gets electors equal to the number of U.S. House of Representatives plus one for each of its two U.S. Senators.  The District of Columbia gets three electors.  While state laws determine how electors are chosen, they are generally selected by the political party committees within the states.

Each elector gets one vote.  If a state has eight electors then eight votes would be cast.  There are currently 538 electors and the votes of a majority of them, 270 votes, are required to elect the president.  The map below shows how many electors each state has.

If no candidate wins 270 electoral votes, the 12th Amendment kicks in, and the election is decided by the House of Representatives.  The combined representatives of each state get one vote and a simple majority of states is required to win.  This has only happened twice.  Presidents Thomas Jefferson in 1801 and John Quincy Adams in 1825.

The night of the election a winner will be declared by all the news outlets.  One candidate will claim victory and one will normally concede defeat.  It will not become "official" and a new president and vice president named "elect" until the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, when the electors of the Electoral College meet in their state capitals and cast their votes according to which candidate won the majority of their states popular vote.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Early Voting

Even though Election Day is still several weeks away, many Americans are already casting their votes.  The number of people choosing to vote before Election Day has dramatically increased over the last 32 years.  Today, Election Day is merely the last day a voter can cast a ballot.

Early voting in recent American elections has skyrocketed, reaching a record thirty percent of all votes cast in the 2008 presidential election, much higher than the twenty percent cast in 2004.  It appears that these records will be shattered again in 2012, with somewhere around thirty-five percent of all votes being cast prior to Election Day.

States vary their early voting options.  Some states like Indiana and Texas allow persons to vote early at  special polling locations.  Some like Oregon and Washington, and some local jurisdictions, run all-mail ballot elections.  Some like California and Colorado allow persons to request that they vote by mail in all future elections.  Some like Ohio allow persons to request a mail ballot for any reason.  Then there are a handful of holdouts like Pennsylvania and Virginia that have traditional absentee balloting laws that extend early voting only to those who provide a valid excuses.  Complicating definitions is that some states like Florida and North Carolina allow both early voting at special polling locations and no-fault absentee balloting.  And where mail balloting is the primary method of early voting, voters can vote in person at an election administration office.

All states used to have what might be considered traditional absentee voting laws.  The laws have evolved since.  California was the first to adopt no-fault absentee balloting in 1980.  Florida, Tennessee and Texas first opened special early-voting locations in 1996.  Oregon adopted all-mail elections by a 1998 voter initiative.  When early voting is tabulated by states, the national upward trend in early voting is located clearly among early voting states, although there has been a slight rise in early voting in states with traditional absentee balloting.  The upward national trajectory is a combination of more states adopting early voting alternatives and increasing use among voters.  Washington best exemplifies the love voters have for early voting.  So many people signed up to permanently receive ballots that election administrators decided to dispense with opening Election Day polling places that were costly to run and empty.  Colorado is nearing a similar tipping point.

Campaigns have adjusted their strategies to the way people vote.  Election administrators track the status of every registered voter, whether they voted in person early, and if they have a mail ballot in hand or if it has been returned.  They then scratch these voters off their target lists and refocus their efforts to those who have yet to vote.  Once the election rolls around and you want the campaigns to stop contacting early!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Debates

With the candidates for President of the United States running neck and neck, this Wednesday's debate is of particular importance.  It is going to give Americans their first side by side look at President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, and see what each of their thoughts are to the same questions.  These will be answers from their own mouths and not expressed from the press's view.

Fifty-Two years ago Americans were able to see their candidates side by side for the first time ever on National TV.  September 26, 1960, with 70 million viewers glued to their TV sets, Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy met for their first of three debates.

Many contend that this first debate changed the dynamics of the race completely.  Nixon insisted on campaigning until just a few hours before the first debate started.  He was still recovering from a knee injury and hospital stay thus looking pale, sickly, underweight, and tired.  He also refused makeup for the first debate, and as a result his beard stubble showed prominently on the black and white TV screens.  Kennedy, by contrast, rested and prepared extensively before hand in California.  He appeared tanned, confident, and relaxed during the debate.

Those who heard the first debate on the radio pronounced Nixon the winner.  The 70 million who watched television saw a candidate still sickly and obviously discomforted by Kennedy's smooth delivery and charisma.  Those television viewers focused on what they saw, not what they heard.   Studies of the audience indicated that, among television viewers, Kennedy was perceived the winner of the first debate by a very large margin.  Unfortunately for Nixon, the second and third debates were watched by 20 million fewer viewers than the first.

More than half of all voters reported that the "Great Debates" had influenced their opinion.  6% reported that their vote was the result of the debates alone.  Regardless of whether the debates changed the election result, voters pointed to the debates as a significant reason for electing Kennedy.