FOR THE WEEK OF NOV. 09, 2020
Tense presidential ballot count renews grumbles about Electoral College system
Share two quotes from any post-election news coverage.
Summarize the key theme of an editorial or opinion column about the presidential result.
Read about the winner of a local or state race and list three facts.
With a record-high turnout of nearly 160 million voters, America elected Joe Biden as the next president and Kamala Harris as his vice president. They'll be inaugurated in two months on Jan. 20 to start a four-year term, replacing Republicans Donald Trump and Mike Pence. Two-thirds of Americans eligible to vote participated by mail, dropped-off ballots and in person, and the outcome wasn’t confirmed until Saturday — four days after polls closed. The Democratic winners got over 75.2 million votes, while the current office-holders got more than 70.8 million. But what actually matters most is the fact that the Biden-Harris ticket earned enough electoral votes under our unique system of awarding Electoral College votes by states, based roughly on the population of each. (See video below.) Candidates need 270 or more to win. Biden and Harris earned at least 290, with North Carolina and Georgia still too close to call by Sunday night.
The Electoral College, which was established by the Constitution in 1787 and has nothing to do with a school or campus, is of the most confusing and controversial parts of our political system. No other democracy has anything like it. In 2016, it made Donald Trump president even though Hillary Clinton had nearly 3 million more votes overall. That outcome, and last week's tense wait for decisive results, reopened discussions about the 233-year-old method from an era when 13 colonies became states. But ending or changing it would take three-quarters of the states to pass a constitutional amendment, which is highly unlikely because small states benefit from the current setup.
Another topic arising again is whether it'd be better to have national registration, voting and counting procedures rather than 50 sets of state rules. Some states let anyone request an absentee ballot. This year, some sent applications to all registered voters because of the pandemic – a move the president criticized. Some election workers can open and tabulate advance ballots before Election Day, though the counts remain private. Other states don’t let election clerks start that work until Election Eve or the morning polling places open – delaying results from this year's Covid-related deluge of mailed ballots. Another important difference is that some states allow advance in-person voting or same-day registration, while others don’t let first-time voters participate unless than sign up a month or so ahead of time. Rules on voting by former prison inmates also vary by state. Only three areas – Maine, Vermont and the District of Columbia – allow prisoners to vote while serving sentences.
Historic fact: Donald Trump in 2016 was the fifth Electoral College winner who lost the popular vote.
Critic says: "We are the only country in the world that thinks of itself as a democracy where the candidate who loses the [popular vote] can become president. The Electoral College should be abolished and the winner of the popular vote should be the president." – Erwin Chemerinsky, University of California-Berkley law school dean
Scholar says: "To the extent it worked before, it was that nobody noticed it. It worked in the sense that it didn’t mess everything up." -- Michael Waldman, president of the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice in New York City
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