Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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By Kenneth Tiven in USA

Critical to understanding the US national election for President is knowing the popular vote does not guarantee living in the White House. Despite beating Donald Trump by 2.6 million votes, Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. Where the votes are cast makes the ultimate difference.

While the popular vote appeals to a former TV host obsessed with ratings, it is the Electoral College that determines who leads America. Think of it like any board game where different spaces have different values: Monopoly, for example.

America’s founders built a system in the 17th century that balanced power among the most populous colonies with the smaller as well as less populated agricultural colonies. This is how they got 13 independent colonies to agree on a federal union of states. Today there are 50 states, but five hold the keys to presidential power this year.

Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas bring a combined 83 Electoral College votes. The huge popular vote majorities Democrats gain in California and New York produce 84 electoral votes but surplus individual votes do not transfer to help Democrat Joe Biden in three big states where the voting outcome is close and uncertain. 

The Electoral College is like winning an Oscar for Best Actor, while the popular vote is winning India’s best anything on a television show.

FLORIDA: Voting results will be tabulated quickly because state officials are allowed to count mail-in votes before Election Day. The intensity of Covid-19 there and its impact on the elderly is a factor as are the various language and ethnic blocks that make up its nearly 22 million population. Electoral votes–27–are based on its Congressional delegation of representatives and senators.

PENNSYLVANIA: Once a Democratic stronghold, it is now delicately balanced politically between its two largest cities–Philadelphia and Pittsburgh– and a multitude of smaller cities and towns. Trump’s margin in 2016 there was 44,291, less than 1 per cent of all the votes.

Like Maharashtra, it is a large geographical rectangle of industry and agriculture, but smaller in both land mass and population.

Counting of mail-in votes in Pennsylvania cannot begin until 07:00 election day. Republican-controlled jurisdictions are in no hurry to deal with mail-in votes. Democrats in the big cities want them counted quickly because they expect significant Biden-Harris margins to offset the Trump vote in the search for 20 electoral votes.

The Republican-controlled state legislature rebuffed the Democratic governor’s request to start earlier, reflecting Republican efforts to disrupt mail-in voting, and a much-emphasised position of President Trump.  The extreme campaign effort in appearances and advertising here by Biden and former President Barack Obama make a lot of sense because a modest voting shift gets Democrats the 20 electoral votes.

TEXAS: All eyes are on Texas in the US presidential election, which ends Tuesday, although it may, takes weeks to count the final votes. The 30 million people there represent 36 Electoral College votes. Population trends have pushed this Red state where George Bush was governor before being president, closer to being Blue, perhaps Purple. If Biden wins there, then President Trump’s path to winning 271 Electoral College votes is difficult, if not impossible.

Texas is in the spotlight for several reasons, including its size, and the fact that more people voted early this year than voted there in the 2016 election. Preliminary statistics on the mail-in there suggests it tilts young and Democratic, which is bad news for Republicans.

No surprise then that Texas Republicans have asked a federal judge with a partisan reputation to throw out at least 117,000 ballots cast at drive-thru voting sites in Harris County, which is the Houston metropolitan area with its diverse population and heavily Democratic voter registration.

The issue of drive-thru exists because Gregg Abbott, the Republican governor, limited mail-in drop boxes to one per each Texas County.  Harris County is physically immense by US standards with 4.7 million residents. This became important after Republican pressure to delay mail forced the Postal Service to warn 46 states delayed mail-in ballots could disenfranchise their voters.

It landed in federal court only because the Texas Supreme Court, which is entirely Republican, refused consideration with but a single dissent. The lawyers for the GOP claim drive-thru violates the US Constitution based on a radical theory that only a state legislature has authority over election law.

“The other side has given every indication that they will challenge every ballot they can, at every step of the process,” said Chad Dunn, general counsel for the Texas Democratic Party and co-founder of the UCLA Voting Rights Project.

The back-story of how drive-thru was created demonstrates the difference between helping citizens vote and efforts to suppress voting. Harris County established 10 drive-thru voting locations for the 2020 general election.

Drivers pull into a large tent, where election officials confirm their identity, then give them privacy to vote. The process has proved wildly popular. Harris County additionally made 24-hour voting available over the last day of early voting. Nearly 10,000 voted between 7 pm and midnight. Hundreds more voted in the wee hours. If you build it, they will come.

Much of this results from the 2018 election of Lina Hidalgo as the head of the Commissioners Court, which is Harris County’s governing body. She is the first woman to be elected to that position in Texas, beating an 11-year Republican incumbent Republican. The 29-year-old Hidalgo immigrated to the USA from Colombia in South America. She led the effort that enlarged Harris County’s election budget from $4 million to $31 million, tripling the number of voting locations, among other innovations.

Republicans are filing election-related lawsuits in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, basically everywhere, actually. Those actions have been largely a failure too, but party lawyers are just getting warmed up. They’ve challenged the rules, challenged the methods, challenged voting days and hours and soon will challenge individual mail-in ballots over perceived imperfections.

Also Read: Kamal Nath in SC against EC, wants his star campaigner tag back

The President keeps talking about the election being rigged if he loses. He pushed to slow the mail system. He has commandeered every tool at his disposal within the federal government to win, laws, rules and traditions be damned. Trump doth protest too much.

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