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Thursday, June 1, 2023

The long process of electing America’s chief explained

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John Leonard Landicho
John Leonard Landicho is a writer-correspondent of Politixxx Today. He graduated senior high school in San Beda University. He is currently studying Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in Ateneo de Manila University.

The 2020 United States election is considered the most consequential election in the history of this multi-cultural nation. People across the world are following whether Americans want to continue supporting the disruptive administration of President Donald Trump in “keeping America great” or to embrace Vice President Joe Biden’s quest for the presidency as he “battles for the soul of the nation” to return to stability and civility.

The US federal law mandates that election for president takes place every 4 years on the first Tuesday after the 1st of November. Pres. Trump has hinted his preference for a postponement of the election even though the US has never delayed a presidential ballot even during the Civil War, Great Depression, or during the worst pandemic like the Spanish Flu.

The founding fathers did not envision their country under the two-party system but it is what is now, each party, Republicans and Democrats, conducts a primary election to choose the party nominee who will challenge the opposing party’s candidate. Rarely does a third party challenge happen like that of Ross Perot in the 90s or more recently Jill Stein of the Green Party in 2016. they don’t usually garner sizeable support from the electorate but they do affect the result of the election like in 2000 and 2016. Presidential campaigns from primaries to the general election is a lengthy process which lasts for a year or longer.

Who can be President

The legal requirement for presidential candidates to become eligible for the presidency according to the US Constitution states that “a presidential candidate must be a natural-born citizen meaning born in the United States, a resident for 14 years, and 35 years of age or older.” In the 2008 Presidential race, Republican John McCain was the subject of lawsuits challenging his eligibility because he was born in Panama. similar questions were raised against Ted Cruz in 2016 and George Romney in 1968.

The invisible hand before the actual primary

A year or two before the start of the primaries, Party elites, activists and interest groups make an act to pump up a presidential candidate behind closed doors, this is called the invisible primary.

Invisible primary, known as money primary is often the best predictor of the party’s nominee. It is also a process in which aspiring candidates seek to gain the key elements in order to win the nomination, such as name recognition, fundraising, and media coverage. Invisible primary occurs about a year before the actual series of caucuses and primaries.

According to pundits, Former Secretary Hillary Clinton was clearly the winner of the party’s invisible primary in 2016, considering she mustered the support 59 percent of Democratic party leaders. She also had a wide lead in polls and a juggernaut fundraising. This is one of the factors why few Democratic politicians including then Vice-President Joe Biden decided not to run and paved the way for Secretary Clinton in that primary election. Contrarily, the Republican establishment had a hard time choosing a party candidate due to the disagreements between party insiders. Many reports suggest that Jeb Bush won most of GOP establishment endorsements, but Donald Trump gathered the most media coverage getting twice as much coverage as Jeb Bush, the second most covered Republican candidate.

The long road to the Presidency

Announcement of candidacy

A year before the general election, Republican and Democratic candidates will test their viability as a prospective candidate by conducting listening tours in first primary and caucus states.

Presidential announcement requires the perfect timing with a great speech laying out the biggest problem’s the country is currently facing, this announcement is typically done in a significant day and venue. Barack Obama announced his presidential run in Springfield, Illinois in 2008 at the State’s Capitol where Abraham Lincoln started his political career.

More candidates at this age utilize the power of social media to make an announcement video, this was used by Rep. John Delaney, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and more in 2020, while some of them hint their interest in candidacy on television interviews.

Presidential Primaries

The presidential primary is a process America’s political parties use to nominate a candidate for the United States in a series of state caucuses and primaries.

The presidential primary starts in Iowa and then 63 elections in 21 different days.

Caucus: voting by raising of hands

Caucus is a method wherein citizens meet and gather in a series of local assemblies to discuss whom they think should be the best in all of the candidates. Caucuses are run by the political parties.

Caucus was the traditional way of voting candidates in primaries, but as of today, the Democratic and Republican party only do these process in 4 states: Nevada, North Dakota, Wyoming and Iowa and US territories like Guam, US Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

Caucus is an advantage for candidates who are good at gathering crowd of supporters, giving an advantage to Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg in recent caucus in Iowa and other states that hold caucuses.

The state of Nevada offers caucus materials in Tagalog, in addition to Spanish and English.

Primary: voting by ballot

Primary is a method where the voters show up to their polling places to vote for the candidate of their choice. Primaries are run by the state. There are three types of primaries: closed, open, and semi-closed. In a closed primary, the people can only vote for candidates of the party they are registered in. In an open primary, the voters are free to vote for the candidate of any party. In a semi-closed primary, unregistered party voters may choose which part to vote, while registered voters of a certain party may only vote for their party’s candidates.

How delegates are chosen

The majority vote of each state or territory for the candidates are cast by the delegates who are chosen by the party through primaries and caucuses, these said delegates will vote for the candidate after a set of primaries and caucuses. The candidate must have the most delegates in order to win the party’s nomination.

As of 2020, there are 3,971 delegates in the Democratic party and 771 super delegates or automatic delegates which are people who can vote for whomever they support. A Democratic party candidate must obtain 1,991 delegates or more to secure the nomination. On the other hand, there are 2,550 delegates in the Republican Party. A Republican Party candidate must acquire 1,276 delegates or more to secure the nomination.

The Democratic party implements a proportional allocation system that varies slightly in each state while the GOP allows the state to decide on the system resulting in some state with a winner-take all system.

Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina: First four in the nation

The first to vote in this process is Iowa in the form of a caucus. Republicans use a private ballot similar to a normal election and Democrats on the other hand hold precinct meetings throughout the state where voters have to publicly announce their vote, they gather in groups marked for their chosen candidate. New Hampshire primary comes next, mainly because according to their state law, their state must hold the first primary. Due to the lack of diversity in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, the parties came up with an agreement in which they moved Nevada caucus and South Carolina primaries earlier than before.

In the recent primaries, Joe Biden got dismal results from the first two of the nation caucus and primary and also predominantly white states. He got a boost in South Carolina with the overwhelming support of African-American democrats and from there a number of democratic candidates folded their campaign and endorsed Joe Biden.

Super Tuesday

Super Tuesday is the biggest day in presidential primaries. In 2020, The Democratic Super Tuesday primaries yield a third of all delegates with 14 states including American Samoa and primary for Democrats abroad. It comprises a much bigger demographic of American citizens. The results on this day will likely conclude the eventual nominee of the party. With a clear front runner or a battle between two to three candidates, most of the candidates suspend their candidacy to endorse the front runner. The race continues until a candidate wins the majority of delegates.

Convention : Coronation day

The national convention is the meeting of the party’s delegates and members to formally nominate a presidential ticket and platform of the party. In this convention, the leading candidate will announce his or her vice-presidential nominee thus completing the party ticket. The delegates will then cast their vote for the president and vice presidential nominee. When the party’s nominee is formally nominated, key party leaders and other party members will make the case to unify their party and to support the party’s nominee. The highlight of the convention is when the party’s nominee formally accept their nomination and will make a historic speech that will contain the candidate’s ideas and platform for the future of the country.

The 1924 Democratic Convention was the longest and perhaps the most famous contested convention in U.S. history. They hold sessions for 12 days and record breaking 78 ballots. Their compromise nominee John Davis lost to Calvin Coolidge giving the democrats the life-long lesson of avoiding a contested convention and unify early before the general election.

poster by Chard Camua

General Election: The first Tuesday of November

Unlike most national elections, US Election does not elect its leader based on the majority of votes or popular votes. Back on the historic 2000 election between Vice President Al Gore and Governor George W. Bush, VP Gore won the popular vote by half a million votes but lose the electoral college to Gov. Bush. Similar results happened during the 2016 elections when Secretary Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes but lost to Donald Trump in electoral college votes. This is mainly because the US Constitution has its unique way of electing a president and vice president in which they called the electoral college.

Electoral College

The Electoral College is a group of delegates also appointed by states to formally vote for the majority state votes for president and vice president. As stated in Article II, Section I, Clause II of the US Constitution, each state is entitled to an electoral vote based on its number of House of Representatives and Senators. Altogether, the United States has 435 members of House of Representatives and 100 Senators with the addition of 3 delegates from the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., giving a total of 538 electoral votes. However, a state’s number of electoral votes is not set in stone since a state can gain or lose a vote if there are changes in census data. A candidate must gain the majority of the electoral votes (270 votes) or more to be proclaimed as the elected/re-elected President.

Most states has winner-take-all system in which the candidate who gets the most votes in a state will obtain all of the electoral votes. The only exception in this system are the states of Maine and Nebraska which both use a method called Congressional District Method. In this method, one electoral vote was given to each congressional district whereas the another two were given to the winner of the most state votes.

Faithless elector

A faithless elector is a member of the electoral college who decides to vote for a different candidate instead for their own registered party’s candidate. Some votes become invalid because of the votes by these electors.

In the 2004 election between John Kerry and President Bush, an electoral delegate from Minnesota voted for “John Ewards” which was a wrongly spelled name for John Kerry’s running mate, John Edwards.

In 2016, Eight democratic faithless electors voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders (3 electors), Gov. John Kasich (1 elector), Faith Spotted Eagle (1 elector), and Sec. Colin Powell (3 electors), wherein Two Republican faithless electors voted each for Gov. John Kasich and Rep. Ron Paul.

Few months before the 2020 election, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the presidential electors must be required to vote for their party’s candidate to ensure faithfulness and commitment to vote for the candidate they promised to vote as an electoral nominee. Justice Elena Kagan wrote, “The Constitution’s text and the nation’s history both support allowing a state to enforce an elector’s pledge to support his party’s nominee — and the state voters’ choice — for president.”

Prior to this, there are no law in 24 states to punish faithless electors, these states are Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.

Safe States

Safe States are states that voted consistently for the candidate of a certain political party based on the result of at least the past four elections.

Blue States are the states that are carried by the Democratic party in at least the past four elections. According to the presidential map since 2000 election, there are 16 consistent blue states namely: California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Colombia, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Red States, on the other hand, are states that are carried by the Republican party in at least the past four elections, The presidential map since 2000 election indicates that there are 22 consistent red states namely: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The changing demographics in the state population due to the increasing number of Latino and African American people in several states, several red states with large electoral votes like Georgia and Texas are now only leaning towards the Republican party unlike before when these states are considered safe states.

It is evident during the 2018 Texas senatorial race between Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Ted Cruz, when Sen. Cruz won the race by a margin of 50.9 to 48.3 percent, a small margin compared in 2014 senatorial race when a Republican candidate John Cornyn defeated Democratic candidate David Alamee by a margin of 61.6 percent to 34.4 percent. In Georgia, Republican Sec. of State Brian Kemp won the gubernatorial race against Stacey Abrams by a margin of 50.2 to 48.8, also a small margin compared in 2014 when Republican candidate Nathan Deal won the same position against Jason Carter by a margin of 52.7 percent to 44.9 percent.

Battleground States: The State at Play

Battleground States or swing states are states that are fairly consistent in voting for a certain political party. Typically, the winner in a battleground state wins by a close margin, commonly less than one percent. There are 6 swing states namely according to the Cook Report: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

In 2016, Donald Trump flipped blue states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin by a small margin, making those states a battleground states for both parties.

Electoral Tie and Contingent Election

In case of a tie (269-269) between two candidates, the power of electing the nation’s leader will now go to the House of Representatives, giving the same power to every congressman and woman regardless of which state they represent.

If every candidate fails to reach the target electoral votes needed to win, the United States will adopt a procedure called a contingent election in which the presidency is decided by the US House of Representatives and the vice-presidency is decided by the US Senate. In both cases, the target electoral vote of 270 or more is applied. 

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