US presidential election: here's what you need to know about the voters

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Sophie-Hélène Lebeuf (access the author's page)

Earlier this year, pundits were considering the possibility that the Republican candidate could score an even more resounding victory in the Electoral College than in 2016 while losing the popular vote by a larger margin than then.

In the eyes of the current occupant of the White House, the system that made him the 45th President of the United States is simply awesome.

Four years earlier, the real estate mogul, then a supporter of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, had a very different take on the Electoral College. On the eve of the presidential election, believing that this process would ensure the victory of the outgoing president, Democrat Barack Obama, he saw it as a disaster for democracy.

One of President Trump's tweets read, “The Electoral College is actually great in that it involves all states, including the smallest ones. The way to campaign is very different! ” and the second: "The electoral college is a disaster for democracy."Enlarge the imageIn addition to this, you need to know more about it. (New window)In addition to this, you need to know more about it.In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

Donald Trump's perception of the Electoral College changed dramatically after his election.

Photo: Screenshot – Twitter / @realDonaldTrump

But what exactly is the Electoral College?

Unlike other presidential regimes, the US president is elected by indirect universal suffrage.

Voters do not vote directly for the president, but for intermediaries, known as the great voters. These form the Electoral College, who is responsible for electing the president and his number two.

Established when the Constitution of 1787 was adopted, this system was originally for the founding fathers a compromise between some, wary of the popular vote, and others, resistant to the idea of ​​a president chosen by elected representatives of Congress.

Today, voters are in fact selecting a list of potential grand voters linked to one or the other of the parties.

The Electoral College currently has 538 members, a total corresponding to the 435 elected members of the House of Representatives and 100 senators, to which are added the 3 major voters of the District of Columbia.

The number of electors in a state thus depends on its weight in Congress, i.e. the number of elected officials in the House of Representatives, determined according to its population, plus its two senators, an identical number for all. the states.

Smaller states, such as Wyoming and North Dakota, have a minimum of three large voters. At the other end of the spectrum, the country's giants like California and Texas have 55 and 38 respectively.

The composition of the House of Representatives, and therefore of the Electoral College, is revised every 10 years to take into account demographic changes.

Under the Constitution, voters vote on the Monday following the second Wednesday in December.

How Are State Voters Assigned to Candidates?

A leading North Carolina voter holds her ballot after voting for Donald Trump.

After the certification of results in the states, the large voters meet in their state, a few weeks after the election, to register two votes: one for the president and one for the vice-president.

Photo: Reuters / Jonathan Drake

Almost all states have adopted the winner takes all, the winner takes it all. When a candidate wins the popular vote in one of them, even if only with one more vote, he automatically obtains all his major voters.

In 2016, Donald Trump was able to put Michigan's 16 major voters to his credit, beating rival Hillary Clinton by a meager 0.2 percentage point.

Only Maine and Nebraska have adopted some form of proportional allocation. In either case, the presidential candidate who wins the most statewide votes gets two voters. But these states award an additional Grand Voter to the winner of each of their federal districts – two in the case of Maine and three in the case of Nebraska.

What is the magic number a candidate must reach to be elected?

To be elected, a candidate must obtain an absolute majority of the votes of the 538 voters, i.e. 270.

As the vote cast across the country does not matter, it is as if there were about 50 different simultaneous elections, the results of which would then be added up to determine the winner.

The majority of states are traditionally owned by Democrats or Republicans. Between the two is a minority of key states, or pivotal states, likely to tip over to either side and thereby determine the outcome of the presidential race.

This explains why candidates from major parties campaign in only a limited number of states.

Should grand voters respect the vote of their state voters?

As often in American politics, it depends on the States.

There is no such provision in the Constitution, and there is no federal law ruling on the matter.

This summer, in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, the Supreme Court dismissed a handful of major rebel voters, ruling unanimously that a state has the right to limit the independence of members of the Electoral College.

The electorate's vote is already framed by law or party rules in 33 of the 50 states as well as in the District of Columbia. Some of these states fine those who do not respect the popular vote expressed in the state, others cancel their votes and replace them.

Elsewhere, the great voters retain their independence.

It is rare, however, for a great voter who has been nominated by his own party to play the rebels. According to the United States National Archives, more than 99% of voters historically voted as expected.

How often does the winner lose the popular vote?

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

Photo: PC / AP / Matt Rourke / Evan Vucci

In all of American political history, such a scenario has only occurred five times, three times before 1888. But two of the five elections that have taken place since 2000 have been the loser of the popular vote.

Only one of the three Republican victories recorded since 2000 has reflected the verdict of the ballot box.

Four years ago, Democrat Hillary Clinton had in her defeat garnered nearly 3 million votes more than her opponent, ahead by a margin of 2.1 percentage points.

With a clear domination in the Electoral College, with 306 votes to 232, Donald Trump had nevertheless triumphed. Ultimately, he won 304 Grand Voters and his rival 227, due to the vote of disloyal Grand Voters.

This gap is explained by the Republican's snatch victory in states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida, where he won the 75 voters despite margins varying between 0.2 and 1.2. percentage point.

The previous example dates back to 2000, when George W. Bush won the race for the White House after a long and controversial political-legal battle amid electoral irregularities in Florida.

The Republican candidate won 271 voters, narrowly ahead of Democratic Vice President Al Gore, who had to settle for 266 voters. The first had collected 47.87% of the vote, less than the 48.38% of his rival.

What distortions does the Electoral College create?

In front of the ballot box – or the mail-in ballot – not all voters are equal.

Democrats are more concentrated in a smaller number of states, often more urban and more densely populated, like California and New York, while Republicans are more scattered in more states, less populous, more rural and whiter.

However, the Electoral College gives disproportionate weight to voters in less populous states because each state, regardless of its population, has only two senators, which go into the calculation of its electorate.

The comparison between the least and most populous states, Wyoming and California, is striking. The first, who has voted Republican since 1968, has 3 main voters for less than 580,000 inhabitants. With more than 39.5 million people, California, Democrat since 1992, is granted 55 electors. The gap may seem wide, but if the ratio of electors to its population were equivalent to that of Wyoming, California would instead have 205 electors.

The formula of winner takes it all used by almost all states also creates a distortion by somehow erasing all the voices of the loser, even if a few thousand votes separate him from the winner of that state.

This makes a columnist from the New York Times, Jesse Wegman, author of a book on the Electoral College, that American democracy is neither fair, nor equal, nor representative : <q data-attributes = "{" lang ": {" value ":" fr "," label ":" Français "}," value ": {" html ":" The election, as Mr. Trump –but not for the right reasons– is rigged "," text ":" The election, as Mr. Trump would say – but not for the right reasons – is rigged "}}" lang = "fr”>The election, as Mr Trump would say – but not for the right reasons – is rigged, he argues in a text written in September.

As the campaign plays out in a few key states, their constituents additionally receive disproportionate attention.

Which states should we watch this year?

If we opt for the most generous analysis possible for each of the two parties, we must monitor a dozen states, in addition to the second district of Nebraska and second district of Maine.

Experts have in their sights Pennsylvania, the Michigan and the Wisconsin, three Democratic strongholds of the Great Lakes that Donald Trump had delighted them by less than a percentage point in 2016, as well as the New Hampshire, the Minnesota and the Nevada, States narrowly retained by the Democrats. According to the polls, Joe Biden seems well positioned to keep all of these states in the Democratic victory column.

In addition to traditional pivot states, such as Florida, who narrowly preferred Donald Trump in 2016, and even theOhio and theIowa, more conservative states which had chosen the Republican candidate with a margin of more than 8 points.

But Donald Trump's struggles in the Sun Belt states in the South also involve states extremely pro-Republicans, like the North Carolina, even strongholds that Republicans have won for decades, such as theArizona, the Georgia and the Texas.

To what extent is 2020 likely to be a repeat of 2000 and 2016?

Photo montage of Donald Trump and Joe Biden

Three weeks before the election, Joe Biden enjoys a comfortable lead in voting intentions.

Photo: Montage – Saul Loeb / AFP and Tom Brenner / Getty Images

Joe Biden's comfortable lead in nationwide polls seems to leave little doubt as to who the winner of the popular vote is. With three weeks before the official polling date, he leads by 10.6 percentage points, according to the average compiled by FiveThirtyEight.

As all the experts point out, one cannot predict the outcome of the election from national probes, since the key lies in the pivotal states, which will determine the outcome of the presidential election.

However, these polls can serve as an indicator. If voting intentions were transferred to the ballot box, it would be surprising if such a large margin was not reflected in a majority of pivotal states, even if it was smaller. The former vice-president of Barack Obama leads moreover in the majority of them.

Too modest a margin would however risk being fatal.

The site FiveThirtyEight, which predicts from simulation polls, illustrated last month how the Electoral College favors Donald Trump.

If the president wins the popular vote, his Democratic rival has less than a 1% chance of being elected.

But if Joe Biden is ahead of him by, say, 1 to 2 percentage points, the odds of a Democratic victory are barely one in five. Even with a lead of just under 3 percentage points, he's more likely to bite the dust.

The Democratic candidate's chances of winning only exceed those of his opponent if he collects more than 3 percentage points.

He still needs to maintain his lead, that voters who support him do not shun the ballot boxes in key states, that mail-in ballots arrive on time and are not rejected in significant numbers. Not to mention that the outcome of the election could be sealed by the courts.

What happens if no candidate obtains a majority of the voters?

If none of the candidates crossed the necessary threshold of 270 large voters – that is, if there is a tie 269 to 269 or if the number of large voters obtained by candidates from third parties prevented the leaders from reach the necessary threshold – it would be up to the House of Representatives to choose the president from among the three presidential candidates who obtained the most votes. The delegation of each State would then have only one vote.

The Senate, for its part, would appoint as vice-president, by simple majority, one of the two running mates who finished first. He could therefore opt for a vice-president from a party other than that of the president designated by the House.

Is electoral system reform on the program?

A majority of Americans, 55%, want the Electoral College abolished, according to a poll conducted in March by the Pew Research Center.

This would require an amendment to the Constitution, which would have to be proposed by a two-thirds majority of elected members of each of the Chambers or by two-thirds of the State Assemblies, then ratified by three-quarters of the States, or 38 out of 50. One unrealistic scenario in the current state of partisanship.

To get around this difficulty, states have entered into a deal, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which provides for the allocation of their voters to the winner of the popular vote. The agreement would come into effect when a number of states totaling 270 electors sign on. So far, 15 states and the District of Columbia, with a total of 196 electoral votes, have passed legislation, but Colorado has suspended theirs.

The snag for supporters of change: Republican jurisdictions are not interested in upsetting a system that favors them.

Even if the target of 270 voters were reached, experts point out that legal and constitutional obstacles would arise.

With information from, National Association of Secretaries of States, FairVote, New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Guardian

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