December 23, 2020

Questions Answered

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This is our final edition of 2020; we’ll be back with our regular coverage on January 4. Thank you so much for sticking with us! We wish you all a joyful and restful holiday. Merry Christmas to those celebrating, and Happy New Year!

Welcome to Day Three of our Q&A. Here are the Monday and Tuesday editions. Here’s even more answers from a previous round of questions (it’s very long, but searchable by keyword!)

As noted previously, while we received many questions about COVID, we’re not medical professionals, and so we’ll refer any concerns about masks or vaccines to medical authorities. You can read about masks from the CDC and Mayo Clinic, and about vaccines from the CDC and USA Today. Here’s a tracker of current vaccine doses by state.

Without further ado, let’s get to it!

“Can Mo Brooks really challenge the election in Congress?” - Bryce, Georgia

Yes, but doing so is unlikely to be successful in overturning the election results. If Brooks and at least one Senator challenge the results, that would trigger a vote in Congress; both the House and Senate would have to vote to sustain the challenge (e.g. reject the electors from certain states). This is extremely unlikely, as Mitch McConnell, the GOP Senate leader, has already come out against it.

The Constitution designates Congress as the ultimate arbiter of federal elections. In 1984, the House (controlled by Democrats) refused to seat Republican Richard McIntyre of Indiana, the winner of the election. The losing candidate, incumbent Democratic Rep. Frank McCloskey, alleged improprieties with the state certification. The House conducted its own recount and awarded the seat to McCloskey. A Democrat from Iowa who lost by six votes is currently mounting a similar challenge.

“How many people really think the election was stolen?  Is it just radicals or moderates as well?  I can't tell how much is just sensational reporting.” - Amanda, NYC

“Despite 60+ court cases and every election official in America saying there was no widespread voter fraud, conservatives still believe the election was stolen. How?” - Carson, Utah

Conservative suspicions about the election fall into two main categories: claims of outright fraud and claims that election rules were relaxed in ways that made fraud more likely and/or harder to detect. Many saw Trump in the lead on election night only for that lead to evaporate after the counting of mail-in ballots from heavily Democratic areas. While the mainstream media stressed that Biden was likely to win mail-in ballots overwhelmingly, most conservatives don’t have a lot of trust in the mainstream media, which also predicted that Biden would win in a landslide.

Most of the lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign did not allege outright fraud, but instead that state officials illegally relaxed voting regulations (e.g., signature matching, sending ballots to all registered voters) in ways that violated their state constitutions and/or made fraud more likely. Some of the lawsuits were rejected not on the merits but because they were either filed after the election (rather than when the procedures were changed) or were not alleging sufficient evidence to change the election results.

Many on the right are upset by the knee-jerk dismissal in the mainstream media of all claims of fraud. For example, there’s evidence of conflicting statements from officials in Fulton county in Georgia about whether they told poll watchers the vote counting was over for the night, and then continued counting after the observers left. This isn’t necessarily proof of fraud (all the counting was recorded on video), but it’s still concerning that election officials are making claims which are contradicted by reporting from election night. Earlier this year, a mayoral candidate in Texas was charged with fraudulently obtaining over 100 mail-in ballots on behalf of nursing home patients, but was caught prior to using them.

That said, the Trump campaign has so far failed to provide compelling evidence of fraud on a scale to flip the election results. 77 percent of Republicans do currently tell pollsters they believe there was widespread fraud, but it’s worth noting that in 2018 - two years after the 2016 election - 67 percent of Democrats believed that it was “definitely” or “probably” true that “Russia tampered with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected.” There is no evidence to suggest that was the case.

“Should the federal government pass a law to mandate the process of federal elections; including registering and certifying voters, the method of voting, counting and certifying results?” - Sid, St. Louis

“Why can't/won't we federalize presidential voting? The US was a spectacle of embarrassment after election day, and I'm genuinely curious why there isn't more talk of figuring out a more streamlined election system for 2024.” - Danielle, New York

Conservatives note that the framers assigned the responsibility for conducting elections to states due to concerns that Congress might create rules to allow its members to stay in power; Alexander Hamilton worried that allowing Congress such authority would unfairly advantage “the wealthy and the well-born.”

The US also has a long history of federalism, which allows states to fit their laws to local concerns instead of a one-size-fits-all federal law; for example, some states conduct all-mail elections. State control allows for differences between states on various measures such as voter ID, same-day registration, mail-in voting, etc.; California can’t force Texas to implement same-day registration, and Texas can’t force California to require voter ID. There are also constitutional concerns; the power to choose electors is reserved for state legislatures rather than the federal government.

Many on the left argue for reforms such as automatic voter registration, restrictions on campaign spending, ending partisan gerrymandering, and restoring voting rights to felons. The House passed a comprehensive voting reform bill in 2019 that would have required automatic and also same-day voter registration, voting rights for released felons, and made election day a national holiday, but the Senate did not bring it up for a vote. Conservatives generally oppose these reforms, arguing that they make fraud more likely as it is much harder to vet online and same-day voter registrations.

“Why don't we have ranked choice voting nationally?” - Cody, New York

As stated earlier, individual states are responsible for conducting elections. Some do argue for states to adopt Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), in which rather than selecting a single candidate voters rank candidates in order. Votes for less popular candidates are redistributed to second choice candidates. This allows voters who prefer a third party to vote for that candidate as their first choice knowing that if their favored candidate does not win their votes will still count for their second choice.

For example, a voter might choose Howie Hawkins (Green party) as their first choice and Joe Biden (Democratic party) as their second; if Hawkins received enough votes he would win, but if not his votes could be reallocated to Biden. RCV eliminates the need to vote for the “lesser of two evils” over a better third party option.

Maine and Alaska currently use RCV for their federal elections. Several other areas, including parts of New York, California, Oregon, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland, New Mexico, Utah, and Tennessee use RCV in local elections. Opponents argue that RCV is complex, generally produces the same results as the current winner-takes-all system, and fails in its promise to get more moderate candidates in the field.

“Lots of complaints about the Electoral College, but does anybody champion a better idea? A simple national majority would be an incentive for candidates to focus on residents of major cities and ignore rural citizens. That's no better.” - Dennis, Florida

Many on the left are critical of the electoral college, arguing that all votes should count equally. The electoral college greatly advantages the residents of some states over others; for example, a Wyoming vote is worth 3.6 times a California vote. One alternative would be a national popular vote. 16 states (with a total of 196 electoral votes) have passed legislation supporting the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would assign their state electors to the winner of the national popular vote rather than the winner of their state. You can read our previous coverage of the electoral college here.

A less drastic alternative would be to make each state’s electors proportional rather than winner-take-all. This would not require a constitutional amendment, just a change to state law. Let’s look at a state like California, which has 55 electoral votes. Under the current system we consider California a ‘solid blue’ state and it is overlooked by both candidates. Yet in 2020 over six million Californians voted for Donald Trump; Trump received more votes in California than he did in any other state. All of those voters’ decisions were effectively silenced by the winner-takes-all system. In a proportional system, Biden would have received approximately 35 of California’s electoral votes to Trump’s 20. This clearly rewards Biden’s victory in the state, but also recognizes the many votes that Trump earned.

“Are 3rd party candidates something you think could be tangible? And do you think they should be invited to debate stages?” - Anonymous

Unfortunately, our winner-take-all system makes it extremely difficult for third party candidates to win elections, fostering a two-party duopoly. The most concrete outcome from third-party races tends to be a siphoning of money and votes from ideologically similar parties. America’s most prominent third parties, the Libertarians and the Greens, often run candidates for president that have no chance of winning.

Under our current system, it is much more effective for third party candidates to encourage existing parties to adopt their policy priorities. Ross Perot earned nearly 20 million votes in 1992 campaigning against the deficit; while he failed to win any electoral votes, in the ensuing years both parties became much more concerned about the deficit. More recently, outsiders like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump significantly changed the two parties’ platforms. Another issue is that while many voters are unhappy with the two main parties, it’s not clear that they are looking for the same third party. That said, many would like to see third party candidates in the debates to offer a different perspective. This remains unlikely as long as the two major parties control the debate commission.

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