Monday, December 14, 2020

Second Waypoint

 As I've repeatedly had to remind people -- and not just foreigners, who understandably might be importing their own assumptions about how elections work, but Americans who should know better -- the US presidential election is a multi-stage election; it does not happen all at once, but is divided out in such a way that all three levels of American government contribute. The people voted in fifty-one distinct elections (one for each state and the District of Columbia, each of which has different election laws) on Election Day, the first major waypoint. After Election Day, we've had roughly a month, during which audits, recounts, recanvasses, and litigations that need to be done to clarify the vote may be done. Today we reach the second waypoint, the meeting of the Electoral College, chosen according to a method established by the state legislature in light of the Election Day vote.

The Electoral College in Texas just a little bit ago cast its electoral votes; all 38 electoral votes for the State of Texas went to Trump for President and Pence for Vice President. That is in itself a notable thing. Texas was not happy with Trump as a candidate in 2016. Today's meeting went smoothly and quickly, with everything essential done in less than an hour and a half. The meeting in 2016 took forever, because despite the fact that it was a Republican slate, four of the Electors refused even to show up to vote, requiring that time be taken to replace them. And, of those who showed, two of them cast protest votes rather than vote for Trump. Whether Trump's consolidation in Texas has more to do with Trump himself or with the common conviction among Texan Republicans, about which they have become increasingly vocal in the past several years, that the Democratic establishment consists of insane totalitarians, is impossible to say from the vote itself. Either way, Trump this time around has received the solid backing of Texas, the Republican-voting state that had previously been most opposed to him.

We are not yet done with the election. Once all the meetings of the Electoral College take place today and the full Electoral College votes established, we enter the final stage. The formal certificates of vote will be sent to Congress and on January 6, the newly elected Congress in a joint session will formally count the Electoral College votes. Members of Congress can protest any of the votes, as long as the protest is provided in written form and signed by members of both houses,  When that happens, the two houses break for debate and vote; the objection is accepted only if both houses vote in favor of it. Objections are rarely made, and when made are rarely accepted, although it's not without precedent. We may well get a number of objections this time around -- Electoral College slates have to be determined in a manner determined by state legislatures, and in a few states, at least one house of the legislature has formally protested in some way that the election results were not certified (and thus the Electoral College slates not chosen) in a way consistent with state election law on some point or other, which is probably enough legal cover to get an objection support from one Republican Representative and one Republican Senator -- but getting bicameral support for an objection is as tall an order as it ever would be; and even if any were accepted, it would require alternative slates from several states to tip the Electoral College vote from Biden to Trump, which is a taller order still. In any case, the Electoral College vote as counted by Congress is the absolute word on who will be President and Vice President.

Given the Texas shift, and given that Hillary Clinton lost the most Electoral College votes to protest votes of any candidate in a century, it will be interesting if there are any protest votes at all this year. If there are, I'll put them up here.

 ADDED LATER: Journalists are maddeningly lax in their responsibilities to report on what needs reporting, but it looks like there were no protest votes. The electorate in 2016 considered the hand the parties dealt it a very bad hand; whether they are doing it happily or with gritted teeth, the electorate in 2020 is much more willing to go along with this year's deal. Or perhaps they've simply gotten over the shock of Trump campaign obnoxiousness and were relieved not to have the awfulness of Clinton campaign arrogance. I don't know; I have no deep insight into the overall tendency of the electorate. But it's a big shift back to some kind of normal.