US elections: Swing states, Samosa Caucus, electoral college and other things you should know

Here are the main things you should know about the US elections, which are closing on November 3, from the key issues and the process to all its quirks
Voters stand at voting booths during early voting at the Oklahoma Election Board in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, US.(REUTERS)
Voters stand at voting booths during early voting at the Oklahoma Election Board in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, US.(REUTERS)
Updated on Oct 30, 2020 11:13 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Washington | ByYashwant Raj

The Process

An estimated 240 million Americans in 50 states and across three time zones (which will determine staggered starting and closing time for polling) are eligible to vote either in person or through mail in 2020 to elect their president for the next four year. Polling closes on November 3.

What’s an electoral college and how are electors selected?

US Constitution mandates the president to be elected by an electoral college, which now comprises 538 members, selected by states. Each state’s share is determined by the number of members in the House of Representatives and Senate. Presidential candidates nominate electors for each state, who are then expected to go with whichever candidates wins the popular vote in the state in a winner-takes-all system. Only Maine and Nebraska allocate their electors among winners of congressional districts and the popular vote.

A candidate needs 270, the halfway mark, plus 2, to win.

What is a Caucus?

It is a meeting of members of political parties to register their support for candidates competing for the party’s nomination through discussions and multiple rounds of headcount. It’s how some states decide their nominees for president — of both Republican and Democratic parties. Iowa, which kicks off the presidential election cycle, is the most prominent state with this system. The alternative is a primary, which is a straightforward vote in the traditional sense.

Does popular vote count?

Yes and, then, No.

The presidential candidate who wins the popular vote in the state picks up all the state’s electors in a winner-takes-all system — except in Maine and Nebraska. And the candidate with the maximum number electors — 270 or more — wins the White House. Winning the popular vote alone nationally is not enough — Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million in 2016, but Donald Trump won the electoral college and the presidency.

Why are people voting early?

Early voting in the shape of absentee voting goes all the way back to the American Civil War when soldiers deployed in battlefield were allowed to mail in their ballots. Many states now allow early voting, especially after the 2000 “hanging chad” debacle. This year, all states are allowing early voting, in-person and through mail, in view of the ongoing Covid1-19 pandemic and mitigation efforts in place to stop the spread of the virus.

More than a third of all eligible voters have already cast their ballots this time, in a record early voting turnout.

Differences between the American and Indian voting processes

Indians vote on a date announced by the Central Election Commission to elect representatives — Members of Parliament, Lok Sabha — who in turn elect the prime minister. In the US, Americans vote on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November — a statutorily fixed date — to elect the president directly, but with a twist called the electoral college.

Also, elections in India are administered and regulated by the EC, but in the US, they are held by state governments in their respective jurisdictions. The Federal Election Commission only administers and regulates campaign finance laws.

Cost of the election

The 2020 elections to the White House and House of Representatives are expected to cost an estimated $14 billion, a record. But these are moneys spent by candidates, parties and outside bodies and do not include expenses incurred by state governments on polling, security and election-related issues and material. Joe Biden could become the first presidential nominee to raise $1 billion, or more.

Other elections that will also take place on November 3

Americans will also vote on November 3 to elect 435 members of the House of Representatives, 33 members of the Senate (a third of the 100 seats of the upper chamber are up for election every election cycle), 11 state governors (and two of US Territories), and members of 86 state legislative chambers (lower and upper chambers).

When to expect results?

In most election years, results become known within hours of the close of polling, as projections based on early counting trends and exit polling. But it may take longer this time because of the sheer volumes of mailed-in ballots. Some states begin counting their mail-in ballot before Election Day, others start on that day and still others wait till close of polling.

Samosa Caucus: Will it grow or shrink?

There are five Indian Americans in US Congress now; they call themselves the “Samosa Caucus”. Four in the House — Ami Bera, Ro Khanna, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Pramila Jayapal; and one in the Senate — Kamala Harris. All the House members are seeking re-election and Harris is running for vice-president. Among others seeking their first term are Sri Preston Kulkarni from Texas and Hiral Tipirneni from Arizona for the House and Sara Gideon for the Senate from Maine.

The swing states that could decide the elections

Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania decided the 2016 White House race, giving Trump the presidency. They remain the key battleground states that will decide the 2020 race. Trump won them narrowly and has to take them again to win, if he also holds on to the states he won back in 2016. He is currently trailing Biden in all three, and by margins that have remained steady over a period of time.

Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Minnesota, Nevada and Ohio could also play critical roles. Trump won all six in 2016, but is trailing Biden in the first three narrowly, by wide margins in the next two and is barely ahead in the last.

And then there are Georgia and Texas, solidly Republican states that have not voted for Democrats in presidential elections in decades. But Democrats and pollsters believe they are in play this time. Biden addressed two rallies in Georgia this week, a bold move for final days of campaigning, and has sent his running mate Kamala Harris to Texas amid growing calls from Democrats for star campaigners including former President Barack Obama to tip the state Blue.

Main issues in the presidential election

Economy, terrorism and national security, the response to the coronavirus, healthcare (health insurance) and education emerged as the top five issues in a poll of registered voters by Gallup earlier in October, just weeks before the close of polling.

Economy was also the top issue in a Pew poll back in August, followed by healthcare, Supreme Court appointments, the coronavirus outbreak and violent crime.

Economy is usually the top issue in US presidential elections but it has assumed even greater importance this cycle because of the devastating impact of Covid-19, with widespread and continuing closure and downsizing of businesses and millions of lay-offs.

Biden has made the Trump administration’s response to the epidemic, which has killed more than 228,000 Americans and infected nearly 9 million, the nucleus of his case against granting the president a second term and giving him a chance instead to lead the country. He has accused the president of not doing enough to combat the virus, underplaying the gravity of the illness, peddling dubious cures and therapeutics and hosting “super-spreader” events.

Trump, on the other hand, has sought to shift the focus away from the pandemic by raising law-and-order concerns stemming from anti-racism protests, has touted unverified allegations of corruption against Biden and questioned his mental acuity and physical wellbeing, with dubious claims.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2021