US elections

[OPINION] Denouement

Andres Bautista

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[OPINION] Denouement
'If the Democratic candidates win both Senate seats, the chamber will be composed of 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats. If there is a tie, presumptive Vice President-elect Harris gets to cast a tie-breaking vote.'

The 2020 US elections finally reached its denouement.  Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the President-elect and Vice-President-elect of the US, respectively.  

There were several paths to the 270 finish line: 1. Pennsylvania; 2. Georgia + Nevada or Arizona; 3. Nevada + Arizona; 4. All of the above. A combination of 1+3 did the trick. But looks like it will end up in the fourth scenario.

Listening to President Trump and the Republican talking heads rant on cable television reminds me of the local joke/rationalization that there are only two types of candidates in Philippine elections: those who won and those who were cheated!

If Biden/Harris wins Georgia, they will end up with 306 electoral votes.  

On the other hand, Trump/Pence will win Alaska and, most probably, North Carolina, and their final tally will be 232 votes.  

Ironically, these numbers are exactly the same as 2016 but the other way around – the Republicans’ Trump/Pence winning 306 votes and the the Democrats’ Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine gaining 232 votes. What goes around, comes around. However, during the subsequent electoral college vote in 2016, two “faithless” Republican electors refused to vote for Trump/Pence while 5 Democrat electors broke rank with Clinton/Kaine so that the final official tally was 304 to 227. Let’s see if there will be rogue electors for this election.

Incidentally, Biden beat Trump in another contest. In 2016, the 70-year old Donald Trump was the oldest first-term President in US history. On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden will trump that record when he assumes office at age 78.

538 electors

The electoral college is an indirect way of electing the President and Vice President. It was a compromise arrived at by the Founding Fathers between citizens directly electing their leaders and Congress choosing for them.

Each state has as many electors as its members in the House of Representatives (a number that is proportionate to the state’s population) and in the Senate (two for each state regardless of population size). Since the passage of the 23rd Amendment in 1961, this number has been fixed at 538, which is equal to the 435 House members, 3 representatives from the District of Columbia (Washington, DC), and the 100-member Senate. Most of the 538 electors are local elected officials and party leaders designated by their respective political parties.

The Constitution does not require electors to vote a certain way.  Nonetheless,  in July 2020, the US Supreme Court ruled that states could punish faithless electors by enacting laws mandating them to comply with their obligation to vote for candidates that garnered the popular vote.

The 538 electors will gather in their respective state capitals on December 14 and cast votes for President and Vice President. A report from each state will then be prepared and transmitted to Congress.  

On January 6, 2021, Congress will certify the winners for President and Vice President and will be sworn-in at 12 noon on January 20.  

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Georgia on my mind

From the Presidency, the focus will move to which party will take control of the Senate.  

Pollsters had predicted a 70% probability that the Democrats would flip the Senate. But the “Blue Wave” sputtered and Republican senators from Maine, Iowa, and most probably North Carolina, are winning their re-election campaigns. Hence, the Democrat’s dream of regaining control of the Senate in 2020 suddenly vanished.  

But there is a glimmer of hope. And the political eyes will now turn to Georgia.

There were two Georgia Senate seats in play in 2020. Senator Kelly Loeffler was appointed in late 2019 by Republican Governor Brian Kemp to replace Senator Johnny Isaacson who was retiring for health reasons. She ran in the recent elections in a crowded field but primarily against the main Democratic candidate, Ebenezer Baptist Church pastor Raphael Warnock, and another Republican candidate, Rep. Doug Collins. Warnock won a 33% plurality vote and Loeffler placed second with 29%. Georgia election rules provide for a runoff between the first and second placer if no candidate reaches the the 50% + 1 threshold. A run-off election is set on January 5, 2021.  

Incidentally, Governor Kemp ran against Democrat Stacy Abrams in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial elections. He narrowly won. A major criticism leveled against Kemp was he ran for the gubernatorial post while he was the Secretary of State, which is the official tasked to oversee state elections. As the main architect of the Democrats’ rebuilding efforts in the state, Abrams is getting her revenge by helping elect the Democratic ticket to the White House for the first time in 28 years.

Similarly, the early big lead of incumbent senior Republican Senator David Perdue against young Democrat challenger Jon Ossoff has narrowed. As of this writing, Perdue has only 49.8% of the vote. Hence there will be a run-off election as well for this second seat.  

Note that Georgia’s Secretary of State who is a Republican has announced that because of the razor-thin difference between the Presidential candidates, a recount will be undertaken. Query as to how such will impact the schedule for the Senate run-offs?

With these run-off elections, expect massive campaign resources to be poured into the Peach state and extensive global media attention.  At stake is the control of the Legislative branch. If the Democratic candidates win both Senate seats, the chamber will be composed of 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats (including Independents caucusing with them). If there is a tie, presumptive Vice President-elect Harris gets to cast a tie-breaking vote.  This possibility therefore resurrects the idea of passing legislation increasing the membership of the Supreme Court – certainly another bruising battle in the making. –

Andres D. Bautista served as the chairperson of the Philippine Commission on Elections from 2015 to 2017.

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