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Election 2020

THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE EXPLAINED

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The Electoral College will again determine who’ll become President this year, as it has for more than two centuries of confusion. And Americans will once again ask themselves how the system has outlived generations of controversies.

In five US presidential elections — including in 2016, when Donald Trump edged Hillary Clinton — the eventual winner has lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College.

The prospect that it could happen again this year has led to yet another campaign to abolish the Electoral College in favor of a simple majority vote.

That movement has taken on new urgency at a time when America is reckoning with its shameful history on race. Some historians argue the Electoral College’s origins are linked to white supremacy.

But the Electoral College has proven resilient, and Constitutional rules make changing or eliminating it difficult. Here’s why it’s been so polarizing.

Some say the Electoral College ignores the will of the people

The Electoral College has been a part of the Constitution since that founding document took effect in 1789. Any changes to its system require a Constitutional amendment.

The Founding Fathers established it as a compromise between a popular vote and a vote in Congress. Under its system, each state gets a number of electors proportionate to its population: For example, California, the most populous state, has 55 electoral votes while Wyoming, the least populous state, has just 3.

All but two states — Maine and Nebraska — give all their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote in that state. Whichever candidate wins a majority of the electoral votes nationwide — at least 270 — becomes president.

Three times in the 1800s, the winner of the popular vote missed the presidency after falling short in the Electoral College, leading to complaints that the system ignored the will of the people.

Over the years more than 700 proposals have been introduced in Congress to change or eliminate the Electoral College, according to government records. Congress came close to doing away with it some 50 years ago when a proposal to replace it with a popular vote system passed in the House in 1969 but failed in the Senate the following year.

The push to replace it intensified after the bitter presidential election of 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote by more than half a million votes but lost the election to George W. Bush after the Supreme Court halted a recount in Florida, the deciding state.

Opponents of the Electoral College got more ammunition in 2016 when Hillary Clinton received almost three million votes more than Donald Trump but still lost.

Since then, the movement to get rid of the Electoral College have gained more momentum. But so has resistance to changing it.

Some historians say it is rooted in racism

Alexander Keyssar, a professor of history at Harvard Kennedy School and author of “Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?” says that Southern white supremacist leaders challenged the idea of a national popular vote from the latter decades of the 19th century into the 1960s.

“Both during slavery and also after slavery, well into the 20th century in fact, the states of the South stood firmly in opposition to the adoption of a national popular vote,” he said. “The South was the bulwark of opposition during the period of slavery, of course, because slave-holding states received extra electoral votes thanks to the three-fifths clause.

“White Southerners, thus, gained added influence in the Electoral College, and if they had switched to a national popular vote, they would have lost that influence,” Keyssar said.

The three-fifths compromise was an agreement between Northern and Southern states and essentially said that only three-fifths, or 60%, of slave populations would be counted to determine representation in the House of Representatives — and electors in the Electoral College.

In this way Southern States used slave populations to increase their political influence without having to recognize slaves as equal to Whites. Most slaves also had no voting rights.

“The Electoral College brought that same three-fifths compromise into presidential elections and thus gave Southern states political power out of proportion to their White populations from the beginning,” Keyssar said.

Even now, some Southern states believe abolishing the Electoral College would reduce their influence and undermine White power, Keyssar said.

“The presence of racism and White supremacy in the South helps to prevent the country from adopting instead of the Electoral College a national popular vote,” he said.

Not everyone supports getting rid of it

America’s electoral system has long baffled the world. But some experts have defended it, saying the process gives a voice to less populated states.

“The Electoral College is a very carefully considered structure the Framers of the Constitution set up to balance the competing interests of large and small states,” wrote Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former commissioner for the FEC.

“It prevents candidates from winning an election by focusing only on high-population urban centers (the big cities), ignoring smaller states and the more rural areas of the country. … The college forces candidates to seek the support of a larger cross-section of the American electorate — to win a series of regional elections.”

While critics of the system have argued that Hillary Clinton lost the election unfairly, Spakovsky says her case is a perfect example of why the Electoral College works better than the majority vote.

“The Framers’ fears of a ‘tyranny of the majority’ is still very relevant today. One can see its importance in the fact that despite Hillary Clinton’s national popular vote total, she won only about a sixth of the counties nationwide, with her support limited mostly to urban areas on both coasts,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also challenged the idea of a national popular vote.

Some defenders of the Electoral College have used racial undertones. Just last year, former Maine Gov. Paul LePage said abolishing the current system would marginalize White people. 

“Actually what would happen if they do what they say they’re gonna do is White people will not have anything to say,” LePage said in a radio interview. “It’s only going to be the minorities that would elect. It would be California, Texas, Florida. All the small states like Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Wyoming, Montana, Rhode Island, you’ll never see a presidential candidate again.

“You’ll never see anybody at the national stage come to our state,” he added. “We’re gonna be forgotten people. It’s an insane, insane process.”

Reforming or abolishing it would be difficult

The Electoral College has changed several times, each by constitutional amendment. The 12th Amendment, passed in time for the 1804 election, allowed electors to cast two votes — one for President and another for Vice President. The 20th Amendment put a time limit on the process. The 23rd Amendment gave electors to the District of Columbia.

In a 2018 survey, 65% of Americans supported selecting the President by popular vote, compared to 32% who preferred the Electoral College.

But eliminating the Electoral College system would be hard, for several reasons.

Changing the Constitution takes years and requires broad majorities in Congress or state legislatures. Smaller states that benefit from the Electoral College would have to give up some of that power.

Politics has also played a role in preserving it, with many Republicans believing the Electoral College is more beneficial to their party.

“They think it’s to their advantage to keep the Electoral College. And since you need the two-thirds in Congress to amend the Constitution, it makes it difficult to do that if one party is opposing it,” Keyssar said. The current electoral system also divides power between the federal government and the states, making it complex to reform any one piece of it, he added.

So for better or worse, American voters may not be ditching the Electoral College anytime soon.

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Louisiana Congressman-Elect Luke Letlow Dead From COVID-19

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Luke Letlow, Louisiana’s incoming Republican member of the U.S. House, died Tuesday night from complications related to COVID-19 only days before being sworn into office. He was 41.

Letlow spokesman Andrew Bautsch confirmed the congressman-elect’s death at Ochsner-LSU Health Shreveport.

“The family appreciates the numerous prayers and support over the past days but asks for privacy during this difficult and unexpected time,” Bautsch said in a statement. “A statement from the family along with funeral arrangements will be announced at a later time.”

Louisiana’s eight-member congressional delegation called Letlow’s death devastating.

“Luke had such a positive spirit, and a tremendously bright future ahead of him. He was looking forward to serving the people of Louisiana in Congress, and we were excited to welcome him to our delegation where he was ready to make an even greater impact on our state and our nation,” they said in a statement.

The state’s newest congressman, set to take office in January, was admitted to a Monroe hospital on Dec. 19 after testing positive for the coronavirus disease. He was later transferred to the Shreveport facility and placed in intensive care.

Letlow, from the small town of Start in Richland Parish, was elected in a December runoff election for the 5th District U.S. House seat representing central and northeastern regions of the state, including the cities of Monroe and Alexandria.

He was to fill the seat being vacated by his boss, Republican Ralph Abraham. Letlow had been Abraham’s chief of staff and ran with Abraham’s backing for the job.

Gov. John Bel Edwards urged people to pray for Letlow’s family.

“COVID-19 has taken Congressman-elect Letlow from us far too soon,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “I am heartbroken that he will not be able to serve our people as a U.S. representative, but I am even more devastated for his loving family.”

Before working for Abraham, Letlow had worked for former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. Jindal’s one-time chief of staff, Timmy Teepell, described Letlow on Twitter as “a good man with a kind heart and a passion to serve. He loved Louisiana and his family. He was a brother and I’m heart broken he’s gone.”

Letlow is survived by his wife, Julia Barnhill Letlow, and two children.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican and doctor who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year and has since recovered, posted in a Twitter video: “It just, just, just, just brings home COVID can kill. For most folks it doesn’t, but it truly can. So, as you remember Luke, his widow, his children in your prayers, remember as well to be careful with COVID.”

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Pete Buttigieg Being Considered For Biden Ambassadorship To China Position

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President-elect Joe Biden is considering a high-profile ambassadorship for Pete Buttigieg, possibly sending him to China, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: The 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, whom Biden has compared to his late son, Beau, played a key role in Biden’s nomination. Letting him deepen his foreign policy chops could boost Buttigieg’s future, since many inside the Democratic Party believe his return as a presidential candidate is a matter of when, not if.

  • Buttigieg electrified donors and rocketed to the top of the party, winning the most delegates in the Iowa caucuses earlier this year before dropping out to consolidate moderates’ support around Biden.
  • But finding a Cabinet position for him has been a challenge as the former VP focuses on nominating women and people of color to high-level posts.
  • China isn’t the only foreign post where Buttigieg, a polyglot, could end up — and his name remains under discussion for some domestic leadership positions as well.

The intrigue: The Beijing post has often gone to experienced politicians, toward the middle or end of their careers, as a way to confer respect to the Chinese.

  • A Buttigieg nomination would invert that model and give the Chinese an opportunity to get to know a potential future president. That happened with George H.W. Bush in 1974, when President Ford appointed him to the U.S. liaison office in Beijing.
  • Bush was 50 at that time; Buttigieg, if confirmed by the Senate, would be 39.
  • The U.S. relationship with China will remain deeply consequential and complex.

Behind the scenes: Biden passed over Buttigieg, an Afghan war vet, to be his ambassador to the United Nations, the job said to be Buttigieg’s top choice.

  • Axios reports that initial conversations over leading the Department of Veterans Affairs didn’t firm up, while Buttigieg’s name is still mentioned among those under consideration for other domestic posts, including Transportation or Commerce.
  • But he has signaled to the transition team that he’s most interested in the foreign policy or national security realm, sources tell Axios.

Between the lines: Some of Buttigieg’s backers see a political upside to a domestic Cabinet role in which he can build his relationship with Black voters, who largely rejected his candidacy.

  • There’s also concern he could be left out of the Biden administration’s starting lineup altogether, despite having been one of Biden’s first rivals to endorse him after the South Carolina primary.
  • At the time, Biden said of Buttigieg: “I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but he reminds me of my son Beau. I know that may not mean much to most people, but, to me, it’s the highest compliment I can give any man or woman.”
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President Trump Set To Intervene In Multi-State Lawsuit Headed By Federally-Indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

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President Trump on Wednesday suggested he will intervene in a case brought by the state of Texas against other states alleging election fraud in yet another last-gasp effort to subvert the outcome of the presidential election.

“We will be INTERVENING in the Texas (plus many other states) case. This is the big one. Our Country needs a victory!” Trump tweeted.

It was not immediately clear if Trump planned to intervene in his personal capacity or if his campaign would get involved. A campaign spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Texas announced on Tuesday that it would be filing a lawsuit in the Supreme Court against four battleground states in an effort to halt presidential electors from finalizing President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) alleged that the new voting processes in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin skewed the presidential election results and that electors should not be allowed to cast their votes for Biden as a result.

The Supreme Court has not yet indicated whether it will hear the case, which many experts characterized as unserious.

“It’s a publicity stunt masquerading as a lawsuit. AG Paxton should be sanctioned for it,” tweeted Rick Hasen, a law and political science professor at the University of California, Irvine. “It goes against the will of millions of voters. He’s going for a pardon with Trump.”

“It looks like we have a new leader in the ‘craziest lawsuit filed to purportedly challenge the election’ category,” tweeted Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

While the lawsuit may be unlikely to succeed, it is the latest attempt by Trump to convince his supporters that the election was “rigged” and “stolen” from him. His campaign and his allies have filed roughly 50 lawsuits in recent weeks over the election, with the vast majority getting dismissed for lack of standing.

Trump and his attorneys have argued in public that there is evidence of widespread fraud, but they have failed to produce any evidence of it in court.

Attorney General William Barr last week said the Department of Justice had yet to see any evidence of fraud that would change the outcome of the election.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a bid by Pennsylvania Republicans to nullify Biden’s victory in the state. Each time a case has been rejected, Trump has moved on to another one, fundraising for his cause in the meantime.

Read the Texas Attorney General’s lawsuit to the US Supreme Court as filed here.

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