• Hannah Ferguson

The ultimate US election guide for Australians shitting their pants, THE BREAKDOWN

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

The electoral college? Voter suppression? Time zones? Who actually spray tans his naked body ew?


Foremost, when should we be checking our phones and looking for news updates?


The United States Presidential election will take place on Tuesday the 3rd of November. In Australia, Wednesday morning is when things kick off. For Queenslanders, the first states will close their polls at around 9 a.m. These states are NOT worth worrying over, especially during your post-coffee work-cubicle poo. Indiana and Kentucky are unlikely to be up for consideration as a Democratic win, so just steer clear of the emotional turmoil of these leading poll results.


There are two major players that are likely to determine the outcome of this election: Florida and Georgia. The polling closes in these states at 10 a.m. on Wednesday for us here in Brisvegas (note: part of Florida is in an alternate time zone, which will remain open for an hour longer). As Matt Bevan explains, if Biden wins Georgia, it is almost certain that he will win the election. However, it is also imperative to understand that Georgia is likely to take multiple days to count.


Whilst Georgia is a clear indicator of a blue win, Florida is at the crux of the Republican outcome. If early results indicate that Biden is ahead in Florida, it is likely that the election result will be known by around 2-4 p.m. Wednesday for us, a lovely little slice of afternoon delight. If Biden is receiving an extreme slam in Florida, DO NOT PANIC. This is to be expected and the Democrats still have the capacity to win through other mechanisms.


The polls of all significant states will close at 1 p.m. AEST. If it’s murky in Georgia and Florida at this point, strap in for a long afternoon/night/week/month. It is likely that the battleground state of this election will become Pennsylvania, renowned for their inefficiency in vote tallying, this may take a lot longer than anticipated. If results finalising the presidency are not clear by Wednesday night Australian time, there is an incredibly present risk that Trump may declare an early victory, but more on that later.



Okay, so how does the vote actually work?


Both Joe Biden and Donald Trump are competing to win the votes of the electoral college. Effectively, each state is allocated a certain number of votes which are predominantly determined by population size. There are a total of 538 electoral college votes, meaning exceeding 270 votes determines the winning candidate. Essentially, the US election is voted at a state level, the distribution of electoral college votes allows a candidate to lose with the most number of total individual votes determined by the American people, which occurred in 2016 when Hillary Clinton was overcome by the electoral college system whilst retaining the highest number of national votes. 48 American states, plus Washington D.C., host a winner-takes-all rule, meaning the candidate with the highest number of votes is awarded all of the state’s electoral college votes.



Image: https://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2020-53785985


It is important to note that members of the electoral college CAN 'go rogue'. During the 2016 election, seven of the 538 electors cast ballots for someone other than their state's popular vote winner, a controversially high number. Importantly, there are penalties associated with members of the electoral college casting rogue votes. Thirty-two states and Washington D.C. have laws designed to control rogue electors. Whilst, some financially penalise, others call for the vote to be cancelled, subsequently replacing the elector.


The electoral college system is incorporated into the US constitution, requiring an exceedingly difficult amendment to fundamentally change the electoral system. An amendment would require an approval from both the House and Senate and ratification by the states, or a constitutional convention brought by two-thirds of state legislatures. Put simply, it's a long way away.



I’ve heard a lot of controversial things might happen during this process; can you dismantle some?

The Blue Shift & An Early Declaration


Jonathon Swan, who you might remember from THAT Trump interview, published an article on Sunday announcing Trump’s plan to declare his victory prematurely. The significance of this potential action cannot be understated, as it means that the team behind Trump will be attempting to argue that mail-in ballots counted after the 3rd of November are evidence of a fraudulent election. Mail-in ballots are traditionally not counted until the following day, but are legally deemed legitimate, carrying the same weight and rights as a traditional in-person ballot vote.




Image: Jonathon Swan in THAT Trump interview



Mail-in ballots host another title, ‘The Blue Shift’, coined due to developments in voting law over the last 70 years. ‘The Blue Shift’ establishes a major movement in election outcomes following counting of the mail-in ballots, which occurs days or even weeks after the initial buzz of election night. The absolute travesty of the 2000 election brought this concept to the forefront of political debate, with networks projecting victory for Al Gore, withdrawing this stance, then predicting a victory for George W. Bush, then withdrawing that too, due to incredibly tight results in Florida. December 12th of that year saw the Supreme Court refuse a recount, establishing that Bush’s lead in Florida would remain and he was officially deemed to have won the presidency.


The Blue Shift is likely to be a paramount element of the 2020 US presidential election, with David Graham describing it best:

‘The explosion of mail-in voting could enormously magnify the blue shift. In the past, there’s been little correlation between mail-in ballots and the post–Election Day Democratic gain. But there is growing evidence, and concern among GOP strategists, that the president’s crusade against mail-in voting is discouraging Republicans from casting their ballots that way. If mailed ballots are disproportionately Democratic, and Republicans disproportionately vote on Election Day, then the blue shift could be huge—especially in states where officials are restricted from counting mailed ballots until Election Day, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Florida.’


Extract: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/08/brace-blue-shift/615097/



Widespread Voter Suppression


In Texas, mail-in votes are only allowed for voters over the age of 65 or who meet a specific set of criteria. In New Jersey, vehicles with Trump flags halted traffic on Sunday on the Garden State Parkway and jammed the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge between Tarrytown and Nyack, N.Y. A federal judge rejected a Republican attempt to deem 127,000 votes illegitimate. American people are travelling hundreds of kilometres to reach a polling booth. Quite honestly, it is fucked. The 1965 Voting Rights Act, a centrepiece of the civil rights movement, was groundbreaking in limiting racial and bigoted legislation that defined voting in the US. This act required states with a history of prejudice to ensure voting alterations were pre-cleared. Notably, in 2013, the US supreme court eliminated this legal provision, deeming it was no longer necessary. This absolute freedom from federal oversight allowed states to unleash new voting restrictions, including widespread closing of polling locations, requiring voters to travel unprecedented lengths to exercise their democratic right.


At the crux of voter suppression is a cynical attempt to prevent vulnerable members of the community from accessing their fundamental rights and freedoms.



A Presidential Pardon


Donald Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, has predicted that following a Democratic victory tomorrow, the current President may resign from office sometime during the 11-week handover period following the election. This would elevate Mike Pence to the presidential position, a strategic positioning purely established in order for Pence to pardon Trump for any and all criminal conduct that may be raised by the next administration. An event like this would resemble that of Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon, with the LA Times describing it as a fitting way to conclude the most corrupt presidency in US history.


It is widely acknowledged and openly speculated that federal prosecutors in New York hold various indictments against Donald Trump for breaches of campaign finance laws, whilst the district prosecutor in Manhattan is investigating illegalities concerning the current president's businesses.


Michael Cohen, the lawyer who first posited the notion of the presidential pardon, is currently serving a prison sentence for lying to congress in 2017, the lie in question was flouted to cover up a Trump Tower deal in Moscow. Interestingly, the White House has dismissed the claims of Cohen, describing him as a 'disgraced felon'.


The outcome of this concept is dependent on a Biden win, so honestly, fingers crossed we get to a Democratic win to even consider this a present issue.



Resource Recommendations:



America, If You're Listening

Australian Podcast, hosted by Matt Bevan

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/russia-if-youre-listening/


The New York Times Guide to the 2020 Election

https://www.nytimes.com/news-event/2020-election


US Gov website for a further breakdown of the election process

https://www.usa.gov/election


The Blue Shift

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/08/brace-blue-shift/615097/