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OBSERVATION: Understanding The Long Race To The Whitehouse

OBSERVATION: Understanding The Long Race To The Whitehouse
  • PublishedNovember 13, 2020

By Ademola Yaya

UNITED States of America (U.S.) operates a multi-party system with independent candidature. However, Democratic and Republican parties are the most powerful. Some other parties include: Green, Natural Law, Reform, Liberation, Socialist parties, among others. There had been third party candidates who had won one or more states like George Wallace of the American Independent Party in 1968 and Rose Perot who ran as independent and as the standard bearer of the Reform Party in 1992 and 1996 respectively.

A man or woman of any race/religion could be a U.S. President, but he/she must be at least 35 years old and must be born in the U.S. and must have lived there for at least 14 years. He/She can however, not rule more than two terms of eight years. An exception was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected for a special third term and inaugurated on 20 January 1941. His death on 12, April 1945 from a massive cerebral haemorrhage (stroke) ended the term. He is the one and only U.S. President to have served more than two terms in office.

In the U.S. presidential election, Americans vote for candidates called “electors” in their states who are supporting the candidate they want to become president. This process is called Electoral College (EC). The EC was an indigenous instrument created by the U.S. constitution framers to make it difficult for any presidential candidate supported by sectional votes emerging president. Its essence is to ensure that the entire country has fair say in choosing a national president. EC is designed to prevent the tyranny of the majority. It encourages coalition building and discourages voter fraud. There are 538 electors; 435 of them are from the House of Representatives.

At this level, it is instructive to note that population census is a function of number of electors per state. For instance, California with 38.8 million people has 55 electors while Delaware with 936,000 people has three electors. In U.S presidential election, each state is free to decide the method with which it chooses its electors to the EC. With the exception of Maine and Nebraska, every state adopts winner-takes-all system where a candidate wins all the EC votes having pulled the most popular votes; reason being that the candidate would look at the interest of the states with the most electoral votes. One hundred is for the senators which imply two per state and three from the District of Columbia. By the Constitution, no federal official is allowed to become an elector.

There are safe states assumed to be a base of support to draw sufficient share of EC votes by each party. It, therefore, concentrates less campaign time and resource to assured or lost states. It, instead, concentrates on states known as Swing States also known as battleground states that could be won by either Democratic or Republican presidential candidate. Because of the EC system, the candidates will target Swing States that have sufficient electoral votes as that is what will count at the end of the day. Swing States are, however, not automatic. They are determined by public opinion polling, projection based on previous election results, political trend. Therefore, swing states in 2020 may change to assured or lost states in 2024.

U.S. presidential election has two stages. Popular Votes to elect electors takes place on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November (3rd of November) while the electors vote on first Monday following second Wednesday in December (14th December) for the candidate with most popular votes from the public.

This is what gave birth to the magic 270 number. Since 269 plus 269 is 538 which is the totality of EC votes, any candidate with the magic number automatically wins the race to Whitehouse.  Should no candidate get 270, the new House and Senate will vote to determine the President and Vice President respectively. In this instance, assuming Biden and Trump could not attain the 270 magic number, the newly elected 117th Congress “electors” will be sworn in on 3rd January, 2021 and that will be its responsibility to elect. In case of a tie, the responsibility of selection of the winning candidate falls on the House of Representatives. In this instance, it is not every member that votes – each state has one vote. Where a state has more than one representative, they will nominate who will vote on behalf of their state. Here, the magic number is 26, as the entire vote is 50, based on the number of states – 50.

Although, both occurred before 270 magic number requirement, there had been two cases of EC tie in U.S. The first was on February 17, 1801 between Thomas Jefferson of Democratic-Republican Party and Aaron Burr of Federalist Party in a 73-73 tie when the House eventually gave a win to Jefferson which resolved a serious constitutional crisis. Another was in 1936 between Franklin D. Roosevelt of Democratic Party and Alf Landon of Republican Party, where Roosevelt won by electoral landslide.

By 14 December, the 538 electors will speak via their votes but their voice is loud and clear to the deaf in view of the already known popular votes as electors will tow the pattern of popular votes from their states. It is even a crime to do otherwise in some states, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska. However, a candidate with the highest popular votes may not necessarily become President, as he is not chosen directly by the popular voters but by the EC. On five occasions, EC has chosen presidents who did not win the most popular votes – in the election of 1800, 1824, 1876, 2000 and 2016.

By 20th January, 2021, the President-elect will be sworn in. The day is Wednesday. Assuming it falls on Sunday, it will be done the following day. Every estimate is an indicator to Democratic candidate, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris as the winner of 2020 election as the President and Vice President-elects. U.S democracy has weathered many storms and has been nurtured and grown for over 240 years. Everything is programmed and calculated for the race to Whitehouse. Although, Mr. President is the C-in-C, when it comes to the survival of the system, institutions will work for the people and the country.


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