All your questions about the US Presidential Election answered
In the run up to the most important election in recent memory, we unpack questions about court packing, abortion laws and what might happen if Trump loses and refuses to leave the White House.
There is nothing to say about the US 2020 presidential election that hasn’t already been said. It’s the most contentious election in modern history. The fate of democracy is at stake. [Insert candidate here] is a threat to our existence. 2020 has been a year stranger than fiction. The platitudes issue from every corner of the country, and while they all sound alarmist, given the insanity of the last six months (let alone that of the last four years), they still ring true.
As you have probably been reminded many times today, there is less than a month left until Election Day, and many Americans (more than seven million) have already cast their ballots. The desire for this all to just be over and done with is strong, but if 2020 has proven anything, it’s that a lot can happen in a short amount of time: another platitude proven devastatingly prescient.
The majority of the country has not yet voted, and there are many who are still researching the countless issues at stake in this election – and many who are following along overseas, wary of its international reverberations. So, for the sake of all those people, we have put together a little FAQ, below.
Where do we start? The coronavirus, which has killed over 200,000 Americans so far and infects tens of thousands daily? The economy, which has tanked as a result? The broken criminal justice system, which unfairly imprisons and oppresses Black people and people of colour? The environment, which is collapsing under the effects of climate change? The country’s foreign policy, which has been kneecapped by trade wars and diplomatic failure? The parasitic health care system, which has left over 30 million people under the age of 65 uninsured? Any number of other issues? With all that said, 79 per cent of voters consider the economy a “very important” issue in the 2020 election, according to Pew. Health care came in second, with 68% of voters considering it “very important,” and Supreme Court appointments came in third, with 64 per cent.
People of colour have historically voted Democrat and their share of the electorate is growing, according to Pew. The Republican Party, of course, is cognisant of this. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, it deployed the “Southern Strategy” to appeal purposefully to white voters’ racism to win votes. Historically, it has also sought to suppress the minority vote through questionable legal manoeuvres and sheer intimidation. Recently, Trump has called on supporters to act as “poll watchers” to monitor polling places for propriety in-person. While poll watchers are used by both parties and receive some degree of training, many are worried that Trump’s volunteers, galvanised by his tweets, will sign on for the wrong reasons and intimidate voters. Then there’s also the issue of mail-in ballots, which we’ll talk about more in a bit.
Because he considers it a threat. He has admitted as much, tweeting back in April that mail-in voting “for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans,” despite the fact that research says otherwise. And because he’s already working to undermine the results of the election by claiming that mail-in votes will be manipulated. Studies have shown time and again that voter fraud is extremely rare in the US and is nowhere near prevalent enough to swing an election. But, because of coronavirus, many more people are going to be voting by mail than would usually, and when it comes time to call the election, these ballots may prove to be what decides the outcome. These votes, in fact, are counted later than in-person votes and could therefore reverse what appears to be the initial result. Trump, for example, could win the initial, in-person vote, but Biden could still be declared President after late and mail-in votes are counted. This is precisely what Trump doesn’t want to happen.
Most of those on the left who see Biden as too moderate on key issues have learned to tolerate him, albeit unenthusiastically, as the lesser of two evils. He is, after all, a career politician with an almost five-decade-long tenure that has not left his record exactly spotless. His history on crime, conduct during the Anita Hill hearings, and lack of courage on fracking all come to mind, and have led some to label him nothing more than a neoliberal shill, or a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Those who are seriously considering abstaining from voting are probably also dissatisfied with America’s two-party system and the political status quo that has routinely denied candidates with exciting but “radical” ideas such as Bernie Sanders a fighting chance. Still, the vast majority of people out there likely realise just what four more years of Trump will bring and will vote accordingly.
Amy Coney Barrett is Trump’s second nominee to the Supreme Court. She clerked for conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and has served as a federal judge for the past three years. During this time, she padded her CV with enough right-leaning jurisprudence that NPR called her the “dream candidate for conservative Republicans and the nightmare candidate for Democrats.” Her appointment to the Court would fortify its conservative majority, with six out of nine justices leaning right.
Trump is racing to confirm her appointment, quite simply, to confirm his legacy: justices serve for life, and even if he loses the election, his newly built-out Court would last for a significant amount of time and be the one to hear the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act in November. This is also why Democrats are making the case that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat should only be filled after the election (not to mention that Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, was stonewalled by Republicans in 2016 expressly because it was an election year).
Roe v. Wade was the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. Since then, it has withstood many challenges, both political and legal, and has always remained a point of contention. Trump, for his part, has worked during his presidency to dismantle the country’s reproductive health care infrastructure, and pledged to overturn Roe before taking office by appointing conservative Supreme Court justices. This brings us to Amy Coney Barrett, who is Trump’s second nominee to the Court and his choice to succeed the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. While justices are expected to be impartial in theory, in practice they usually adhere to certain political ideologies, and Barrett would solidify the Court’s conservative majority with a 6 – 3 split. It’s impossible, of course, to predict with 100 per cent certainty what Barrett will do on the bench once (and if) appointed. Mike Pence took this tact to dance around the issue of abortion in his debate with Kamala Harris, saying, “I would never presume how Judge Amy Coney Barrett will rule on the Supreme Court of the United States, but we’ll continue to stand strong for the right to life.” She is, however, on the record as saying she believes life begins at conception, and in her three years as a federal judge has shown little regard for maintaining legal precedent and protecting reproductive rights.
Since 1868, the Supreme Court has had nine justices, but that doesn’t mean there is a strict limit on how many (or few) there could be. In fact, the number has changed over time. “Packing” the Court, then, refers to adding justices to attain (or disrupt) a political slant. Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment will solidify the Court’s conservative majority, so the topic of “packing” the Court has reentered the national conversation as Joe Biden vies for office and contests the legitimacy of her becoming a justice. Being the longtime politician that he is, however, Biden has refused to give an opinion one way or the other on the issue – presumably, we’ll hear more from him once the election is over. Regardless, the Democrats would have to take control of Congress to force any change through if it came down to it.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) would decide on a replacement candidate, which, if there were any disagreement, would likely be the cause of political headache in and of itself. Given that it’s so late in the game, however, if Trump were to die, his name would still be on the ballot: the deadlines for states to confirm candidates have largely already passed, and there simply wouldn’t be enough time to print new ballots anyway. This is where the Electoral College comes into play. Electors would most likely (there’s no historical precedent for this scenario, and the law doesn’t provide for it explicitly, so there’s no knowing for sure) pledge their votes to whichever candidate the RNC designates as its choice.
It wouldn’t be pretty. The results of the election are already likely to be ambiguous: there could, for example, be a disparity between the popular and electoral votes, like in 2016, or a shift in outcome once late and mail-in ballots are added to in-person votes. Trump could very well capitalise on that ambiguity, and use the powers of the presidency to contest and undermine the results of the election both in the courts and in the public eye, fanning the flames of civil unrest (and perhaps mobilising the National Guard, or even those other people he told to “stand by” in the first debate). There would be the inevitable, ugly showdowns in the streets, and a constitutional crisis in government for which there are many possible outcomes, none of which are easy to predict. One key question, for example, is how much the Republican apparatus in Congress will enable Trump’s efforts. The party’s track record doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.