Center for Electoral Forensics

The US Election 101

[Flag of the United States]July 4 is Independence Day for the United States of America. On that day, we celebrate the Declaration of Independence, which stated our reasons for seeking a divorce from our colonial master, Great Britain, in 1776. It also serves as a day that we will look forward to the November 6, 2012, presidential elections.

We will also show the current status of both major-party candidates.

[Mount Rushmore]

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, USA

The United States of America is a federal republic in which the Chief of State and the Head of Government is the President, currently Barack Obama. Every four years, the people elect the president—well, not quite.

Every four years, the people elect the electoral college, which elects the president and the vice-president (on separate ballots). The election of the members of the Electoral College happens on the Tuesday following the first Monday of November. The election of the president by the Electoral College takes place at each statehouse on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December.

Those ballots need to be in Washington, DC, by December 24 so that they can be counted by a Joint Session of the Congress on January 6 (US Code Title 3, Chapter 1, Section 15):

Congress shall be in session on the sixth day of January succeeding every meeting of the electors. The Senate and House of Representatives shall meet in the Hall of the House of Representatives at the hour of 1 o'clock in the afternoon on that day, and the President of the Senate shall be their presiding officer. Two tellers shall be previously appointed on the part of the Senate and two on the part of the House of Representatives, to whom shall be handed, as they are opened by the President of the Senate, all the certificates and papers purporting to be certificates of the electoral votes, which certificates and papers shall be opened, presented, and acted upon in the alphabetical order of the States, beginning with the letter A; and said tellers, having then read the same in the presence and hearing of the two Houses, shall make a list of the votes as they shall appear from the said certificates; and the votes having been ascertained and counted according to the rules in this subchapter provided, the result of the same shall be delivered to the President of the Senate, who shall thereupon announce the state of the vote, which announcement shall be deemed a sufficient declaration of the persons, if any, elected President and Vice President of the United States, and, together with a list of the votes, be entered on the Journals of the two Houses.

The number of Electors granted to each state equals the number of Senators added to the number of Representatives in the federal Congress. Thus, Montana gets three electoral votes and California gets 55. Furthermore, those electoral votes are given in their entirety (except for Nebraska and Maine). That is, if a slate of electors wins the plurality of the votes cast in California, then they all win their seats in the Electoral College. Nebraska and Maine determine their Electoral delegation by who wins the state (two Electors) and who wins each Congressional district (one Elector each).

Thus, if the Democratic Party slate in California wins 100% of the vote, California still sends just 55 Democratic Party votes to DC—the same number as if the Democratic Party slate received one vote more than the Republican Party slate.

Thus, the system to elect the President of the United States of America is only partially representative. It is possible for a candidate to receive a plurality of the popular votes, but not win the election due to "Electoral College math." The most recent time was the 2000 election, in which George W. Bush won the Electoral College vote, but lost the popular vote to Albert Gore.

This system has three consequences. First, as each state is "winner-take-all," candidates will tend to campaign in "toss-up" states, states in which the winner is in question. Second, Republican voters in Democratic-majority states and Democratic voters in Republican-majority states have no power. Third, national voter polls have little relationship to the actual election.

And yet, national polls are most frequently performed and most frequently reported.

We have begun a project designed to estimate state votes based on two things: polls in the state and national polls. We are ready to provide our first projection:

Projection for July 1, 2012

Currently, there are five "Toss-Up" states: Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin. In the 2008 election, Barack Obama won all five of these states, as well as Indiana (which is solidly red/Republican here).

With that said, were the election to be held right now, we are certain that Barack Obama would win reelection over Mitt Romney.

Over the past month, with this model, the only serious movement was in Wisconsin and Michigan. Immediately after the attempt to recall Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker failed, both Wisconsin and Michigan began to track toward the right (Republican). However, that movement has halted and may be reversing.

We hope to update these maps as the election season continues.

One thought on “The US Election 101

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