Thursday, October 20, 2016
By MARSHA MERCER
You say you can’t stand voting for the presidential candidates on the ballot, so you’re going to write in Mickey Mouse, your own name -- or mine? Don’t. Really.
Yes, several prominent Republicans say they will write in GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence for president because they can’t abide Donald Trump. They include Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona said he might write in the name of his buddy Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.
The urge to protest the presidential choice is strong, but a write-in could be wrong. You might as well tear your ballot into tiny pieces and swallow them as write in someone’s name, even Pence or Bernie Sanders -- unless you do your homework.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, won a write-in campaign for re-election in 2010 after losing the GOP primary, but no write-in presidential candidate has ever won a single state.
Votes for a third party or write-in candidate could tip close states to one candidate or the other, however. Hillary Clinton finally called on Al Gore to make the point.
“Your vote really, really, really counts. A lot. You can consider me as an Exhibit A of that truth,” Gore said at a Clinton rally in Miami Oct. 11.
In the 2000 presidential election, Gore came within a whisker of winning Florida’s popular vote and the White House. Many Democrats still blame Ralph Nader for Gore’s loss.
It’s worth reviewing this bit of ancient history. In the official Florida tally, George W. Bush beat Gore by 537 votes – and Nader got 97,488 votes.
Nader was on the ballot as the Green Party presidential candidate, so his votes counted. Each state sets its own election rules, though, and many states are unfriendly to write-ins.
In 34 states, including Virginia, write-in presidential candidates must file papers with the state before the election. Otherwise their votes don’t count.
A write-in presidential candidate in Virginia needs to submit to the state a list of 13 electors at least 10 days before Election Day. Alabama does not require advanced paperwork, but Tennessee does.
In Florida, write-in presidential candidates must file an oath with the state in order to have a blank space provided for their names to be written in on the general election ballot.
A write-in presidential candidate in Florida must file the form and a list of electors “at any time after the 57th day, but before noon of the 49th day, prior to the date of the primary election in the year in which a presidential election is held,” according to Florida law.
Only seven states allow voters to write in whomever they please for president, and nine states don’t allow presidential write-in votes at all.
Presidential candidates also must file with the Federal Election Commission. So far, more than 1,800 individuals have filed paperwork as presidential candidates with the FEC.
Clinton, Trump and Libertarian Gary Johnson are on ballots in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Green Party candidate Jill Stein is on the ballot in 44 states and D.C., and she has qualified as a write-in in three other states.
Independent Laurence Kotlikoff, an economics professor at Boston University, insists he has a shot largely as a write-in candidate at the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the White House.
On the ballot in only two states, Kotlikoff says by Election Day he will be registered as a write-in in all but one of the states that require certification.
Independent Evan McMullin, a conservative who made news when a poll in usually red-state Utah put him in a tight race with Trump and Clinton, told NPR Sunday he is on the ballot in 11 states and will be on the ballot or certified as a write-in in 43 to 45 states by Election Day.
It’s totally understandable that voters appalled by Clinton and Trump would want to protest by writing in someone else’s name. The smart thing to do first: Check with your local election office whether a write-in vote for president will be tallied.
Make sure “your vote really, really, really counts.”
©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
By MARSHA MERCER
“She accused me of being an American!” the man from Ottawa said in mock horror.
It was early evening in a candlelit church in London and we were waiting for a classical music concert. I’d mistaken his Canadian accent for ours. Oh for the days when Canadians abroad conspicuously wore red maple leaf lapel pins.
Exchanging pleasantries, we talked about where we were from, how long we’d be on vacation, what we’d seen, the unusually fine weather. Then, out of the blue, he said:
“I guess you’re glad to be away from the politics.”
Well, yes, absolutely. For nearly two weeks, I visited old friends, played tourist, avoided TV news and did not check Facebook or email for the latest indignities from the campaign trail.
I loved riding shotgun on the left as my friends drove us around beautiful Devon on country lanes so narrow that when cars meet, one has to back up. The motorist who finally moves forward waves in thanks. It’s a friendly, civilized and slow way to travel.
There’s nothing like walking around Grimspound, prehistoric ruins of 24 stone round houses inside a stone wall dating to the Late Bronze Age, 1450 to 700 B.C., in Dartmoor National Park, to put America’s political screeching into perspective. The ugly presidential campaign could and would go on without me.
My hosts in Britain warned that people there would give me grief about Donald Trump, but that didn’t happen. The common reaction upon learning I was from Washington was pity.
People elsewhere treat Americans the way you would an acquaintance who’s gotten a bad medical diagnosis: gently concerned, sympathetic and not quite sure what to say.
Even British pop music queen Adele told an audience in Washington the other night she’s embarrassed for Americans because of our election.
We don’t much like being pitied by people whose economy is suffering because they voted to “Make Britain Great Again” by leaving the European Union -- but it’s hard to say so until we see how Nov. 8 turns out.
How, the owner of our B&B in London asked, shaking his head sadly, had the American election come to a choice between two people as unpopular as Hillary Clinton and Trump? Naturally, like everyone else, he had a theory.
Trump never expected to get this far in his campaign. Running for president was just a way for the bored billionaire to boost his brand. As for Clinton, she’s been around too long and people are tired of her, the man said.
“Your people want change – just like here,” he said.
Be careful what you wish for, I thought.
The vote to leave the EU stemmed from the same kind of discontent that fueled Trump’s rise – a sense of loss of control and identity, a distrust of globalism and a desire to take the country back to some imaginary glory days.
Britons are just beginning to feel the bad effects of Brexit. The pound has dropped against the dollar to levels not seen since the1980s. A leaked U.K. Treasury report predicted a post-Brexit drop in the country’s Gross Domestic Product of perhaps 9.5 percent per year and tax revenue losses reaching 66 billion pounds per year.
Trump calls himself “Mr. Brexit” and claims he will surprise everyone by winning on Election Day.
“This is like Brexit, folks,” Trump said in Pennsylvania the other day. “We want our independence back. We want our borders strong. We don’t want people coming in from Syria that we have no idea who the hell they are.”
Polls in Britain were close before the June vote, but it was thought Britain would remain in the EU. Almost three-quarters of eligible voters turned out, and 52 percent voted to leave and 48 percent to remain.
Clinton’s lead on Trump has widened nationally and in key swing states, polls show. Some analysts are calling the race over. It’s not. Polls usually tighten in the waning days of presidential campaigns. Plus the “unshackled” Trump is attacking Clinton in hopes of suppressing her vote.
As for me, I’d rather visit Britain than visit Brexit-like punishment on the United States. How about you?
©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Monday, October 10, 2016
Every four years, millions of Americans go to the polls and vote for . . . a slate of electors. Take our 10-question quiz to brush up on the Electoral College. Answers are below. No peeking – and no Googling!
- What is the Electoral College?
A. Scholars that wrote election law in the 19th century
B. The process for electing the president and vice president that dates to the 18th century
C. The undisclosed location where elected officials learn law-making
D. A reality TV show
2. Why do we have an Electoral College?
A. The Constitution states that the “Electoral College” shall choose the president if no candidate gets a majority of the popular vote
B. Every president since George Washington has signed an executive order creating one
C. It’s a compromise between electing the president by congressional vote or by popular vote of qualified people
D. The Supreme Court said so
3. Who gets to be in the Electoral College?
A. Any elected official
B. Anyone who is not a member of Congress or a federal official
C. Only registered voters
D. Only donors to the Republican and Democratic parties
4. True or false: Electors are legally bound to vote for the presidential candidate who wins the most votes in their state.
5. The House of Representatives has 435 members, and there are 100 senators. How many electors are in the Electoral College?
6. What happens if no presidential candidate wins a majority of electoral votes -- 270?
A. The Senate elects the president from the top two electoral vote-getters
B. The House of Representatives elects the president from the top three electoral vote-getters
C. The Supreme Court elects the president
D. The 50 governors elect the president
7. Is it possible for the winner of the nationwide popular vote for president not to win the electoral vote?
A. No, the candidate who wins the most popular votes always wins
B. Yes, because the popular vote does not choose the president. The Electoral College does.
C. Yes, because all but two states award their electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis.
D. B and C
8. How often has the winner of the nationwide popular vote for president not won the electoral vote?
D. Four times
9. Where do the electors meet to cast their ballots?
A. Electors from every state gather in Independence Hall in Philadelphia
B. Electors gather in the U.S. Capitol
C. Electors from each state meet in their states, usually in the state Capitol
10. True or False. Congress could pass a law eliminating the Electoral College.
Bonus Question: What happens on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December every four years?
- B. The framers of the Constitution agreed on our indirect system of elections in 1787.
- C. The framers compromised on having “electors” choose the president and vice president. The words “electoral college” are not in the Constitution, but “electors” appears in Article II and the 12th Amendment. We started using the term electoral college in the 19th century and it’s now in federal law.
- B. Under the Constitution, only U.S. senators, representatives and anyone holding “an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States” are prohibited from being electors.
- False. Neither the Constitution nor federal law requires electors to follow the popular vote. Many states have such laws, but not all.
5. D. One for each House member and senators and three for the District of Columbia, which is treated as a state, thanks to the 23rd Amendment.
6. B. Each state’s delegation gets one vote. The Senate would elect the vice president from the top two VP electoral candidates, with each senator having one vote.
- D. Only Maine and Nebraska award their electoral votes on a proportional basis.
- D. In 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000.
- C. The Electoral College never meets as one big group.
- False. To change or eliminate the Electoral College would require a Constitutional amendment.
Bonus: That’s the day electors meet in each state to elect the president and vice president. This year it’s Dec. 19.
Want to make your own Electoral College predictions? Check out the National Archives’ interactive map at http://bit.ly/2cVI0BP.
SCORING: 10 points for each correct answer, plus 5 points for the bonus.
85 to 100 – You win the Electoral College bowl.
70 to 85 – Tenure at the Electoral College is yours.
55 to 70 – Politicians crave numbers like these.
45 to 55 – Your insight is blog-worthy.
25 to 40 – Don’t believe everything you read online.
Below 25 – There’s always 2020.
SOURCES: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Congressional Research Service, U.S. Department of State, U.S. House Offices of Historian and Art and Archives
--Compiled by Marsha Mercer
By MARSHA MERCER
If you’re tempted to skip this week’s vice presidential debate because Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won’t be there, you might want to reconsider.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Republican Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana are amiable fellows who rarely throw a first punch, but don’t hold that against them.
Both have had experience in the debate ring and know how to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.
People vote for the top of the ticket, but whoever becomes vice president likely will do a lot more than attend the funerals of world leaders. Plus, one of the men onstage at Longwood University Tuesday night might be president someday. Fourteen veeps have become president, eight after the death of the sitting president.
Vice presidential debates are lower-key affairs than presidential matchups, but over the years the second tier has brought its share of verbal fisticuffs, gaffes and memorable moments.
The dust-up in the 1984 vice presidential debate between Republican George H.W. Bush and Democrat Geraldine Ferraro is a classic example of “manslaining.”
“Let me help you with the difference, Ms. Ferraro, between Iran and the embassy in Lebanon,” said Bush, then vice president and a former ambassador to China and the United Nations.
The first woman vice presidential nominee and eight-term House member riposted:
“Let me first of all say that I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy.”
Perhaps the most famous VP debate moment ever was four years later, when Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, a courtly and dignified senator from Texas, eviscerated callow Dan Quayle, Republican senator from Indiana.
Quayle, boyish at 41 and perceived by many as unqualified to be vice president, said he had as much congressional experience as Jack Kennedy did when he ran for president.
“Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy,” Bentsen shot back.
Bush and Quayle won the election, but Bentsen went home with the zinger of the year trophy.
In 1992, James Stockdale, running mate of third-party candidate Ross Perot, uttered the seven words that still live in vice presidential debate parody: “Who am I? Why am I here?”
Stockdale was a retired admiral, one of the most highly decorated Navy officers in history. He had spent seven years as a POW in the infamous Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War. But he was unknown to most Americans. Sadly, his debate performance made him a figure of fun.
This time, there will be no third-party candidate onstage. Neither the Libertarian nor the Green party met the Commission on Presidential Debates’ criteria for participating in the first presidential and the only vice presidential debate. That’s a shame for the millions of Americans who would like more choices.
In a year in which many voters find the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees scary, debate-watchers may find Kaine and Pence reassuring. They came up through the states and know compromise is necessary.
Pence, after losing one of the nastiest congressional races in Indiana history, once wrote an essay titled, “Confessions of a Negative Campaigner,” in which he stated, “Negative campaigning is wrong.”
Asked how he could square that view with Trump’s campaign style, Pence told Martha Raddatz on ABC’s “This Week”: “Things are a little different here in Indiana than they are in New York City. People talk a little different than they do sometimes about things.”
Raddatz then asked Kaine about Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment when she said some of Trump’s supporters are “irredeemable.” Was that word appropriate?
“That’s not a word I would use. I wouldn’t use it,” Kaine said, although he added, “I think we would be unrealistic to think that some people are going to fundamentally change their view.”
Come January, either Kaine or Pence likely will be the president’s liaison to Congress, playing a key role in setting the policy agenda.
For voters unhappy with Clinton and Trump, this undercard could make the choice more palatable.
©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
By MARSHA MERCER
He won’t be onstage Monday night, but President Barack Obama likely will dominate the first presidential debate.
Republicans have hung “third Obama term” around Hillary Clinton’s neck as if it were an albatross, but Democrats believe the prospect of a third Obama term could be just the thing to motivate unenthusiastic, undecided voters to go to the polls for Clinton.
Obama’s overall job approval rating, in the low 40s a couple of years ago, is a healthy 50 percent. Among Democrats, a whopping 89 percent approve of the way he’s handling his job, according to Gallup.
“More Americans are working. More have health insurance. Incomes are rising. Poverty is falling,” Obama said last week at a rally for Clinton in Philadelphia. Someone in the crowd shouted that gas is $2.
“And gas is $2 a gallon,” he said. “Thank you for reminding me.”
So when Donald Trump promises to wipe out everything Obama has done, starting with the Affordable Care Act, he not only threatens Obama’s legacy but he gives Clinton an opening with uncommitted voters who like the improved economy and social progress of the last eight years.
Only 2 or 3 percentage points now separate Clinton and Trump, so both campaigns want to woo the 13 percent of voters who are undecided.
Some are “better-educated people who lean Republican, who don’t like Trump and have zero use for Hillary Clinton, and they’re sort of paralyzed and frozen right now,” Republican pollster Bill McInturff told The Wall Street Journal.
Others are millennials who lean Democratic, supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries and haven’t fallen in love with Clinton. Democrats also worry that black voters, who provided the margin of victory for Obama in several swing states in 2012, could stay home.
Obama has made Clinton’s election his mission, telling the Congressional Black Caucus gala Saturday that he would take it as a “personal insult” to his legacy if blacks don’t turn out for Clinton.
First lady Michelle Obama, one of the most popular people in America, also is campaigning for Clinton – and Obama’s place in history.
“Elections aren’t just about who votes, but who doesn’t vote, and that’s especially true for young people like all of you,” Michelle Obama said last week at a campaign rally at George Mason University.
On the stump, the president charges that Trump is “unfit to serve” and “woefully unprepared to do this job.” Trump in turn calls Obama a “disaster” and “the worst president.”
If you can’t remember a president and first lady being so involved in a potential successor’s contest, it’s because it hasn’t happened in our lifetimes. Most presidents end their time on the stage on a sour note with the public or with little love for the person itching to replace them.
In 1960, when a reporter asked President Dwight Eisenhower to name a major contribution his vice president, Richard Nixon, then running for president, had made, Ike replied: “If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don’t remember.”
John F. Kennedy used Ike’s words in a TV ad -- and won that November.
In 2000, Vice President Al Gore – remember him? – kept his distance from disgraced President Bill Clinton, and it cost him.
But when the time came for President George W. Bush to endorse Sen. John McCain for president in 2008, Bush’s job approval rating had dropped to the basement -- about 30 percent. Even though Bush was still popular among conservatives, McCain chose not to ask Bush to campaign.
At this point in 2012, polls showed the race between Obama and Mitt Romney very tight with about 6 percent of voters undecided. On Election Day, though, the contest wasn’t as close. Obama won with 51 percent of the popular vote to Romney’s 47 percent.
Democrats hope a similar scenario plays out this year for Clinton.
As much as she might like to win purely on her own merits, Clinton knows “It Takes a Village.” Her uninspiring campaign style and the reluctance of key demographic groups to back her means she will need the whole Democratic village at her side to win.
Fortunately for her, Democrats still believe in Obama, and he said last week, “I really, really, really want to elect Hillary Clinton.”
©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.