How The Us Counts Its Votes In The Presidential Election

  • In the US, all elections — federal, state, and local — are directly organised by the ruling governments of individual states.
  • The US Constitution and laws grant the states wide latitude in how they administer elections, resulting in varying rules across the country.
  • In many US states, the responsibility of conducting elections falls on the state’s secretary of state — a politician who in some states is directly elected and in others appointed by the state governor.

How is the election process different from India?

  • In India, the Constitution under Article 324 provides for a separate rule-making Election Commission that is independent of the executive in government.
  • Set up in 1950, it is charged with the responsibility of conducting polls to the offices of the President and Vice President of India, to Parliament, and to the state Assemblies and Legislative Councils.
  • In India, the ECI has been devised as an apolitical body — a key priority of the country’s founding leaders.
  • Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, while introducing Article 324 in the Constituent Assembly on June 15, 1949, said, “the whole election machinery should be in the hands of a Central Election Commission, which alone would be entitled to issue directives to returning officers, polling officers and others”.
  • So, US states vary widely when it comes to key electoral practices such as vote counting, postal voting and drawing constituencies.
  • Often, individual states are accused of providing an unfair advantage to one political party through practices such as gerrymandering.
  • During the Jim Crow era (late 19th century-early 20th century), states in the American South actively disenfranchised Black people– a practice that was largely curbed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Why counting votes in Election 2020 is taking time

  • Although most US states allow electronic methods, paper ballots are the norm across the country.
  • Ahead of counting comes a stage called processing, which involves checking signatures, verifying documentation, and perhaps even scanning the ballots.
  • Counting votes is a separate, and later, process.
  • Each state has its own date for starting in-person or mail-in voting, deadline for receiving the mail-in ballots, processing the ballots, and tabulating votes.
  • To take two examples:
  • In Arizona, mailing of ballots started on October 7, accepted until Election Day, and counting has been on since October 20;
  • In Ohio, processing started on October 6, mail-in ballots can be received up to November 13 but they must be postmarked by November 2, and counting started on November 3. 

Contingent election

  • A determination that neither candidate has secured a majority of electoral votes would trigger a “contingent election” under the 12th Amendment of the Constitution.
  • That means the House of Representatives chooses the next president, while the Senate selects the vice president.
  • Each state delegation in the House gets a single vote. As of now, Republicans control 26 of the 50 state delegations, while Democrats have 22; one is split evenly and another has seven Democrats, six Republicans and a Libertarian.
  • A contingent election also takes place in the event of a 269-269 tie after the election; there are several plausible paths to a deadlock in 2020.
  • Any election dispute in Congress would play out ahead of a strict deadline – 20, when the Constitution mandates that the term of the current president ends.
  • Under the Presidential Succession Act, if Congress still has not declared a presidential or vice presidential winner by then, the Speaker of the House would serve as acting president.
  • Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, is the current speaker.