How come that voting has already started in the US presidential election?

In the federal system that is the United States, each individual state determines voting processes which is why so many Republican-controlled states have passed the voter suppression laws.

So each state determines whether a vote can be cast before polling day either through the post or otherwise. Votes are not actually counted though until the close of polls on polling day.

I understand that nation-wide more than 5 million votes have already been cast including a third of the eligible votes in the all-important state of Ohio. Obama himself has already voted in Chicago.

Just to complicate things still further, the presidential election is not determined by the number of voters who support each candidate but by the votes in the Electoral College which technically does not meet until December and technically does not have its votes validated by Congress until early January.

As you know, this is the greatest democracy on earth …


  • Roger Darlington

    In response to this posting, I received the following comment from a friend of mine in the States:

    Just had to comment on one of your statements about the US election process in your Nighthawk blog – you state “each individual state determines voting processes which is why so many Republican-controlled states have passed the voter suppression laws.” I happen to live in a state which has tended to vote more for Republican candidates than for Democrat candidates in the past 30 years (although it was staunchly Democrat before that – my parents NEVER cast a vote for a Republican candidate in their entire lives). There are two points in your referenced statement which I wish to take issue with:

    Firstly, to state that any state is “Republican-controlled” is inaccurrate. We vote for whichever candidate we wish, and it is entirely possible for the vote to be primarily Democratic in one election and then switch 4 years later to the Republican candidate, which may happen in the forthcoming election. In fact, in some states, they have elected a governor from one party and state house representations predominately from the other party. And somehow, it works.
    It’s your use of the word, “controlled,” that I take issue with. I think it gives the wrong connotation.

    Now for the bigger issue: your use of the term “voter suppression laws.” We do not have any voter suppression laws in this nation. We did at one time in our history, but that is long gone. If you think requiring a person to show an ID is “voter suppression” then we simply have very different understanding of the word, “suppression.”

    The fact is that we have to show ID for every single action we take in this country, including doctor’s appointments, admissions to colleges, signing up for any government assistance opportunity – you name it. Without showing ID to vote, what would keep voter fraud from happening? I have never voted in a single election where I did not show my ID, and I have never considered it the be a voter suppression issue. Do you not have to show your ID to vote in the UK, or for the other things aforementioned? Why would that prevent anyone from voting? As a matter of fact, anyone can vote by absentee ballot which is mailed in – there is no “showing” of an ID at all in that case.

    Since you send your weekly emails out to people from other countries every week, I just wanted you to know that it bothers me when someone mischaracterizes my country and our election process. So, I’m letting you know. We Americans aren’t perfect, but we don’t need inaccuracies to make us look any worse than we are.

  • Roger Darlington

    This was my response to my American friend:

    When I wrote about Republican-controlled states, I meant states where the Republican Party currently has a majority in the state legislature. I had hoped that this was obvious.

    When I wrote about “voter suppression”, this was not my terminology but that of many observers in the United States.

    I know that supporters of these laws claim that it is intended to combat voter fraud, but I have seen no evidence of a significant level of voter fraud in the USA. How many successful prosecutions have there been in the last four years across the country necessitating such legislature now?

    It seems to me and others that it is no coincidence that these new laws are often promoted by Republicans and that they will have the effect of diminishing the Democrat vote because poor, old, and black voters tend to find it harder to navigate such requirements (for instance, many do not drive and have licences).

    Independent academic observers have viewed such measures as unnecessary and partisan in effect – see here.

    You yourself point out that there is no ID requirement for postal voting, so why should there be such a requirement for physical voting when cheating would be much harder?

    Since you ask, voters in the UK do not have to show any identification when voting. They simply have to give their name and address and, if nobody of that name at that address has already voted, they are assumed to be a valid voter

  • Roger Darlington

    I shared my exchange with Lyn with another American friend. Mike is very knowledgeable on US politics and made these observations:

    I just read the comment from Lyn and felt the necessity to respond, particularly for your readers from other nations.

    States are indeed “Republican” and/or “Democratic” control if the the majority in the state legislatures and governorships are held by a single party. To speak of a state being “controlled” by one party or another is common jargon.

    Maryland, where I live, is considered “Democratic” controlled as large majorities in both houses in the state legislature and the governorship are held by Democrats. This “control” for example allows one party or another to pass legislation at will and to set congressional legislative boundaries every 10 years after our constitutional-mandated census. Other states are under “Republican” control.

    Voter suppression is another example of the “Red-Blue” issues that divide Americans. In short, voter suppression is a strategy to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing people from exercising their right to vote. These tactics can range from “dirty tricks”, such as “official” sounding fake robo telephone calls to voters informing them that polls have closed (when they haven’t) or they don’t need to vote to outright illegal tactics that physically intimidate voters from casting their ballots.

    One of the favorite voter suppression tactics in the South in recent years has been posting uniformed state police in large numbers to patrol voting sites in heavily populated African-American districts in the name of “security” but in reality as an intimidation tactic given the history of police-black relations in the South over the decades. African-Americans vote in disproportionate numbers for Democrats. Voting rights groups have largely put a stop to this tactic.

    Voter ID laws, passed by 22 GOP-controlled legislatures in the last two years, which Lyn referred are the latest tactic. I am not aware of a single example of in-person fraud to justify these laws. In fact, the Pennsylvania GOP legislative leader Mike Turzai was caught saying on tape saying that the new Voter ID laws there would allow Mitt Romney to win the state, making clear that voter suppression was the real aim of the legislation.

    I have voted my entire life in Maryland AND HAVE NEVER SHOWN MY ID to vote. There is no reported instance of in-person voter fraud. And, as Lynn said, anyone can vote by absentee ballot without showing an ID.

    On October 2, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, a Republican, thwarted Turzai’s hopes by ruling that voters in Pennsylvania did not have to show a government-approved ID in order to cast a ballot in the November election. According to Judge Simpson’s estimates, 1 to 9 percent of registered voters in Pennsylvania did not have a valid ID—somewhere in the range of 100,000 to 500,000 people by conservative estimates—yet the state had issued only 13,000 voter IDs since the law went into effect in March. A significant number of eligible voters in Pennsylvania were going to be disenfranchised if the law remained in effect.

    Early voting laws also have been under attack in Republican-controlled states, since polls show that most early voters support Democratic candidates. In Ohio, the state Supreme Court on Oct. 16 unanimously rejected an appeal by Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to overturn a lower court decision upholding early voting in Ohio three days before the election. Husted immediately instituted new regulations to limit early voting to only a total of 16 hours during those three days. The laws were passed in Ohio because the outcome of the 2004 election in the state was marred by long lines and voting machine failures.

    Why are Ohio Republicans trying to limit early voting? In 2008, African-Americans comprised the majority of early voters in cities like Dayton and Cleveland in 2008, and were twenty-six times more likely to vote in-person compared to white voters in Cuyahoga County in ’08. We know they overwhelmingly voted for President Obama. Ohio is a must-win state for Obama this year.

    Voter suppression in the US is real and will not stop with this election. In recent weeks, in states from Florida to Ohio to New Hampshire, courts have blocked new laws passed by Republicans that restrict the right to vote for young, minority, elderly, disabled and low-income voters, most of who vote Democratic. Americans who believe that voting should be open to all will continue to fight back against voter suppression laws that include voter ids laws, restrictions on early voting and other tactics aimed at preventing the “wrong” people from voting.

  • Andy

    Would it be possible (constitutionally and otherwise) for democrats – i.e. people who believe in democracy – and/or Democrats to pass a national law that makes all states use the same processes, rules and methods to register votes?

    It astounds me just how ramshackle the USA electoral system is. Makes the UK system look really sensible! (Which it isn’t, obviously.)

  • Roger Darlington

    Andy, a law wouldn’t do it; it would require a constitutional amendment to give the power to make such laws to the Congress.

    Of course, the US Constitution can be changed – but this is really difficult. First, a proposed amendment has to secure a two-thirds vote of members present in both houses of Congress. Then three-quarters of the state legislatures have to ratifiy the proposed change (this stage may or may not be governed by a specific time limit). Even the Equal Rights Amendment failed to meet these thresholds after a 10 year process.


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