Although November 8, 2016
is "Election Day," Election Day has increasingly become a relative
term. More than half of states conduct some form of early
Early and Absentee Voting A Growing Trend
Although the United States lays claim to being the world's greatest democracy, we can do better in the area of voter turnout. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission's 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey (PDF, +), "a total of 140,114,502 citizens...voted in the 2016 General Election, representing a national turnout rate of 63 percent of the Citizen Voting Age Population." The number of votes was a record, but the turnout rate was off from the record set in 2008.
How Americans vote is evolving. According to the
EAC Survey for the 2016 election 41 percent of all votes were cast
before Election Day.
(>), has now
spread to 34 states and DC (EVIC,
U.S. Elections Project).
The 2016 election cast a spotlight on the integrity of our voting
processes (+). In his 2012
book The Voting Wars,
Republicans frame the issue as fighting voter fraud, while Democrats
say what is actually happening is voter suppression, particularly aimed
at members of minority groups. On top of this ongoing internal
debate, 2016 saw unprecedented external attacks on our democracy in the
form Russian meddling and cyberattacks on voting systems, aimed at
undermining trust and confidence in the system. Additionally,
voting systems are aging and will need to be replaced.
One area of concern was voter registration processes and purges of voter rolls in the lead-up to the election (+). In an Aug. 2016 article in Rolling Stone headlined "The GOP's Stealth War Against Voters," investigative reporter Greg Palast described how a number of Secretaries of State are using a program called Crosscheck to identify "potential duplicate" voters; he argues "the Crosscheck list disproportionately threatens solid Democratic constituencies (>)."
Since early 2011, much attention and litigation has focused on voter ID laws. Generally Republicans frame voter ID requirements as a matter of fighting voter fraud, while Democrats view such laws as a means of voter suppression. The U.S. Supreme Court's June 25, 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder undercut protections of the Voting Rights Act. For the 2014 mid-term elections the National Conference of State Legislatures reported that nine states had a strict photo ID requirement and an additional three states a strict non-photo ID requirement; in 18 states and DC no document was required; and in between were the remaining states where ID was requested (>). The Brennan Center for Justice reported that for the 2014 mid-term elections, new voting restrictions were "set to be in place in 22 states since the 2010 elections." Courts have since ruled against these laws in several states. On July 20, 2016 a federal appeals court found that Texas' strict voter ID was discriminatory, and on July 29 a federal appeals court struck down major provisions of North Carolina's sweeping voter ID law. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights expressed concerns about the possiblity of "widespread voter discrimination" [PDF]. Civil rights groups are working to protect voting rights (+), and the U.S. Department of Justice aims "to ensure all qualified voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots and have their votes counted free of discrimination, intimidation or fraud in the election process (+)."
Many other issues
affect elections. Each year legislatures around the country
a range of election-related legislation (>).
Among the areas of concern are shortages of
finding was reiterated in the Jan. 2014 report of the Presidential
Commission on Election Administration which stated, "By the end of
the decade, a large share of the nation’s voting machines, bought 10
ago with HAVA funds, will reach the end of their natural life and
replacement." Equipment failure did not seem to be a problem in
Outside meddling by the Russians was a problem, representing an
unprecedented direct attack on our democracy. The hacking of
Democratic National Committee, former Secretary of
State Colin Powell, and Clinton campaign chairman Tony Podesta, seemed
intended to favor Trump (1, 2). These attacks
naturally raised questions about whether Russian interference might
extend to attacks on
systems. On top of that Trump kept saying the system was
rigged. Officials sought to raise awareness about security
measures among the local authorities who administer elections (1,
2), and election
administrators in turn sought to reassure voters. Post-election
investigations are fleshing out the details of what happened, showing
that much more attention needs to be paid to election security.
up to it, partisan and independent
observers, federal observers, and international observers of varying
stripes mobilized to ensure that voters' rights were protected and
intentions heard (1,
See also: 2012 (1, 2, 3, 4[PDF], 5) and 2008 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
Election night coverage and the multi-page spreads in the newspaper the next morning are the culmination of months of preparation and planning.
One key component of election coverage is exit polls, which
are based on surveys of
voters in randomly selected precincts as they leave polling
places. Exit polls provide a window on the concerns of voters and
useful information on variations in voting behavior by gender, race,
age, education, income and other factors (>).
Surveys), an entity formed by the
networks and the Associated Press. After poor performance in the
2000 and 2002 general elections, the partners disbanded VNS, and a new
cooperative, the National Election Pool,
comprised of ABC News, CBS News, CNN, FOX News, NBC News and the
Associated Press, formed. Edison
Research (formerly Edison
Mitofsky) has conducted all exit polling for the National Election Pool
since the 2004 general election. Edison reported in a Nov. 10,
2016 blog posting:
"A staff of over 3,000 exit poll interviewers, precinct vote return reporters, call center workers, and analysts all across the country helped us provide the sole record of who voted, and why. We collected, processed, and analyzed over 100,000 interviews in a 17-hour period to not only create that record, but also to provide the NEP with the guidance to make the right projections for their viewers and readers (+)."
A second important element of election night coverage is the
collection, tabulation and
distribution unofficial election night vote results for
presidential, Senate, House and gubernatorial races. The
Associated Press fulfils this role, providing:
"the results for nearly 7,000 races, 4,700 of which are contested and will be tabulated, tallying the vote to elect the president, Congress and governors, plus state and some regional and local races. Its tabulation of results is used by almost every major news organization in the United States, plus numerous international clients (+)."
For news organizations, when everything works, election night is as
good as it gets, a chance
to show what they can do. Anchors man elaborate sets,
correspondents around the country file reports, and, as the evening
progresses, states are called one way or another and the map begins to
fill in with red and blue.
[News Organizations Cover Election Day 2016]
After last-ditch campaign
swings, the candidates head to their home states. Typically on
of Election Day they vote, and photos and video of those scenes go out
to the world. Hillary and Bill
Clinton voted at Douglas G. Grafflin Elementary School in
Chappaqua. Donald Trump, accompanied by his wife Melania and
daughter Ivanka, voted at Public School 59 in Manhattan.
In 2016 the expectation among most pundits was that
Clinton would win,
although talk of a blowout win had faded following FBI Director Comey's
letter. There remained the possibility of considerable "silent
for Trump that the polls were not catching, but very few pundits
Trump could win. Indeed Trump's statements in the closing weeks
of the campaign that the election was "rigged" raised concerns
about what he and his supporters might do. There was also the
possibility or a disputed election, which would
have extended an already too-long election even further (+).
The Clinton campaign
played up early voting results and predicted record turnout would
benefit their candidate (+).
But on Election Night it was Trump, who had confounded
prognosticators throughout the primaries, who achieved a stunning
upset. Both campaigns' supporters were gathered in New York
City, Clinton at the Javits Center and Trump at the Hilton.
During the long night, as state after state was called
by news organizations, Clinton's path to 270 electoral votes narrowed,
until finally calls in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin gave the race to
Around 2 a.m. Clinton campaign chairman Tony Podesta came out on the
stage at the
Javits Center and told deflated Clinton supporters that the campaign
would wait until every vote was counted. Around 2:30 a.m. Clinton
called Trump to concede. Gov. Mike Pence and
family came on stage at the Hilton around 2:45 a.m. and introduced
Trump, who delivered his victory speech (+). Late in the
morning Clinton delivered her concession speech to a smaller group of
staff and supporters in the ballroom of the New Yorker Hotel (+).
The days after the
election are peak season for pundits as they assess, analyze, discuss
and debate the meaning of the results. Various interest groups
offer their own post-election assessments, often using the opportunity
to point to the impact their constituency had on the outcome and to
stress their key issues.
Although Trump secured the enough electoral votes to
be declared the winner, several states remained too close too call on
Election Night. On Nov. 14 New Hampshire was called for Clinton
and on Nov. 24 Michigan was finally called for Trump. Trump
carried 30 states totaling 306 electoral votes to 20 states and DC
totaling 232 electoral votes for Clinton. Although Trump won the
votes, Clinton finished ahead in the popular vote. This was a
sensitive point for Trump, who tweeted
on Nov. 15, "If the election were based on total popular vote
I would have
campaigned in N.Y. Florida and California and won even bigger and more
easily." On Nov. 27 he went even further, tweeting, "In addition
to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote
if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."2
And on Dec. 21 he tweeted, "Campaigning to win the Electoral College is
much more difficult & sophisticated than the popular vote. Hillary
focused on the wrong states!" When all the votes were tallied,
over 137.0 million votes were
cast in the presidential
election; Trump won just under 63.0 million (46.0%) (+), Clinton
65.8 million (48.0%), Johnson 4.5 million (3.3%), Stein 1.5
million (1.1%) and others 2.2 million (1.6%).
[See also: David Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, Federal Election Commission, Mark Newman-cartograms]
|Year||Voting Eligible Population||Highest Office||Total Turnout||Highest
|Total Ballots Counted Turnout Rate|
Project by Dr. Michael McDonald. Use of voting
eligible population is a refinement on the old measures which used
voting age population;
the concept removes non-citizens and ineligible felons from the
Each election is unique and produces a set of lessons and areas that need improvement. A major lesson of 2016 is that one must be careful to avoid getting caught up in the conventional wisdom. The Clinton campaign was confident of victory heading into Election Day, speaking of a "Clinton Coalition," and the vast majority of pundits and observers foresaw a Clinton victory. It did not happen. The Trump campaign showed that it is possible to win despite being significantly outspent on the airwaves and out-organized on the ground. [Analysis]
Another very clear lesson from 2016 is that much work
needs to be done on election security. The nation's election
administrators are on the frontlines, and they must work to
keep their practices and technology up-to-date and to implement new
ideas to improve the voting process in their jurisdictions. Local
authorities need resources and know how. In terms of resources,
it might be time for a federal investment in election infrastructure,
similar to the Help America Vote Act following the 2000 debacle in
Florida. On the knowledge side, the Election Assistance
formed as a result of HAVA, serves as a national clearinghouse for
election administrators and is best positioned to help them address
voting equipment and election security challenges. [Election Integrity]
As you will recall from high school, the president is not selected by direct popular vote, but by intermediaries known as electors. The electoral system is outlined in the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1804 (this significantly modified the original provisions contained in Article II). Each state has a number of electors equal to its number of congressmen and Senators. The District of Columbia has three electors, bringing the total to 538. Most states use a winner-take-all rule; all the state's electors go to the winner of the popular vote in the state. The exceptions are Maine and Nebraska, which distribute the electors by congressional district. Twenty-nine states and DC have statutes requiring electors to vote for the popular vote winner in the state.
However, there is always the possibility of faithless
electors. Given the contentiousness of this election and qualms
about the candidates, there were several electors who went rogue when
the electors meet on December
19. Indeed, in the weeks following Nov. 8 there developed
organized last-ditch efforts to deny Trump
the presidency in the
College by persuading electors not to vote for him (+). To succeed they
would have had to flip 37 electors away from Trump. There was
virtually no chance of that happening, but the maneuvering did serve an
educational purpose, putting a spotlight on the Electoral College
Electors are generally
party activists. Some months before the election each party puts
together a slate of electors, chosen by congressional district with the
exception of the two at-large Senate slots. If the party's
presidential candidate wins the popular vote in the state on Election
Day, the members of his or her slate are officially appointed as
electors; if not they stay home.
The law governing electors and the counting of the electoral votes is 3 U.S.C.§§1-21. Electors meet in ceremonies in each of the state capitols and in the District of Columbia on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December (December 19, 2016). The electors sign the certificates of vote--actually they sign six copies of the document so there are back-ups. There are separate votes for president and for vice president. Each state sends one copy of the certificate of vote to the Office of the President of the United States Senate.
On January 6, 2017 in a special joint session of Congress
these envelopes were opened and
tallied and the election
Several members of the House sought to raise objections during the
tally, but Vice President Biden, presiding, ruled in each instance
that, "The objection cannot be received without a signature from a
Additionally, three people in the gallery who attempted to voice
objections were ejected.
This is not the first time in recent elections that there have been such efforts. In 2001 members of the Congressional Black Caucus tried to get Congress to reject Florida's electors, but they could not find a Senator to support their effort. In 2005 certification of the state results proceeded alphabetically until the Ohio votes were announced. At that point Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones (D-OH), supported by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), announced a challenge. Debate followed, but the election of President Bush and Vice President Cheney was finally and officially certified.
The final tally was Trump 304, Clinton 227, and seven for others comprising Colin Powell 3 (WA), John Kasich 1 (TX), Ron Paul 1 (TX), Bernie Sanders 1 (HI) and Faith Spotted Eagle 1 (HI). The Vice Presidential Vote went Pence 205, Kaine 227, and six for others comprising Elizabeth Warren 2 (HI, WA), Maria Cantwell 1 (WA), Susan Collins 1 (WA), Carly Fiorina 1 (TX) and Winona LaDuke 1 (WA).
Over the years there have been many, many efforts to
College and establish direct popular vote. In mid-Nov. 2016, Sen.
Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) introduced the
latest such bill in Congress (+).
None of this legislation has made
headway. More interesting activity is occuring in the states.
A number of
states have seen attempts to move away from winner-take-all
electors. In 2004
Colorado voters rejected an initiative which would have distributed
electors proportionally according to popular vote in the state.
More recently Republicans sought to alter
allocation of electors in several big states that typically have
supported the Democratic candidate for president. An effort in
California in 2007 to put an initiative on the June 2008 ballot to
award electors by congressional district failed to qualify. In
Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R) introduced SB
1282, a proposal to allocate electors by congressional district (+).
A similar bill
was introduced in Wisconsin. Following
the 2012 election, Virginia State Sen. Charles “Bill”
Carrico Sr. (R) introduced a bill which would have awarded electors to
the winner in each
of the commonwealth's congressional districts and awarded the remaining
two to the winner of
the most congressional districts; this died in committee. In
Pennsylvania, Pileggi introduced a new bill on Feb. 21, 2013, this time
proposing to allocate electors proportionately according to the popular
vote (SB 538) (+).
In 2006 a
group called National
Popular Vote launched an effort to bring about change through the
state legislatures. The premise is a compact or "Agreement
Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote" which
would take effect once states totalling 270 electoral votes have
enacted it. In April 2014 New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed NPV
legislation making the state the eleventh jurisdiction to join (10
states and DC); the 11 jurisdictions account for 165 electoral votes or
61% of the way to 270. The
College system remained in place for the 2016 election, and will likely
be there for 2020 as well.
Each election is unique and produces a set of lessons
and areas that
need improvement. Over the months and years that follow, as new
research and accounts
are published a more complete and nuanced understanding of what
A major lesson of 2016 is that campaigns and observers
careful to avoid getting caught up in conventional wisdom.
The Clinton campaign was confident of victory heading into Election
Day, speaking of a "Clinton Coalition," and the vast majority of
pundits and observers foresaw a Clinton victory. It did not
happen. The Trump campaign showed that it is possible to win
despite being significantly outspent on the airwaves and out-organized
on the ground. [Analysis]
Another very clear lesson from 2016 is that much work needs to be done on election security. Russia's multifaceted meddling in the campaign, and the prospect of more such activity in future campaigns, is particularly worrisome. Social media companies will likely have to make changes. The nation's election administrators are on the frontlines, and they must work to keep their practices and technology up-to-date and to implement new ideas to improve the voting process in their jurisdictions. Local authorities need resources and know how. In terms of resources, it might be time for a federal investment in election infrastructure, similar to the Help America Vote Act following the 2000 debacle in Florida. On the knowledge side, the Election Assistance Commission, formed as a result of HAVA, serves as a national clearinghouse for election administrators and is best positioned to help them address voting equipment and election security challenges. [Russian Interference | Election Integrity]
1. For a while in October it looked like there might be a blowout for Clinton. There have been three one-sided elections in the last 50 years. In 1972 President Richard Nixon defeated Sen. George McGovern by 23.2 percentage points, 60.7% to 37.5% (46.7 million votes to 28.9 million) carrying 49 of 50 states and tallying 520 electoral votes to 17 for McGovern. In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson defeated Sen. Barry Goldwater by 22.6 percentage points, 61.1% to 38.5% (43.1 million votes to 27.2 million), carrying 44 states and DC and winning 486 electoral votes to 52 for Goldwater. In 1984 President Ronald Reagan trounced former Vice President Walter Mondale by 18.8 percentage points, 58.8% to 40.6% (54.5 million votes to 37.6 million) carrying 49 of 50 states and winning 525 electoral votes to 13 for Mondale.
||Nixon (R) 47,168,710 (60.7%)||McGovern (D) 29,173,222 (37.5%)||49
520 to 17
486 to 52
525 to 13
limited Gov. James M. Cox (D) to 34.2%.