By / Nov 6

The 2020 presidential election is still ongoing and has raised many questions. Here is an explanation of what’s happening.

Why is it taking so long to count the ballots?

The two primary reasons why ballot-counting is taking longer than usual, is because of high voter turnout and the process of counting absentee ballots (i.e., mail-in ballots). 

Voter turnout has been higher than in normal elections, which estimates ranging from roughly 157.1 million to 165.0 million votes cast for president. This is likely to be the highest percentage of voter turnout since 1900, when 73.7% of eligible Americans cast ballots. Vice President Biden has already broken the record for most votes ever cast for a U.S. presidential candidate, beating President Obama’s 2008 tally.

The record number of absentee ballots has also slowed the counting. So far there have been almost twice as many absentee ballots as in person ballots (65.2 million compared to 35.9 million). Some states, such as Pennsylvania, are not allowed by their state laws to count any mail-in ballots until Election Day. 

Because absentee ballots require additional steps to process, such as opening the envelopes and checking the names against voter rolls, they take significantly more time to process. That is why states like Texas and Florida, which were able to process their absentee ballots early and know their projected counts on the night of the election. 

What are each candidate’s paths to victory?

For President Trump to win reelection, he needs to win Pennsylvania and three of the remaining states: Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and Nevada. For Vice President Biden to win the election, he needs to win Pennsylvania or two of the remaining states. 

At the time of publication, Biden was leading in all states except for North Carolina. 

What does it mean for media outlets to “call’ a race?

Media outlets create projection models to predict the likely outcomes of a race. Such models are based on criteria like exit polls and past elections and are usually based on a county-by-county breakdown. Some models also consider the relative number of absentee ballots and urban votes (which tend to skew Democrat) compared to election day ballots and rural votes (which tend to skew Republican). For this reason, where the remaining votes are in a state can help projection models determine the likely outcome. For example, if all of the historically Republican parts of a state have counted 100% of the vote but all the historically Democratic parts of a state have counted 0% of the vote, they may call the race for a Democrat losing the state by 1% if the exit polls show the Democratic areas will continue voting for the Democrat by a significant margin.

The two primary projection models are Edison Research’s National Election Pool (which is used by ABC, NBC, CBS, NBC, et al.) and AP VoteCast (which is used by the Associated Press and Fox News). The differing methodologie are why some media outlets project winners in certain states while others do not. The most prominent example from this election is the AP and Fox News calling the state of Arizona for Biden on the night of the election. 

But while such projections help us know who the likely winner will be, the determination of who will be president is based on the official vote counts being certified by the Secretary of State for each individual U.S. state. 

Could a recount change the outcome of an election?

Before the votes are certified, states can allow a recounting of the ballots. Each state has their own laws about when a candidate can request a recount. For example, Wisconsin law only allows for a recount if the margin in the race is within 1% (Georgia has already announced they will be conducting a recount). In many states, a candidate can also request a recount if there is evidence of fraud or significant error. 

Recounts rarely change the vote count by more than a few hundred, and almost never change the outcome of race. For example, in the 2016 presidential contest, Wisconsin conducted a recount after Trump beat Sec. Hillary Clinton by more than 20,000 votes. The recount resulted in Trump gaining an additional 131 votes.

The most famous recount in presidential history was in the 2000 election. George W. Bush was leading Gore by about 2,000 votes on the night of the election. These results were contested, and after a statewide machine recount and partial subsequent hand recounts in some counties, the Supreme Court ordered an end to the process with Bush leading by 537 votes.

Has there been significant voter fraud in this election?

Currently, there has been no evidence that voter fraud has been occurring. 

Trump’s campaign has filed lawsuits in Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania. Judges in Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have dismissed the legal challenges.

In only one state—Nevada—have they officially claimed fraud was occurring. Trump tweeted that there was “plenty of proof,” but neither he nor his campaign have offered any proof at all. 

There are numerous reasons why widespread election fraud is difficult, if not impossible, to pull off at the presidential level. Political parties appoint partisan poll watchers to monitor polling places and election offices. For instance, an election office in the Democratic stronghold of Detroit had 134 Republicans, 134 Independents, and 134 Democrats as poll watchers. Extensive research has shown that voter fraud is exceeding rare, that voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent, and that many instances of alleged fraud are merely mistakes by voters or election administrators.

By / Nov 3

Today is Election Day in the United States. As we cast our votes, may we also remember the importance of prayer. Communing with the Lord reminds us of our ultimate hope and comfort and teaches our hearts to trust in our Father. 

Below is a sample prayer for personal reflection, families, and churches to use:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for hearing our prayers and for caring about your children. We recognize and confess our utter dependence upon you. Scripture teaches us that we ought to pray without ceasing, and on a day when many of us are tempted toward despair or triumph, we ask that you reorient our hearts and our gaze toward you. 

Regardless of the outcome of this election, may we remember that you are on your throne, you are sovereign and in control. The nations may rage, but you remain steadfast. You are our true hope, security, rest, and safety. May we not give way to fear or pride, but instead rest in your presence. You have told us that your kingdom is not of this world. Teach our hearts to trust in you, our King of kings, rather than the rulers of the world. 

As you have instructed us in your Word, we ask for wisdom and guidance for our president, our Congress, governors, state officials, and mayors. We also lift up the newly elected officials around the country. Give them discernment and hearts of services for the people they lead.

Give us a renewed love for you and for our neighbor. After this day is finished, we will still live and work among friends and family with whom we might disagree. We repent and ask for forgiveness for harsh or unkind words we’ve spoken over the past few months, whether on social media or in person. Forgive us for being quick to speak and slow to listen. We ask that the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts would be pleasing in your sight.

May we not get so focused on politics that we overlook the commandment you’ve given us to share the good news of your gospel. We ask that we would be eager laborers in the harvest and boldly proclaim you to a watching and lost world. We ask that we continue to grow in godliness in all areas of our life.

Today, we also remember our brothers and sisters around the world who live under oppressive regimes. Many believers aren’t able to freely gather and worship you without fear of persecution. Would you change the hearts of those leaders and continue to give those Christians the boldness to remain steadfast?

Lord, we know that one day you will come and make all things new, and we eagerly await the day when you will bring us home and wipe away every tear. Give us the grace to trust you more.

In Jesus’ name, 

Amen.

By / Nov 3

What makes a good president of the United States? Are there certain traits that naturally lend themselves toward an individual’s success in the highest office in the land? Do we expect too much from the individuals we choose to be president? These questions are just a handful of the ones that author John Dickerson tackles in his fascinating new book, The Hardest Job in the World: The American Presidency.

Dickerson, easily one of my favorite political analysts, has written one of the most engaging overviews of the American executive branch. As I read it in the run-up to the 2020 election, it helped clarify for me the real and imagined roles of the presidency and gave me an appreciation for the men who have held the office in our history. One thing it confirmed for me: character matters.

“Character in many ways is everything in leadership,” remarked former U.S. President Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower. “Character is really integrity.” As you read the book, you can’t help but come away with a new appreciation for Ike and his deep knowledge of effective leadership. That seems to have been a major objective for Dickerson in writing this book (he said in a recent interview he fell in love with Eisenhower as Dickerson researched his administration for this book).

High demands of our nation’s leader

Why is that so important as a reader? Because in this time where leadership too often is defined as having the loudest voice or the deepest grievance, our nation’s greatest leaders have often provided helpful examples in opposition to those things. In fact, as you read this book, you come to realize that our most successful presidents have cast a vision that is accessible to more than just the Americans who voted for them. As one example, Dickerson uses John F. Kennedy’s prediction that television would allow presidential candidates to speak directly to Americans––and then doing just that in his campaign.

Beyond the poetry of campaigning, this leadership trait of inclusion extends to the prose of governing, as well. Dickerson discusses how it informs the team-building process of presidential administrations. He highlights a quote from famed management expert Peter Drucker who said, “The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I.’ They don’t think ‘I.’ They think ‘we’; they think ‘team.’” When a president takes this approach, he or she will be sowing seeds for potential success as the administration takes flight after Inauguration Day. 

Throughout the book, Dickerson explores the various constitutional roles required of the nation’s chief executive as well as the ones Americans have now come to expect the president to play. Our Constitution is very clear that the president is the commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces. As the years have passed, though, we’ve also asked the president to be what Dickerson calls our “consoler in chief” when tragedy strikes our nation. When a deranged white supremacist murdered nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, former President Barack Obama used the moment to discuss God’s grace––a particularly poignant theme the nation needed to hear in that dark hour. But why is this vital for our nation? 

Dickerson answers that by pointing to former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan who said, “speeches are important because they are one of the great constants of our political history. They have not only been the way we measure public men, they how we tell each other who we are.” Thus, a president’s words matter, not only because they have the ability to soothe or unite, but because they connect the current occupant of the White House with those who came before him. While speeches can play an important role in binding up the wounds of a nation, it is probably unrealistic to expect one person to resolve all the issues that come across the president’s desk. Dickerson shows us that it was never designed to be like this. 

Designed to be different 

Our Founding Fathers meticulously built our democratic republic, carefully weighing how each “grain” of power would affect one branch over the others. Their expectation was that the executive, legislative, and judicial branches would work in tension with one another, balancing out the ambition and moves of the other. The Founders were especially concerned with ensuring the president was kept in check. Why? Dickerson writes, “The founders were realistic about human weakness, but they believed that because they were so aware of its shortcomings, they could design a new government that not only accounted for man’s weakness but used it to keep balance.” To underscore this, Dickerson also includes a foreboding prediction by Benjamin Franklin: “The executive will always be increasing here, as elsewhere, till it ends in monarchy.” The last word should send a shudder down the spine of every American since that is what our ancestors revolted against in 1776. 


Ultimately, that continual use of the lens of history may be the most important takeaway from Dickerson’s book. He continually provides the reader with perspective. Whether it’s the quadrennial assertion that this election is the most important election of our lifetimes or the claims of certain disaster if one candidate or the other prevails, we live in a time devoid of such perspective. That can be especially worrisome when every individual has a megaphone and can broadcast their hottest takes for the world to see. As Christians, though, we are called to a higher standard, one of discernment. I have found that reading books like this highly-informative one help push me further along the road toward wisdom and understanding. After reading The Hardest Job in the World, those will be two traits I always look for in a president (or candidate for any office) from now on.

By / Nov 3

The right to vote is at the heart of our nation’s grand pursuit of a more perfect Union. Though restricted at the founding, this right was secured more fully through the dedicated advocacy of suffragettes and civil rights activists. In 2020, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment which secured the right to vote for women.

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. . . . Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”Amendment XIX, Constitution of the United States of America

On this episode of Capitol Conversations on Election Day 2020, Chelsea Paterson Sobolik commemorates this centennial with interviews covering the history, the role of faith, and the meaning of the Women’s Suffrage movement. The conversations with a historian, a seminarian, and a lawyer also highlight inspirational role models and why it’s important for women to be engaged in the public square.

This episode is sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of The Christmas We Didn’t Expect by David Matthis. Find out more about this book at thegoodbook.com

Guest Biography

Andrea Turpin is an Associate Professor of History at Baylor University. She is the author of A New Moral Vision: Gender, Religion, and the Changing Purposes of American Higher Education, 1837-1917. Dr. Turpin received an A.B. at Princeton University, an M.A. at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. at the University of Notre Dame. 

Missie Branch is the Assistant Dean of Students to Women and Director of Graduate Life at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS). Years ago, Missie and her husband, Duce, co-planted a church in Philadelphia, PA where she served as a pastor’s wife, a children’s ministry director, and a women’s ministry leader. Missie and Duce have four children.

Palmer Williams is a Founding Partner of The Peacefield Group where she specializes in legal and policy analysis related to international human rights, sanctity of life, non-profit operations and government affairs. She earned her Juris Doctor from Vanderbilt Law School and her B.A. in Political Science and Community Development from Vanderbilt University. Palmer and her husband, Joseph, have two sons, Jack and Henry, and live in Nashville, TN.

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