By / Jan 20

I moved to Washington, D.C. four years ago this week. There was an anxious excitement that January as Americans coming and going in the nation’s capital prepared for a new president, new Congress, and a soon-to-be transformed judiciary. Some were enthusiastic and others were worried.

Much has changed since the 20th of January in 2017, but much remains the same. Our country remains deeply divided. The Americans who were eager for the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States are sullen about the 46th. And the inverse is also true.

In 2017, my trek to the National Mall for the Inauguration included dodging the loudest of my fellow citizens’ screams and countless signs of how great America was about to be made again—or how dreadful. Walking in my new city, I felt like a high school kid who moved back to town after a few years away. I recognized the tribal passion but didn’t fit within it. I was, as many young evangelicals have found themselves to be in recent years, politically homeless.

I knew what I believed, what policies required advocacy, both for and against, and that character mattered in leadership. While the state of our politics left much to be desired for a pro-life, pro-refugee evangelical like me, the red, white, and blue flags emblazoned on the U.S. Capitol and down Pennsylvania Avenue that day stirred in me both pride and gratitude.

The day’s events then, just like those we will see again today, remind us of what’s foundational to our country’s system of government. We are a people who are free to vigorously debate the issues because we have maintained a long-treasured peace under the righteous constraints of the rule of law. Elections matter only when we respect them as the way we determine who holds power.

The peaceful transition of power

Every four years, we get to be a part of this remarkable American tradition––the peaceful transition of power. The transition is established in the U.S. Constitution and by the actions of our leaders who, by their submission to the law, constrain partisan passions. What might be most remarkable about the transition is how unremarkable it has been over our country’s long history. Rare is the president who has not attended their successor’s inauguration.

The value of the rule of law can only be understood in contrast with the peril of the rule of man. The rule of man results from our fallen state—it is the system where might makes right. Our system in the U.S., ruled as we are, not by power but by elections conducted and laws passed according to the consent of the people, constrains the powerful, even at times against their will and at odds with their partisan interests. This idea, that a body of just laws ought to constrain us, runs to the very essence of what our union means. Just laws protect the powerless from injustice. For us at the ERLC, this means first and foremost, working through the law to protect the vulnerable, beginning with the unborn, and also the widow, the orphan, the religious minority, and the sojourner.

America’s peaceful transition of power is a ceremony in which our national commitment to the rule of law above the power of man is made most evident. Think about it: this ceremony celebrates the individual holding the most powerful office in our nation, entrusted as the head of government, the head of state, and the commander-in-chief of our armed forces, transferring that awe-inspiring power to someone else.

When President Washington voluntarily gave up the presidency after two terms in office, he began a tradition, now enshrined in the Constitution, to which the world was left in wonderment. This peaceful transfer of power reminds every American watching that the presidency is, above all, a stewardship. And in this stewardship, leaving is just as important as entering. This is a virtue at the heart of our republic.

Sadly, the militarized security surrounding today’s 59th Inauguration of the President of the United States is a stark warning that our experiment in self-government is not guaranteed to last. Only two weeks ago we watched as the resiliency of our democracy was tested by an unimaginable tragedy. January 6 saw seditious riots at the very same building that is today decorated for a ceremony. That violent attempt to forcefully overturn the presidential election on the basis of conspiracy and lies reminded all of us of the threats facing our constitutional order. If we allow partisan passions to undermine faith in our elections, we will eventually replace the rule of law with the rule of man. This is not the way for the people of God, nor for the United States. As Christians in America, let’s consider again that God has always intended for His people to be constrained by a law that stands higher than themselves. 

Today marks a moment that merits our appreciation as citizens of this republic, just as it did four years ago, and in 2009 and in 2001 and so on. These occasions in the American story are days we can be grateful for not necessarily because of the politicians involved but because of the laws and traditions created by the Founders that they operate within. Seeking the welfare of the city into which we have been sent as exiles begins anew on days like today when we uphold the traditions of our democracy, respect the rule of law, and protect justice and liberty for all.

By / Jan 15

In this episode, Josh, Brent, and Meagan discuss president Trump becoming the first president to be impeached twice, the increased national guard presence at the U.S. Capitol, COVID-19’s raging numbers, new thoughts on COVID-19 immunity length, US Space Command, Alabama winning the National Championship, and ‘Way Maker’ topping the charts in 2020. Meagan and Josh also gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Carl Laferton with “3 ways smartphone usage can distort our perceptions: Habits, theology, and Christian discipleship,” Jason Thacker, and Josh Wester with “Understanding Twitter suspensions and the need for consistent policies,” and Russell Moore with “The Roman Road from Insurrection.” Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Haley Byrd Wilt for a conversation about life and ministry. 

About Haley

Haley Byrd Wilt is an associate editor for The Dispatch. She previously reported on Congress for CNN and The Weekly Standard. Haley and her husband Evan live in Washington, D.C. You can connect with her on Twitter: @byrdinator

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  1. Trump becomes first president to be impeached twice
  2. Here are the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump
  3. Here’s what the U.S. Capitol looks like as impeachment is underway
  4. Axios: Next move is the Senate
  5. Multiple resignations in wake of Capitol riot
  6. Capitol Hill police chief resigns, said he requested back-up
  7. US Space Command Headquarters is coming to Huntsville
  8. Air passengers entering the United States will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test, according to the CDC
  9. Coronavirus Immunity May Last Years, Possibly Even Decades, Study Suggests
  10. Covid is raging
  11. Alabama wins national championship
  12. ‘Way Maker’ top 2020 worship song

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By / Jan 12

We begin 2021 with a conversation between Jeff Pickering and Russell Moore about the attack on the U.S. Capitol, and not just that as a lone event but all that led up to it. The constant assault on the truth and reality of the 2020 presidential election, that Joe Biden won and Donald Trump lost, stirred up the worst of partisan passions and led to an unimaginable assault on our democracy and a historic tragedy on Wednesday, January 6.

The interview was hosted as an ERLC webinar on Friday, January 8, 2020.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Jan 8

In this episode, Josh, Brent, and Lindsay discuss the protests and attacks on the US Capitol as a result of the 2020 election results. Lindsay also gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Jordan Wootten with “3 ways smartphone usage can distort our perceptions: Habits, theology, and christian discipleship,” Josh Wester and Jordan Wootten with “Why we need the tenderness of our Savior: An Interview with Dane Ortlund about Gentle and Lowly,” and Jason Thacker with “3 ethical issues in technology to watch for in 2021.”  Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Seth Brown for a conversation about life and ministry. 

About Seth

Seth Brown serves as Executive Editor of the Biblical Recorder, a Baptist news outlet based in Cary, N.C. He lives in Wake Forest with his wife and three children. They are members of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh. You can connect with him on Twitter: @dsethbrown

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  1. Warnock wins Georgia runoff, CNN projects, as control of Senate comes down to Perdue-Ossoff race
  2. Pro-Trump protesters force US Capitol into lockdown as Congress meets to certify 2020 election results
  3. Protesters breach Senate chambers at U.S. Capitol
  4. Trump pledges “orderly transition” after Congress certifies Biden’s win
  5. Exodus begins for White House staff after pro-Trump siege on Capitol

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By / Jan 8

On Wednesday, a group of insurrectionists attempted to disrupt the final step of the Electoral College, the counting of the electoral votes by Congress. As Congress reconvened later that night after the Capitol was cleared by law enforcement, the counting was made officially and declared President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris the winners of the 2020 presidential election. 

Here is what you should know about how the Electoral College process is used to determine the presidential election and why it is an important institution for protecting our republican form of democracy.

What is the Electoral College?

We tend to associate the term “college” with higher education. But in this case, the term refers to a meaning that goes back to the 14th century: an organized association of persons invested with certain powers and rights or engaged in some common duty or pursuit. The Electoral College is thus a process rather than a place. Although the term Electoral College is never used in the Constitution (Article 2, Section 1, Clauses 2 and 3), the electors that choose the president at each election are traditionally called a College.

The Electoral College process consists of the selection of the electors, the meeting of the electors where they vote for president and vice president, and the counting of the electoral votes by Congress.

Where did the Electoral College system come from?

The Electoral College was proposed by James Wilson at the Constitutional Convention as a compromise between those who wanted the Congress to choose the president and those who believed the election should be decided by the state legislatures. The Framers were generally in agreement that giving the people the power to directly elect the president was a terrible idea, but that decision was changed with the 12th Amendment (Amendment XII) to the United States Constitution, which provides the procedure for electing the president and vice president. 

Who decides how many electoral votes each state receives?

Each state receives an electoral vote for each U.S. senator (two per state) plus one for each Congressional representative. Since the number of representatives is based on population, the state’s electoral votes are also based on the number of people who reside within a state. 

Currently, the Electoral College includes 538 electors, 535 for the total number of congressional members, and three who represent Washington, D.C. (for the purposes of the Electoral College, the District of Columbia is treated like a state).

When U.S. citizens went to the polls on Nov. 3, 2020, they were voting on electors who would cast a vote for their preferred candidate (Donald Trump, Joe Biden, etc.) The voters in each individual state thus chose electors to serve in the Electoral College.

How do these electoral votes decide who becomes president?

On the Monday following the second Wednesday in December (which fell on Dec. 14, 2020 for this year), the electors of each state meet in their respective state capitals to cast the official votes for president and vice president. 

The governor for each individual state then verifies the count and issues the Certificates of Ascertainment and the Certificates of Vote. These votes are then sealed and sent to the president of the Senate (the current Vice President, Mike Pence), who will open and read the votes on Jan. 6 in the presence of both houses of Congress. The Certificates from all 50 states and the District of Columbia are opened, presented, and recorded in alphabetical order.

The president of the Senate then announces the results of the vote and calls for any objections. To be recognized, any objections must have been submitted in writing and be signed by at least one member of the House and one senator. If an objection is recognized, the House and Senate withdraw to their respective chambers to consider the merits of any objections, following the process set out in 3 U.S.C. §15. For the objection to be recognized, both chambers must agree to it by a simple majority vote. If they do not both agree, the original electoral votes are counted with no changes.

Even after the insurrectionists attacked the Capitol building, six Republicans in the Senate and 121 Republicans in the House objected to certifying Arizona’s electoral outcome, and seven Senate Republicans and 138 House Republicans objected to certifying Pennsylvania’s electoral outcome. Those objections were overwhelmingly rejected by the other members of Congress. 

After all the votes are recorded and counted, the president of the Senate declares which persons, if any, have been elected president and vice president of the United States. Because of the riot, Vice President Mike Pence was not able to formally announce President-elect Joe Biden as the winner until just after 3:40 a.m. on Thursday. 

The president-elect and vice president-elect take the Oath of Office and will be sworn into office exactly two weeks later, at noon on Jan. 20.

Who are these electors?

Since the political parties choose electors, they tend to be partisan political activists. The Constitution doesn’t have any requirements other than specifications for who cannot be an elector: a representative or senator, a high-ranking U.S. official in a position of “trust or profit,” or anyone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the United States.

Do the electors have to vote for the candidate who received the most votes in their state?

No, the elector is free to cast his vote for anyone he or she chooses. In fact, there have been times when electors have voted contrary to the will of the people—and it’s entirely Constitutional. Anyone who votes against their state’s choice is known as a “faithless elector” and essentially ruins any future they might have had with their political party. In the history of the process, only about 156 faithless electors cast their vote for another person other than the candidate they were expected to choose.)

However, states can pass laws against faithless electors. Currently, 33 states plus the District of Columbia require electors to vote for a pledged candidate, though about half (16 plus DC) do not have  any penalty or any mechanism to prevent the deviant vote from counting as cast. Five states have some type of penalty and 14 states provide for the vote to be canceled and the elector replaced. The Supreme Court upheld the legitimacy of such laws in the 1952 case Ray v. Blair, and the 2020 case, Chiafalo v. Washington

How many electoral votes are needed to win?

A presidential candidate must receive a majority (270 of the 538 eligible) in order to win the election. Joe Biden’s electoral win over Donald Trump was 306-232, the same margin Trump won over Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

Could Vice President Pence have rejected the election results?

On Tuesday, Jan. 5—a day before the counting of the electoral votes by Congress—President Trump tweeted, “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” 

It’s unclear why the president made this claim since neither the Constitution nor any other federal law give the vice president such authority. The 12th Amendment merely states that, “The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.” The other relevant law is the Electoral Control Act of 1887, which also does not mention any role for the vice president in resolving electoral disputes.

Vice President Pence issued a letter saying he recognized the limitations of his role. “It is my considered judgment,” wrote Pence, “that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”

Additionally, no state legislature has sought to change their state’s vote counts and no governor has claimed their state’s results were based on fraud or voting irregularities, as Trump has claimed. 

Why does the Electoral College matter?

For much of human history, the dominant legal principle was rex lex—“the king is law.” In the 1600s, though, that view was subverted, mostly by Christian thinkers like Samuel Rutherford, who claimed lex rex—“the law is king.” Since then most Western governments have adopted the principle that the rule of law, rather than the arbitrary diktats of government officials, should govern a nation. 

For 224 years—since John Adams took office in 1797—there has been a peaceful transition of power between presidents of the United States. That record is due, in no small part, to our reliance on the rule of law as applied to the Electoral College. 

While an attempt was made on Wednesday to disrupt and usurp that process, the eventual outcome revealed that the Electoral College remains a robust institution. But it also revealed that Americans—and especially Christians in America—need to be vigilant to protect the rule of law from mob rule.

By / Nov 6

In this episode, Lindsay also gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Jordan Wootten with “3 ways Christians can mend the political rural-suburban divide,” Josh Wester with :Why would Christians support religious freedom? Learning from early Christian leaders,” and Marissa Postell with “What should we do with the fear we feel in 2020? Trusting God in the midst of pandemics and politics.” Also in this episode Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss all the details surrounding the 2020 election and the results still coming in. 

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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 / Oct 30

On Tuesday, Americans will go to the polls to finish casting their ballots for the 2020 election. But while that will complete the process for many of the offices they are voting for (such as for Senators or state legislatures), it is merely the first step in the Electoral College process that is used to elect the President and Vice President of the United States. Here is what you should know about that process.

What is the Electoral College?

Although the term “Electoral College” is never used in the Constitution (Article 2, Section 1, Clauses 2 and 3), the electors that choose the President at each election are traditionally called a College (meaning a group of people organized toward a common goal). The Electoral College was proposed by James Wilson, a leading constitutional lawyer among the Founding Fathers, at the Constitutional Convention. Wilson’s plan was offered as a compromise between those who wanted the Congress to choose the president and those who believed the election should be decided by the state legislatures. The Framers were generally in agreement against giving the people the power to directly elect the president.

What amendments to the U.S. Constitution affect the Electoral College?

There have been only two amendments to the constitution involving the Electoral College. The 12th Amendment specifies that electors must cast distinct votes for the president and vice president, rather than electoral votes for two candidates. The 23rd Amendment gives this District of Columbia voting rights equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a state, but in no event more than the least populous state (D.C. currently has three electoral votes).

Who decides how many electoral votes each state receives?

Each state receives an electoral vote for each U.S. Senator (two per state) plus one for each Congressional representative. Since the number of representatives is based on population, the state’s electoral votes are also based on the number of people who reside within a state. Currently, the Electoral College includes 538 electors, 535 for the total number of congressional members (435 in the House of Representatives and 100 in the Senate), and the three electors who represent Washington, D.C.

How do electoral votes decide who becomes President?

On the Monday following the second Wednesday in December (for 2020 election that will be December 14), the electors of each state meet in their respective state capitals to cast the official votes for President and Vice President. These votes are then sealed and sent to the president of the Senate (the current Vice President), who will open and read the votes on January 6th in the presence of both houses of Congress. The winner is sworn into office exactly two weeks later, at noon January 20.

Who are these electors?

The political party of the state’s popular vote-winning candidate designates its electors.

Since the political parties choose electors, they tend to be partisan political activists. The Constitution doesn’t have any requirements other than specifications for who cannot be an elector: A Representative or Senator, a high-ranking U.S. official in a position of “trust or profit,” or anyone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S.

Do the electors have to vote for the candidate who received the most votes in their state?

No. According to the Constitution (and a recent Supreme Court decision), the elector is free to cast his vote for anyone he or she chooses. In fact, there have been about 156 times when electors have voted contrary to the will of the people in their state, making them a “faithless elector.” Faithless electors, however, have never changed an election outcome. Anyone who votes against their state’s choice essentially ruins any future they might have had with their political party.

How many electoral votes are needed to win the election?

A Presidential candidate must receive a majority of the electoral votes (270 of the 538 eligible) in order to win the election. If no one receives a majority then the decision is made by the House of Representatives with each state delegation receiving one vote to cast for the three candidates who received the most electoral votes. This has happened twice in our nation’s history with the House choosing Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr and John Quincy Adams being selected over Andrew Jackson.

Wouldn’t relying on the popular vote be a better system?

Not necessarily. The main argument in favor of the Electoral college is that it protects federalism, and allows smaller states to have an influence on the choice of president. This also requires presidential candidates to take into consideration regional preferences. Without the Electoral College, California, Texas, Florida, and New York would likely determine the outcome of every election.

The popular vote is subject to types of fraud that don’t apply to the Electoral College system (except perhaps in swing states). Political parties, for instance, have no incentive to “run up the vote” when their candidate is going to take their state anyway, so they are less likely to resort to direct fraud. An effect of this potential benefit, though, is makes it virtually impossible for a third-party candidate to ever be elected.