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How Are Electoral College Electors Chosen?

October 21, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Despite the important role of the Electoral College, the Constitution doesn’t say much about the electors themselves.

Delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 argued over a lot of things, but one of their biggest debates was over how the United States should elect its president.

Some among the Founding Fathers believed that direct nationwide election by the people would be the most democratic method. Others argued that a straightforward popular vote was unfair, as it would give too much power to larger, more populous states. They also worried that public opinion could be too easily manipulated, and feared direct election might lead to a tyrannical leader determined to grab absolute power for himself.

The result of this struggle was the Electoral College, the system by which the American people vote not for president and vice president, but for a smaller group of people, known as electors. These electors then cast their votes directly for president and vice president, at a meeting held several weeks after the general election.

There are 538 total electors, including one for each U.S. senator and representative and three electors representing the District of Columbia, and presidential candidates need a majority of 270 votes to win the White House. Most of the time—but not always—the winner of the Electoral College is also the winner of the popular vote.

READ MORE: What Is the Electoral College and Why Was It Created?

How Electors Are Chosen

Elector Melba McDow, along with other electors, takes the oath of office as the Electoral College meets at the Texas Capitol in Austin, 2008

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution states that electors can’t be a member of Congress, or hold federal office, but left it up to individual states to figure out everything else. According to the 14th Amendment, ratified after the Civil War, electors also can’t be anyone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid or comfort to its enemies.”

The Constitution gave each state a number of electors equal to the combined total of representatives and senators who represent that state in the U.S. Congress. State legislatures are responsible for choosing electors, but how they do this varies from state to state. Until the mid-1800s, it was common for many state legislatures to simply appoint electors, while other states …read more


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The Stunning Survival Story of Ernest Shackleton and His Endurance Crew

October 21, 2020 in History

By Kieran Mulvaney

The men on the British expedition to Antarctica endured entrapment, hunger, frigid weather, angry seas—and near madness.

All year, the ship had been trapped, the ice pushing and pinching the hull, the wood howling in protest. Finally, on October 27, 1915, a new wave of pressure rippled across the ice, lifting the ship’s stern and tearing off its rudder and its keel. Freezing water began to rush in.

“She’s going, boys,” came the cry. “It’s time to get off.”

From the moment Ernest Shackleton and his crew aboard the British expedition ship, HMS Endurance had become immobilized 10 months earlier, they had been preparing for this moment. Now, those on board removed their last remaining belongings from the ship and set up camp on the ice. Twenty-five days later, what remained of the wreck convulsed once more, and the Endurance disappeared beneath the ice forever.

Endurance Is Locked in by Ice

Officers and crew of the Endurance pose under the bow of the ship at Weddell Sea Base during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914-17, led by Ernest Shackleton.

Endurance had left South Georgia for Antarctica on December 5, 1914, carrying 27 men (plus one stowaway, who became ship’s steward), 69 dogs, and a tomcat erroneously dubbed Mrs. Chippy. The goal of expedition leader Shackleton, who had twice fallen short—once agonizingly so—of reaching the South Pole, was to establish a base on Antarctica’s Weddell Sea coast.

From there a small party, including himself, would set out on the first crossing of the continent, ultimately arriving at the Ross Sea, south of New Zealand, where another group would be waiting for them, having laid depots of food and fuel along the way.

Two days after leaving South Georgia, Endurance entered the pack ice—the barrier of thick sea ice that stands guard around the Antarctic continent. For several weeks, the ship poked and prodded its way through leads in the ice, gingerly making its way south; but on January 18, a northerly gale pressed the pack hard against the land and pushed the floes tight against each other. Suddenly, there was no way forward, nor any way back. Endurance was beset—in the words of one of the crew, Thomas Orde-Lees, “frozen like an almond in the middle of a chocolate bar.”

History’s Greatest Mysteries premieres Saturday, November 14 at 9/8c on HISTORY.

They had been within a day’s sailing of their landing …read more


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Trump's '60 Minutes' interview is looking like a disaster before it even airs

October 20, 2020 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick

Both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, along with their running mates, are slated to appear on Sunday in the upcoming episode of the CBS news and interview show “60 Minutes.” But reporting from CNN and Trump’s own comments made it clear on Tuesday that his interview with the network did not go to his liking.

“I am pleased to inform you that, for the sake of accuracy in reporting, I am considering posting my interview with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes, PRIOR TO AIRTIME! This will be done so that everybody can get a glimpse of what a FAKE and BIASED interview is all about,” Trump said in a tweet on Tuesday evening. “Everyone should compare this terrible Electoral Intrusion with the recent interviews of Sleepy Joe Biden!”

Trump also released a brief clip of “60 Minutes” host Lesley stahl, trying to shame her for not wearing a mask:

Presumably, Stahl wasn’t wearing a mask during her onscreen interview, and had yet to put one on in the clip Trump posted. It was an odd attempt to shame her, given his repeated statements casting doubt on and diminishing the importance of mask use during the pandemic. It may indicate that mask-wearing was a subject of a dispute between them during the interview.

Trump’s claim about “Electoral Intrusion” reflects a bizarre trend in conservative rhetoric. Foreign election interference was discussed extensively following the 2016 campaign because of Russia’s efforts to meddle in the democratic process. But trying to turn that idea around and accuse critics of Trump and the GOP of domestic election interference makes no sense, because Americans and American media are expected to be a part of the electoral process.

CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins published a report Tuesday that also pointed to a disastrous interview.

Collins said that while CBS was at the White House to conduct the interview, Trump “abruptly” ended the discussion after 45 minutes. He reportedly said they had enough material to use for the show. He then declined to reappear on the show along with Vice President Mike Pence for another segment, as had been planned.

Trump’s tweets suggest that he was not happy with …read more


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How Barry Goldwater Brought the Far Right to Center Stage in the 1964 Presidential Race

October 20, 2020 in History

By Suzanne McGee

Despite a landslide loss, the Arizona Republican ignited his party’s ultra-conservative wing for decades to come.

When the far-right Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater ran for the American presidency in 1964, he never even pretended to woo voters in the political center. “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” declared Goldwater in his speech accepting the Republican Party’s nomination at its 1964 convention. “And…moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

That fall, incumbent Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson crushed Goldwater in a historic landslide, carrying more than 60 percent of the vote. Goldwater won only his home state and five deep South states that had long leaned Democratic, but were struggling with the party’s actions supporting civil rights.

Goldwater was, without doubt, a divisive figure: Democratic detractors like Martin Luther King. Jr. and then-California Governor Pat Brown had compared his blunt, pull-no-punches rhetoric to Hitler. Within his own party, moderates responded with varying degrees of dismay or horror to his policies. On the eve of the 1964 GOP convention, the Republican governor of Pennsylvania, William Scranton, publicly released a letter he had written to Goldwater decrying the latter’s “crazy quilt” of “dangerous positions,” including his casual attitude toward the use of nuclear weapons.

But while his own bid for the White House flamed out, the embers of Goldwater’s political philosophy—championing small government and individual freedoms—would ignite the party’s conservative wing for decades to come.

READ MORE: What Are Swing States and How Did They Become So Critical?

Goldwater Offered Stark Contrast to Johnson’s Big Government Policies

1964 Republican presidential candidate Senator Berry Goldwater (R) and his running mate William Miller, a New York congressman

Goldwater, who traded running his family’s department store for a career in politics, eventually served five terms in the Senate starting in 1952. When running for president, the rough-edged, charismatic Westerner overcame his party’s old guard by galvanizing a grassroots coalition of businesspeople, Southerners, Midwesterners and libertarians who felt sidelined by the GOP. It was their values, not those of wealthy Eastern elites, that should prevail in the Republican platform, he argued as he rallied to defeat primary rivals like New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and the Boston Brahmin Henry Cabot Lodge. “Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea,” he famously told the press …read more


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How Biden flubbed a key town hall foreign policy question

October 20, 2020 in Blogs

By Medea Benjamin

Toward the end of Joe Biden’s October 15 town hall session, a Trump supporter asked Biden the only foreign policy question of the night. “So peace is breaking out all over the world,” the questioner claimed. “Our troops are coming home. Serbia is talking to Kosovo. And the Arabs and Israelis are talking peace, which I believe is a modern-day miracle, what’s going on. Does President Trump’s foreign policy deserve some credit?”

This question encapsulated all the smoke and mirrors that Trump has used to confuse the public and obscure his broken promises to end America’s wars, bring our troops home and build a more peaceful world. This was a fantastic opportunity for Biden to clarify the reality of Trump’s abysmal record and explain what he would do instead. But he didn’t. Instead he endorsed some of the most deceptive elements of Trump’s propaganda, dropped some clangers of his own and, in a classic Freudian slip, laid bare his own enduring commitment to American imperialism.

In response to the questioner’s designation of Israel’s deal with the UAE and Bahrain as a “modern-day miracle,” Biden simply rolled over and said, “I complement the president on the deal with Israel.” What he should have said was something like this:

“The UAE and Bahrain are ruled by dictators with absolute, despotic power who represent neither their own people nor the Arab world, let alone the people of Palestine—who gained nothing from these deals. Since these countries were not at war with Israel to begin with, these accords have nothing to do with peace. They are more about flooding the Middle East with even more U.S. weapons and forming new military alliances against Iran. Yes, we need peace deals between Israel and its Arab neighbors, but they must be deals that truly bring peace, end Israel’s illegal military occupations and advance the equal rights of Palestinians and Israelis.”

Biden didn’t respond to the mention of the White House meeting between Serbia and Kosovo, but he could have explained that it had to be postponed when President Hashim Thaci of Kosovo was indicted for war crimes by an international court at The Hague. Thaci is charged with organizing the killing of hundreds of Serbian prisoners of war to sell their internal organs on the international transplant market under cover of NATO …read more


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These Trump voters explain why they finally turned on him — and will now vote for Biden

October 20, 2020 in Blogs

By Alex Henderson

With the presidential election only two weeks away, the media will be paying close attention to what swing voters have to say. Daniel Marans, a HuffPost reporter, spoke to two swing voters in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania who favored President Donald Trump in 2016 but are voting for former Vice President Joe Biden this year — and Marans asked them why they are rejecting the president now.

Michael Scott, a chef, and food service worker Lee Kuczynski went from voting for President Barack Obama to supporting Trump four years ago. When Marans asked them why they “switched” to Biden, Kuczynski replied that Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic “turned me off.” Kuczynski, pointing to the protective face mask she was wearing, noted that wearing a mask is one of the most important things Americans can do during the pandemic — and Trump, she lamented, “is not for it.”

Another factor, Kuczynski told Marans, was “the way [Trump] talks about our military.” And Scott agreed with her reasons for supporting Biden.

When Marans asked Kuczynski what she thought of Biden “as a person,” she responded, “Compassionate. Very compassionate. I think he’s a people person. I think he’s here for us.”

Marans also asked Kuczynski what she “saw in Trump the first time,” and the Pennsylvania voter explained, “I felt that he was something new. He was a businessman. And if a businessman can run a business, why can’t he run our government?”

But now, Kuczynski believes that voting for Trump in 2016 “was a big mistake.”

Kuczynski also cited Biden’s support for universal health care and protecting coverage for pre-existing conditions as one of her reasons for supporting Biden. The voter told Marans, “I’m a diabetic. I have high blood pressure. And now, I’m dealing with the coronavirus. And I pay for my health care through where I work, and it’s not cheap. It’s very expensive.”

Watch the clip below:

…read more


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Trump's election plot is backfiring — but he still has one more shot to pull it off

October 20, 2020 in Blogs

By Amanda Marcotte

Donald Trump’s war on mail-in voting seems, like many of his schemes to steal the election, to be backfiring.

As much as he may publicly deny it, Trump knows he’s unpopular and cannot win a free and fair election. So he has determined that the best way to hang onto power is to keep as many Americans from voting as possible. Since nearly the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has been waging war against mail-in ballots, which many millions of Americans are using this year in order to avoid crowded and unsafe polling places.

Trump has repeatedly and falsely declared, with the help of Attorney General Bill Barr and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, that such ballots are dangerous and fraudulent. He has threatened to use mail-in ballots as an excuse to reject the results of any election he loses. His postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, has been shamelessly taking measures to slow down delivery of the mail. And the Republicans, under Trump’s leadership, have done everything in their power on the state level to keep as many ballots as possible from being cast and counted.

And yet, likely because of the very public nature of Trump’s war on voting, the whole scheme seems to be backfiring. Since he isn’t even hiding what he’s doing, it’s been easy for Democrats to communicate the importance of voting early, to protect votes from Trump’s machinations, without facing a wall of skepticism from the usual suspects in the media.

The result is a wave of early voting unlike we’ve ever seen in the United States. As of Tuesday morning, over more than 31 million Americans have cast their ballots, which amounts to at least 20% of the expected vote total for this election. And that’s with two weeks to go. Americans, or at least those Americans likely to vote for Democrats, clearly understand that Trump is trying to deny them their right to vote — and they’re doing what they can to stop him.

Supporters of democracy secured another win late Monday, when the Supreme Court threw out a Republican challenge to Pennsylvania’s decision to extend the deadline for ballots to be received up to three days after Election Day. That temporary measure was put in to deal with …read more


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How a New Deal Housing Program Enforced Segregation

October 20, 2020 in History

By Becky Little

The FHA refused to insure houses for Black families, or even insure houses in white neighborhoods that were too close to Black ones.

The Great Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s delivered a gut punch to the average American. By 1933, a quarter of Americans were out of work, the national average income had slumped to less than half of what it had been a few years earlier and more than one million Americans faced foreclosure on their homes.

One of the multiple programs a newly-elected Franklin D. Roosevelt established to stimulate the economy offered home-buying aid for Americans—but only white Americans. The Federal Housing Administration, operated through the New Deal’s National Housing Act of 1934, promoted homeownership by providing federal backing of loans—guaranteeing mortgages. But from its inception, the FHA limited assistance to prospective white buyers.

“The FHA had a manual which explicitly said that it was risky to make mortgage loans in predominantly Black areas,” explains Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation who has written about housing segregation in the United States. “And so as a result, the federal subsidy for home ownership went almost entirely to white people.”

Restrictions in Loans Draw Lines Between Neighborhoods

A Black family in a poor section of Washington, D.C., 1937.

The assistance program not only limited recipients to white Americans, it established and then reinforced housing segregation in the United States, effectively drawing lines between white and Black neighborhoods that would persist for generations.

For example, in 1940, the FHA denied insurance to a private builder in Detroit because he intended to construct a housing development near a predominantly Black neighborhood. The FHA only wanted to insure houses in white neighborhoods.

The builder responded by constructing a half-mile long, six-foot high concrete wall between the Black neighborhood and where he planned to build, recounts historian Richard Rothstein in The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Assured that this wall would keep the neighborhoods racially segregated, the FHA then agreed to insure the houses.

A ‘New Deal’—for White Americans

A sign placed across from the Sojourner Truth housing project reads, “We want white tenants in our white community,” in Detroit, Michigan, 1942.

The FHA not only focused its assistance on prospective white home owners, its policies actively sought to insure mortgages in white neighborhoods …read more


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Florida Gov. DeSantis is pushing a last desperate gambit to remove felons from the voter rolls

October 20, 2020 in Blogs

By Alex Henderson

In Florida, the administration of far-right Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is drawing criticism from members of the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations for urging local election officials to remove convicted felons from the voter rolls if they have any unpaid fees or fines.

Anton Marino, deputy legal director of the Florida ACLU, told the Washington Post that the move “looks like an additional effort by the state to intimidate otherwise eligible voters.”

Last week, Maria Matthews, director of the Florida Division of Elections, encouraged local election officials to remove anyone from the rolls if they had a felony conviction and still owed any fees or fines that they hadn’t paid. And a separate memo from Florida Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee’s general counsel urged election staff or law enforcement officers to guard all drop boxes for mail-in voting ballots. Lee, in an official statement, said her office has a duty to identify people who are ineligible to vote and stressed, “The law with respect to legal financial obligations is now clear.”

Patricia Brigham, president of the Florida League of Women Voters, told the Post, “They’re attempting to sow confusion…. The State of Florida doesn’t have a spotless record when it comes to making sure voters have easy access to the polls.”

In 2018, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment that automatically restored the voting rights of convicted felons after their incarceration. But Republicans in the Florida state legislature later passed a law saying that voting rights for Floridians with felony convictions could not be restored until they had paid all fees or fines that they owed — a move that Florida Democrats have attacked as voter suppression and compared to a poll tax.

Florida, which has 29 electoral votes, is among the swing states that reporters will be paying especially close attention to between now and November 3. Polls released this month have been showing the presidential race to be very close in the Sunshine State, where former Vice President Joe Biden has had mostly narrow single-digit leads over President Donald Trump. According to recent polls, Trump is trailing Biden by only 1% (University of North Florida), 2% (St. Pete Polls and Reuters/Ipsos) or 3% (Emerson College).

…read more


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Here's what Bill Barr's DOJ can — and can't — do to disrupt the 2020 race

October 19, 2020 in Blogs

By Independent Media Institute

Attorney General William Barr’s “slavish obedience” to President Trump, including attacking the validity of millions of absentee ballots now being cast in the 2020 general election, prompted a federal prosecutor, Phillip Halpern, to publicly resign on October 14. He is the third to publicly criticize Barr.

“This career bureaucrat [Barr] seems determined to turn our democracy into an autocracy,” wrote Halpern in a San Diego Union-Tribune column. “There is no other honest explanation for Barr’s parroting of the president’s wild and unsupported conspiracy theories regarding mail-in ballots (which have been contradicted by the president’s handpicked FBI director).”

Halpern’s resignation as an assistant U.S. attorney after 36 years at the Department of Justice (DOJ) raises the question of what a politicized DOJ could do to assist Trump’s re-election.

Barr’s “parroting” the false claim that mailed-out—or absentee—ballots are a pathway for large-scale voter fraud was akin to becoming one of the “super-spreaders of disinformation,” as Emily Bazelon discussed in the October 18 New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story. But could the Justice Department intervene in the process where returned absentee ballots are accepted or rejected by local and state election officials, or go further and disrupt the counting of votes? In short, it cannot.

“They really don’t have any authority,” said Justin Levitt, a former deputy assistant attorney general who led the DOJ’s voting rights enforcement in the Obama administration, speaking of administering elections. “The actual disruption, if it is going to come, will come from campaigns or private parties, but not from the DOJ.”

“I know of no federal law that allows the federal government to intervene in a state-based process, under state law, of counting and certifying election results,” said David Becker, who was a senior trial attorney in the DOJ’s Voting Section for seven years, and now runs the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research.

“There is a requirement under federal law that all [election] materials, including ballots, be maintained for 22 months,” Becker said, referring to a 1960s civil rights law that was intended to help prosecutors build voting rights cases. “That is largely for evidence gathering and after-the-fact review, if there might be some issue. That’s actually useful.”

No Authority to Interfere

The Justice Department has no legal authority to intervene in …read more