After being glued to our televisions, radios and phones for over twenty-four hours trying to dissect and understand what was happening with the 2020 United States Presidential election, it was a breath of fresh air to welcome Professor David Canon to the Rotary stage to help put things into perspective and answer so many nagging questions that many of us had had on our minds for years – and other questions that had arisen only minutes before the presentation began (Question: Will Wisconsin have a recount? Answer: Perhaps, but an election recount has never shifted a result where the vote margin was over 20,000 votes, which was the case in Wisconsin at the time of the presentation).
However, Professor Canon reminded us, no election is over until every vote is counted and states laws in twenty-two states allow vote counting after actual Election Day (so long as ballots are post-marked by Election Day). Why the vast difference in voting procedure throughout the country? Why not put together a unified federal system so that everyone in the country knows the deadlines, guidelines and procedures for voting? Wouldn’t that help to clear up a lot of voter confusion leading up to and throughout our election days? The answer is yes, surely it would, but our Constitution mandates a federal system of government whereby each individual State legislature is tasked with determining the manner in which electoral votes are determined and the time, manner and place of its State’s elections. So until the Constitution itself is amended, the discretion and power to direct elections will always remain with each individual state.
As the sun set on Election Day and the country entered election night, then woke up in the morning and turned the news back on – one thing was very clear – the polls seemed to have read things wrong just as they did in 2016. Professor Canon opined that the polls looked to be off in the same manner to which they were off in the last presidential election. While only time will tell as analysts dig down into the cause of this, Professor Canon pointed out that the same pollsters were spot on in other elections that were non-presidential, such as the 2018 elections – when the polls were spot on. Professor Canon posited that one reason may have been what is being referred to as “shy” Trump voters – that is, voters who tended to shy away from pollsters for one reason or another. It’s difficult to force someone to answer a poll and if answers are non-responsive or evaded, the pollsters cannot ever get an accurate read on that portion of the population.
Professor Canon ended his presentation with something that we can all keep an eye on over the coming years and elections – that is, “ranked choice” voting – which is already being used in many local elections. Through ranked choice voting, a voter can rank their choices of candidates without the traditional fear of “wasting” a vote if they do not vote for the top democrat or republican candidate. In ranked choice, a voter can vote for a libertarian or independent candidate, for example, knowing that if that candidate does not gather a certain number of votes, the voter’s vote is reallocated to their second choice candidate. This method could prove to be a truer expression of voter preferences and may be an excellent way of letting voters really express their views at the ballot.
Our thanks to UW-Madison Prof. David Canon for his timely presentation this week and to Jessica Giesen for preparing this review article. If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/Shqk2Z7acx8?t=573. We also thank WisEye for co-streaming our meeting this week.