2020-11-2

What will we know and when will we know it on Tuesday? (Or later?)

By KAANITA IYER, Capital News Service

With record voter turnout, including a high volume of mail-in ballots, and mail delays expected, it is unclear whether we will know who the next president is on election night, experts say.

“I’ve been expecting the unexpected,” said Michael Hanmer, research director at the Center for American Politics and Citizenship, a nonpartisan research center at the University of Maryland, College Park. “I think that’s the best way to work through this because there’s so many different possibilities.”

However, Hanmer told Capital News Service it’s “pretty safe to say” that Democratic nominee Joe Biden is headed for a significant popular vote margin over President Donald Trump. But, similar to 2016, determining the next occupant of the Oval Office is going to come down to the Electoral College - and it's possible this year that may not be settled until some days after Tuesday.

As of Friday morning, nearly 83.5 million early votes were already cast, of which nearly 54 million, or 64.6%, were mailed, according to the University of Florida’s United States Elections Project.

But in many states, including four of eight battleground states — Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — ballots are not allowed to be counted until Election Day.

Twenty-one states, plus the District of Columbia, accept ballots up to 17 days after Election Day. Of these, two are battleground states: Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

New York and Alaska, which accept mail-in ballots 7 and 10 days after Election Day, respectively, have said that they will not report “any mail votes on election night,” according to the New York Times.

In the battleground state of Michigan, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has estimated her count may be completed by Nov. 6, three days after Election Day. Pennsylvania, another battleground, may get the bulk of its votes tallied within a couple of days, according to Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar.

But the nation might not have to wait too long because “we’ll have a lot of information about a couple of really key states (on election night),” particularly Florida and Arizona, where mail-in ballots must be received by Election Day, Hanmer said.

“That might allow us to project forward what’s going to happen in a definitive way,” he said.

“I think really the only state that (Hilary) Clinton won (in 2016) that (Donald) Trump has a shot at is Nevada and it’s a relatively small number of electoral votes, so I don’t think Trump can win without Florida,” Hanmer he said.

While a Biden win in Florida would suggest that he’s going to win in both popular and electoral votes, turning Arizona blue would not make results as clear, according to Hanmer. If Biden gets Arizona, it can foreshadow a national victory by a huge margin or a close race determined by few electoral votes for either candidate, he said.

However, FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast predicts that if Biden wins Florida or Arizona, he has a 99% and 98% chance, respectively, for an Electoral College win.

Hanmer, who also is a government and politics professor at Maryland and an expert for MIT’s Election Data & Science Lab, expects that “we should know a good bit” about Georgia, which has an Election Day deadline for mail-in ballots, and North Carolina, as well.

While North Carolina accepts ballots after Election Day, the state has seen a high volume of early voting. FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver reported that “it’s expected that as much as 80% of the vote there can be announced shortly after polls close.”

If those go to Biden, Hanmer predicts that the country won’t “have to worry as much about what the count is going to be in some of the states that are processing late because I think that will largely solidify things in terms of us having a clear winner."

If Biden wins Georgia, his chances for an electoral win is 99%, while grabbing North Carolina, pushes the probability over 99%, according to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast.

In the case that Georgia and North Carolina do not go to Biden, Hanmer said “we might just have to wait until all the counting is done." Then the results can “really hinge” on Pennsylvania, where “we’re just not going to have solid information on what the result is...for a while because they can’t count or process their ballots until very late," he said.

Trump has repeatedly called for final results to be called on election night, in part due to his distrust in mail-in voting - even though he did it himself this year.

“Big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA. Must have final total on November 3rd,” he tweeted Monday night.

That kind of rhetoric is inappropriate, warned the National Council on Election Integrity, a bipartisan group of former elected officials.

“Our Constitution and our state election laws require us to count every vote, including legally cast absentee votes,” the council said in a statement Wednesday. “Because of an unprecedented number of absentee ballots this year, counting every vote is not likely to be concluded on election night. In some states, thorough vote counting can last weeks, even in the best of times.”

Almost half of returned mail ballots in 19 states that report party registration data, including Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, were from registered Democrats, according to the Elections Project. On the other hand, 60% of Trump supporters told the Pew Research Center in late summer that they would rather vote in person on Election Day.

On election night, this could mean that in states that report mail-in ballots first, initial results may favor Biden. In places that report in-person, day-of votes first, such as most parts of Virginia, Trump may seem to have the lead.

While this pattern in which ballots received post-election favor Democrats is well-established, Walter Shapiro, in an analysis for the Brennan Center for Justice, warns that the pandemic may disrupt this trend “since different demographic groups may be voting by mail.”

In key states, the Republican Party wants to prevent this “blue shift” while Democrats are relying on it. However, research reported by MIT News shows that historically, even “some of the biggest post-Election Day shifts” — the largest being 6.9% in 1968 towards George Wallace in Georgia — have not tipped the outcome of the election.

Yet both parties have fought over mail-in ballot deadlines in the Supreme Court, and such legal back-and-forth, which may continue after Election Day, could further delay results in critical states.

Last week, the Supreme Court denied the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s request to reject ballots if received after Election Day. In a 4-4 decision, the court ruled that the battleground state can accept ballots if received within three days after Election Day. After the party asked the court to reconsider the decision, the justices let their earlier ruling stand.

Also on Wednesday, the Supreme Court backed a lower-court ruling and similarly allowed North Carolina to accept mail-in ballots up to nine days after Election Day, extending the deadline to Nov. 12.

However, an attempt by Wisconsin Democrats to also extend the mail-in ballot deadline by three days to Nov. 6 was first accepted by a federal district court, but then blocked by an appeals court. The Supreme Court voted 5 to 3 on Monday to uphold the appeals court.

Another blow to Democrats came on Thursday when a federal appeals court struck down Minnesota’s plan to accept mail-in ballots up to seven days after election. The key state will now only be able to accept ballots received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

While states can continue contesting mail-in ballot deadlines and bring them to the Supreme Court — which Hanmer told CNS wouldn’t be surprising — “the court sent a pretty strong signal that changing things now, given how deep we are into the process, is unlikely,” he said.

He predicts that legal challenges after the election are “more likely,” and so are anger, disbelief and protests from supporters on both sides.

“It seems very odd to say that about a presidential election in the United States, but there’s a lot of signals that suggests that large portions are not going to accept well the outcome either way,” Hanmer said.

“What people do about that, I think, is a big unknown,” he said. “But it’s something we have to prepare for.”

The National Council on Election Integrity counseled patience and trust: “Every ballot cast in accordance with applicable laws must be counted — that’s the American way. All Americans, including the presidential candidates themselves, have a patriotic duty to be patient as election officials count the votes. Both candidates have a responsibility to remind the country that November 3 is the last day for votes to be cast — not the last day for votes to be counted.”

Halloween’s blue moon is rare and perfect for the moment

By Hunter Britt, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- This year has brought a pandemic, major election and now a rare, blue moon on Halloween.

A blue moon is the second full moon in a calendar month and appears every 2.5 years, according to NASA. A full moon occurs on Halloween every 19 years. A Halloween full moon hasn’t appeared in all time zones since 1944, states the Farmer’s Almanac. 

The blue moon isn’t blue; the term refers to the moon’s timing, not color, NASA said. The blue moon is also known as the hunter’s moon because it provided enough light for hunters to gather food. 

Kali Fillhart, a tarot reader and astrologist, said in a Facebook message that the astrology of 2020 is more “wonky” than just a blue moon on Halloween. There is also a Mercury retrograde that ends on Election Day and a Mars retrograde that ends on Nov. 13. A retrograde describes how a planet can sometimes appear to be traveling backward through the sky, states the Farmer’s Almanac. A Mercury retrograde has a common cultural association with anxiety around miscommunication and blunders. 

“All that to say, astrologers have been talking about the astrology of 2020 for years,” Fillhart said. “We knew it was going to be intense.”

She also said this full blue moon could bring “unwanted reactions” for people, especially since Halloween is a time when “spiritual veils fall.” 

Halloween traces back to the Celtric tradition of Samhain, a festival to celebrate harvest and usher in the coming darker months. The Celts believed the “veil” between the living and the dead was at its thinnest around this time, and they celebrated their deceased ancestors, a tradition also seen in Dia de los Muertos.

Adding to the alignment of a blue moon, Halloween and astrological events, will be Daylight Saving Time on Sunday, when many Americans set their clocks back an hour and it’s darker out earlier. 

While October may have started and ended with a bright, full moon, many Americans have anxiety around the upcoming election and facing winter in a pandemic. The share of voters who expect it will be difficult to vote has more than tripled since 2018, according to the Pew Research Center. Eighty-three percent of voters said this election matters. Fifty percent of voters shared that sentiment in 2000. One in three Americans reported psychological distress during extended periods of social distancing, Pew reported in May. 

Kashaf Ali, a marketing communications and analytics major at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, said in an email that Halloween won’t be any different for her this year, but she acknowledged that the blue moon feels ominous.

“I’ve been social distancing since March and I doubt it’ll be any different this weekend for me,”Ali said. “It’s definitely something to think about how everything’s happening so close together.”

Deneen Tyler, a spiritual wellness practitioner in Richmond, said that the people will be dealing with the energy the blue moon brings this Halloween.

“Full moons are a time of completion,” Tyler said. “It’s a time of releasing, letting go, making peace, honoring what we’ve been through, and saying goodbye in order to close that chapter and let in something new.”

Tyler said that this full blue moon will be in the astrological sign of Taurus on Halloween, and that many people might be wrestling with saying goodbye to different habits and routines, and that could apply to Election Day.

“We’re all collectively dealing with the change, hence the election, the change in the authority of our society,” Tyler said. “We’re resisting change and these alignments are really showing us where we need to release the resistance.”

Fillhart also believes that this Halloween is a time of change and personal reflection.

What does our dark side look like?” she said. “Halloween is all about confronting monsters. What monsters are we constantly fighting everyday?”

While the moon will be in Taurus on Halloween, it will be in Gemini on the night of the election, opening up new possibilities. Tyler said that, depending on the choices individuals make in dealing with the outcome of the election, people could feel “very confused” or “very inspired.” Ultimately she said people will have to choose how to direct that emotion.

“It is our choice which way we fuel,” Tyler said. “You can fuel the confusion and create more of it, or you can fuel the inspiration.”

The last blue moon on Halloween in all time zones ushered in the victory of a blue candidate. Incumbent Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Republican Thomas E. Dewey, going on to win a historic fourth term in the 1944 election.

Tyler said that unlike astronomy that people can witness, astrology occurs within. Different factors pertaining to celestial bodies can influence people in different ways, but individuals have to choose how they react and “the seeds they plant” on their own.

“This moon this weekend and all of these high energy, highly spiritual days, all they’re doing is opening the road for us to make a choice of which way to go,” she said. “It doesn’t dictate to us what will happen; it doesn’t dictate to us what we need to do.”

“BOOTS TO ROOTS” VIRTUAL CONFERENCE IS NOV. 12

Virginia State University’s (VSU) Small Farm Outreach Program (SFOP) and the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) are hosting “Boots to Roots,” a virtual conference to help military veterans explore farming as a second career. The conference will be held Nov. 12 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. It is designed to teach veterans who are new or beginning farmers about resources and grant opportunities available through the USDA and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Participants will also learn about financial planning, creating effective business plans and developing successful farm production practices. A virtual tour of Slade Farms in Surry, Virginia is included.
 
“Whether veterans are thinking about farming or have been farming a few years, there’s a lot of valuable information they can learn about production and about ensuring their operations are profitable and sustainable,” said Tony Edwards, an SFOP agricultural management agent who specializes in helping military veterans and beginning farmers. The conference is open to veterans as well as military personnel who may be considering farming after retirement. To register, visit http://www.ext.vsu.edu/calendar, and click on the event. After registering, a zoom link will be emailed to participants.

 
Keynote speaker for the conference is Willie Hines, chief operating officer of the Farmer Veteran Coalition. Dr. Jewel H. Bronaugh, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, will also present at the conference.
 
Farming is a good career choice for veterans because it allows them to support their communities with the same passion they supported their country, Edwards added. “There’s a need for veterans who farm to come together to collaborate, commiserate, exchange ideas and learn from what others are doing in farming and agriculture.”
 
If you are a person with a disability and desire any assistive devices, services or other accommodations to participate in this activity, please contact the Small Farm Outreach Program office at smallfarm@vsu.edu or call (804) 524-3292 / TDD (800) 828-1120 during business hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to discuss accommodations five days prior to the event
 
Extension is a joint program of Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and state and local governments. Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, veteran status, or any other basis protected by law. An equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.

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