Election 2020 — Patience is the Watchword

Election 2020 — Patience is the Watchword

Two days after polls closed in the 2020 U.S. elections, ballots are still being counted in a number of states and the results are too close to call for President and some congressional races.  Patience is the watchword as everyone sits on tenterhooks to see if January 20, 2021 will be inauguration day for a new President Biden or a second term for President Trump. The congressional landscape turned out much better for Republicans than almost anyone imagined and control of the Senate may not be determined until January.

Going in, pollsters and pundits knew the presidential race would be neck-and-neck, but many thought Democrats would pick up a fair number of seats in the House and had a solid chance of regaining control of the Senate.

Two days later, while Democrats still control the House, they appear to have lost five seats instead of picking up any, narrowing their margin instead of expanding it.

Rep. José Serrano (D-NY), who is retiring at the end of this Congress.

From a space policy standpoint, the biggest change in the House due to election outcomes is the loss of Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK) who chaired the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee’s space subcommittee. She is a strong NASA supporter, although whoever succeeds her in that position likely will be as well. The other key space members of House SS&T were reelected.

A more significant change could result from retirements: Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), and Rep. José Serrano (D-NY) and Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN), chairmen of House appropriations subcommittees that fund NASA and NOAA, and Defense, respectively. The chairwoman of the full committee, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), also retired.

Who fills those appropriations seats, in particular, could have a significant effect on space programs especially in the era of a $3 trillion deficit. It will be challenging to say the least to balance the need to fund government programs to protect jobs versus even more deficit spending.

In the Senate, most races where Democrats thought they had a chance of gaining ground were won by their Republican incumbents.  At the moment, only two Republicans (Cory Gardner of Colorado and Martha McSally of Arizona, although McSally has not conceded yet) and one Democrat (Doug Jones of Alabama) lost their seats.

Currently the Senate has 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats (including 2 Independents who usually vote with Democrats).  For the races that have been called for the incoming class, the split is 48 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and four undecided.

Two of those are in Georgia where both Senate seats are in contention because Sen. Kelly Loeffler was appointed to fill the remainder of Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term after he resigned for medical reasons. She is trying to get elected this time and is battling Democrat Raphael Warnock. Neither received 50 percent of the vote. Under Georgia law that means there will be a runoff election between them on January 5.  The other Georgia Senate race, between Republican incumbent David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff, may also be headed to a runoff, though that is not certain yet.

The other two are Alaska and North Carolina. Incumbent Republicans Dan Sullivan and Tom Tillis are leading, but not enough for the races to be called in their favor yet.

It may be January, after the Georgia runoff (or runoffs) before it is clear which party controls the Senate.  If it ends up at 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, the Vice President, who is also the President of the Senate, becomes the tie-breaker, so whichever party controls the White House would control the Senate as well.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who lost his reelection race.

From a space policy perspective, the biggest changes will be the losses of Gardner, who sits on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and McSally, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (if her loss is certified).  Their successors are former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and former astronaut Mark Kelly, respectively. Whether they will be assigned to those committees or not remains to be seen.  Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), another strong space supporter who sits on Senate Commerce, was in a close race, but won.

In the presidential race, so far Biden has over 72 million votes versus 68.5 million for Trump according to CBS News.

But it is the electoral college that matters.  As highlighted most recently four years ago when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but lost the election, the presidency is determined through the electoral college system.  Voters choose delegates to the electoral college and those “electors” determine the outcome by representing how their states voted. The 50 states and the District of Columbia have different numbers of electors, from three in the least populous jurisdictions like Alaska to 55 in California.

The winning candidate must get at least 270 of the 538 electoral college votes.

The news organizations that “call” the races, meaning they project winners and losers based on the votes that have been counted and whether those not yet counted could affect the outcome, disagree over whether Biden won Arizona or not.  The Associated Press (AP) and Fox News both concluded yesterday that Biden won, but CNN, NBC, CBS and ABC say it is too close to call.

If Arizona’s 11 electoral college votes are included in Biden’s total, he has 264 and needs just six more. Otherwise he needs 17.  President Trump has 213 or 214 depending on one in Maine that some outlets have called for him, but others have not.

With Alaska, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and possibly Arizona still in contention, and President Trump demanding a recount in at least one state (Wisconsin) and filing lawsuits in others, either candidate could be the winner.

Despite ongoing rhetoric to the contrary, there is no requirement to determine the outcome of the election on election day. In fact, the electors do not even meet until December and a joint session of Congress formally counts the electors’ votes and declares the results in early January.

Every state has its own election laws and procedures. Some allow ballots postmarked by election day to arrive many days later. The end of the vote counting period also is determined by state law. Whether recounts are permitted or required, and if so under what circumstances and timelines, also varies by state.

The only requirement is that the electors meet on December 14, 2020 to cast their votes. January 6, 2021 is the day Congress meets to count those votes and formally declare the results.

Hopefully it will be clear long before then who won, but officially those are the deadlines. The outcome of the contentious Bush-Gore contest was determined on December 12, 2000 following a Supreme Court ruling regarding a Florida recount.  Like Hillary Clinton, Gore won the popular vote, but lost in the electoral college.

Patience everyone.

As for space policy, which presidential candidate wins may not make much difference. Human space exploration, space and earth science, space technology development, a strong national security space program, government-industry partnerships, and international cooperation have bipartisan support. Trump has been trying to kill several NASA earth science and space science programs, plus NASA’s education programs, throughout his Administration, but Congress has rejected those attempts on a bipartisan basis each year.

The biggest threat to space activities may be that $3 trillion deficit, not which party occupies the White House or controls the House or Senate.

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