Dem 47
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Ties 1
GOP 52
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: AZ NV
GOP pickups vs. 2012: FL IN MO ND

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Nelson Concedes

Florida concluded its second recount on Sunday, this one done by hand rather than by machine. Although Gov. Rick Scott's (R-FL) lead shrank a little, he was still ahead of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) by 10,033 votes. Nelson, having played all the cards in his hand and come up short, accepted the result and conceded. This will presumably mark the end of the 76-year-old's long career in public service.

The race was hugely expensive, with over $100 million spent on TV ads attacking Nelson. Scott raised $68 million, swamping Nelson's $27 million. That seems very impressive, although the majority of that $68 million came from one particularly enthusiastic supporter, a very wealthy fellow named Rick Scott. His spending in this race came close to the $70 million he spent on his last race, for governor. Many outside groups also spent heavily in the race, where the key issues were guns and the environment. Scott has said that he and Donald Trump are "muy buenos amigos," but also that he will speak up when he disagrees with the President. So, his plan is apparently to hug the Donald close, except when he's holding the Donald at arm's length. We shall see how that works out. At this point, every Senate race has been called except the runoff in Mississippi on Nov. 28 (see below). (V)

Republicans Are Concerned about the Mississippi Runoff

On Nov. 27, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) and former agriculture secretary Mike Espy (D) will have a runoff. Normally, any Republican can beat any Democrat in Mississippi, but some Republicans are beginning to worry about the race a little bit, even though Hyde-Smith is white and Espy is black.

The problem stems from Hyde-Smith's announced willingness to sit in the front row at a public hanging. Everyone in Mississippi understands very well that a public hanging means an angry mob of white people lynching a black man. The trouble with that remark is that it may galvanize blacks to come out and vote for Espy and it may also encourage suburban women to do so as well. All Mississippi Republicans are keenly aware that Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) was the unexpected winner of a special election in Alabama last year, so they are not taking any chances this time. The RNC has sent over two dozen staffers to Mississippi to help Hyde-Smith and the NRSC made a $700,000 ad buy in the state last week. Donald Trump plans to hold rallies in Tupelo and Biloxi the day before the runoff. In other words, the Republicans are not going to be caught by surprise this time.

Espy will also get some outside help. The Democratic Senate Majority PAC has reserved $500,000 worth of TV time. Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris (CA) and Cory Booker (NJ) are going to show up today to help gin up the black vote.

Although Hyde-Smith and Espy were within half a point of each other on Nov. 6, 17% of the vote went to Republican firebrand Chris McDaniel. Many of his voters strongly dislike Hyde-Smith, thinking that she isn't conservative enough. Some will no doubt stay home on Nov. 27, but others are likely to hold their noses and vote for her anyway to prevent a black Democrat from winning. Turnout is everything, but Hyde-Smith is still strongly favored. (V)

Trump Slams McRaven

Adm. William McRaven (ret.), the man who oversaw the successful bin Laden raid, is not such a fan of Donald Trump. He wrote a scathing op-ed for the New York Times about Trump, and has also sat for more than one interview on the subject. The Admiral's primary concerns are: (1) The President's hostility to the media, and (2) His punitive revocation of critics' security clearances. McRaven has described both of these behaviors as "undemocratic."

Needless to say, Trump is no fan of McRaven, either. The President was interviewed by Fox News (of course), and was asked about the Admiral's critical comments. The Donald dismissed McRaven as a "Hillary Clinton backer," and proceeded to denigrate him and his service:

OK, he's a Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama-backer, and frankly ... wouldn't it have been nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that? Wouldn't it have been nice? You know, living -- think of this -- living in Pakistan, beautifully in Pakistan.

There is just so much with Trump that is remarkable. And by that, we really mean "mind-boggling." It is common for would-be presidents and governors and members of Congress to talk about how easy the job is before they do it. Then, they invariably learn that maybe it's not so easy after all. Well, invariably until Trump came along. He has sat at that desk for almost two years now, and he knows how tough it is to be president. He's also demonstrated that fact for the rest of us by accomplishing very little of the agenda he ran upon. And yet, he continues to criticize how poorly Barack Obama, and George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton did, and with a straight face. The reality of Donald Trump must be a fascinating place in which to exist.

Anyhow, McRaven quickly responded to the attack upon him:

I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else. I am a fan of President Obama and President George W. Bush, both of whom I worked for. I admire all presidents, regardless of their political party, who uphold the dignity of the office and who use that office to bring the nation together in challenging times. I stand by my comment that the President's attack on the media is the greatest threat to our democracy in my lifetime. When you undermine the people's right to a free press and freedom of speech and expression, then you threaten the Constitution and all for which it stands.

McRaven was not the only military-related subject that came up, either. Chris Wallace, who conducted the interview for Fox, also asked about the fact that Trump—despite proclaiming himself a big supporter of the military—has not once visited troops in the field since taking office. This is a significant departure from the dozen or so men who immediately preceded him, nearly all of whom made a point of dropping in on the troops from time to time (since World War II, the only exceptions are Harry S. Truman and the three fellows who served while there was no war underway, namely JFK, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter). In any event, Trump—the man who golfs 2-3 times a week, and has whole days full of "executive time"—responded to Wallace's question by saying that, "I've had an unbelievable busy schedule and I will be doing it. On top of which you have these phony witch hunts. On top of which—I mean, we've just been very busy."

Trump, of course, says all kinds of outrageous things. Between his interviews and his tweets, we could pretty much fill this site every day with "guess what Trump said" items, if we really wanted to. This story is worth pointing out, however, because it hints at two trends that could prove troublesome for the Donald. The first is that, just maybe, Fox News is growing a little disenchanted with him. The Sean Hannitys and Jeanine Pirros of the world will presumably always sing his praises, but if the rest of the network ceases to be the propaganda arm of Team Trump, that is not good for him.

The second is that any president who appears to insult the military is playing with fire. Trump has gotten away with it twice, in the cases of John McCain and Humayun Khan. But sparring with McRaven, another certified hero, and also failing to visit the troops? Both are very bad optics. And, as we have pointed out before, Joe McCarthy was able to get away with saying and doing just about everything, right up until he started besmirching members of the armed forces. Then, the end came quickly. Trump doesn't know much about history, but he was tight with McCarthy's right hand man Roy Cohn, so you would think he would be aware that America's soldiers are the third rail of GOP politics. Maybe he just can't help himself, though. (Z)

It Wasn't All about College-Educated Suburban Women

Pollster Stanley Greenberg, who generally works for the Democrats but is considered an honest and reliable pollster, has taken a closer look at the election results and decided that the conventional wisdom that it was all about suburban women is wrong. Here are some of his conclusions looking at the data more carefully.

First, compared to 2016, all women, college and non-college, turned against the Republicans. In 2016, the gender gap was 13 points; this time it was 19 points. While it went from 7 points to 20 points among college-educated women, the gap narrowed from -27 points to -14 points among non-college women. Because there are more non-college women than college women, the shift among non-college women actually delivered more votes to the Democrats than the shift of the college women.

Second, the Republicans also lost ground with white, non-college men. They went for Trump by 48 points in 2016 but by only 34 points this year. As a result, among all men, the Republicans' edge went from 11 points in 2016 to only 4 points this time.

Third, Democrats made gains because Trump declared war on immigrants. The ploy backfired. On Election Day, 54% of those people who voted believed that immigrants strengthen the country, not weaken it. Half the Republicans bought his story but three-quarters of Democrats and a large majority of independents concluded that immigrants are a net plus to the country. Revving up your base doesn't work so well when it revs up the other side even more.

Fourth, Democrats did raise their share of the vote in the suburbs by 4 points, which is what the media has fixated on. What the media missed, however, is that the Democrats cut their losses in rural areas by 7-13 points. They aren't about to win the countryside any time soon, but Republicans need massive wins in rural areas to overcome the Democrats' huge leads in urban areas, and it appears that Republicans' support down on the farm is shakier than they would like. (V)

Texas May Be in Play Sooner than Expected

The urban-rural divide is also playing out in Texas, of all places. Many people have predicted that sooner or later Texas will turn purple. It could even happen by 2020. The reason behind this observation is that Texas is gaining population rapidly, and most of the newcomers are heading for the big cities. In fact, 6 of the nation's 10 fastest-growing counties are in Texas, including those surrounding Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas.

The 2018 election gave a sneak preview of how the Lone Star State is changing. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) carried five counties that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) won last time: Harris and Fort Bend (around Houston), Williamson and Hays (in the Austin suburbs), and Tarrant (near Dallas). Voters in Harris County kicked out a three-term Republican county executive in favor of a 27-year-old Democrat. Nineteen black women ran for judgeships in Harris County; they all won. The straight-ticket vote in Dallas County went to the Democrats by 1 point in 2002; this year they won it by 30 points. In Harris County it was 11 points. In Travis County (Austin), the margin was 45 points.

While a lot of outsiders think of Texas as the wide-open spaces, most of the people now live in cities, and the cities are heavily Democratic. Unless the Republicans can keep the Democrats' vote share in the cities under 60%, they are going to start losing elections because there aren't enough rural voters to balance that.

There are going to be big fights in a number of suburban House races in 2020 because in some of them, Republican congressmen barely held on. With a much bigger turnout next time, they may go under. These include Kenny Marchant (who won by 3%) and Michael McCaul (who won by 4%). Assuming Will Hurd hangs on in TX-23 this time out, he would also be among those in trouble in 2020.

Democrats may not get Texas' electoral votes in 2020, but there is a fair chance that Beto O'Rourke's near miss in 2018 is going to cause the Democrats to make a real effort statewide in 2020, and it could at least become a battleground as people continue to pour into Texas' cities. (V)

Ohio and Colorado May Not Be Swing States Anymore

While Texas is moving toward swing-state status (as is Arizona, and possibly also Georgia), NBC's Dante Chinni and Sally Bronston point out that, based on election returns and exit polls, there are two states whose run as swing states may have come to an end: Ohio and Colorado.

Ohio has always been somewhat Republican-leaning, and has been a bellwether for GOP presidents in particular, as no member of the red team has ever taken the White House without taking Ohio. Still, for years, residents were willing to support some Democratic candidates, including Barack Obama (twice), Bill Clinton (twice), Jimmy Carter, and Lyndon B. Johnson. Recently, however, the Buckeye State appears to have moved squarely into the Republican column. It's true that they just reelected a Democrat as their senator in Sherrod Brown, but he's an incumbent and faced a weak opponent. The other senator, Rob Portman (R), is a member of the red team. The governor's mansion used to be handed off between the parties, but five of the last six governors have been Republicans. And while Democrats were being swept into office in House races across much of the nation, 75% of Ohio's House delegation (12 of 16) will be Republican. In some ways, Ohio is the reverse of Texas; the rural/urban balance is trending in favor of the rural folks because many of Ohio's biggest cities (Cleveland, Cincinnati, etc.) are shrinking. For example, Cleveland had 434,023 residents when Barack Obama was first elected, now it has 385,525, a drop of about 12%. When Ohio voters move to Texas, Ohio becomes more Republican and Texas becomes more Democratic.

Colorado, meanwhile, is headed in the other direction. For a fairly long time, it was sort of like Montana south, with a strongly conservative rural population, a liberal urban population, and a significant populist streak that caused power to shift back and forth between the two parties. But the state's population has boomed in recent years, with many of the new residents being transplants from the West coast in search of cheaper housing and less pollution. The state just elected a Democrat as governor in Jared Polis, who also happens to be the first openly-gay governor in U.S. history. And, in a mirror of the situation in Ohio, five of the Centennial State's last six governors have been Democrats. Meanwhile, like Ohio, the Senate seats are split between one Democrat (Michael Bennet) and one Republican (Cory Gardner), but Gardner is up in 2020 and is one of the GOP's most endangered senators (see below). And as a result of this month's elections, Democrats will make up a (slim) majority of the state's House delegation, 4-3. Outside of a couple of years in the mid-2000s, the GOP has controlled the state's congressional delegation since 1993.

Needless to say, it takes a while to be sure about these sorts of things, and it's possible that one of these states or the other will veer wildly in the other direction at some point in the near future, particularly once we see what the post-Trump GOP looks like. However, for now the tea leaves suggest that Colorado and Ohio aren't exactly the battlegrounds they once were. (Z)

A Battle Looms among Aspiring Ranking Members of the House Judiciary Committee

A big fight is in the offing for the top Republican slot on the House Judiciary Committee, which will be ground zero for any possible impeachment of Donald Trump or other officials. Whoever becomes ranking member will de facto become the accused's chief defender, a role sure to give the member a massive amount of publicity. And in case you haven't noticed, politicians are drawn to TV cameras like moths to a flame or bears to honey or Trumps to money.

Freedom Caucus founder Jim Jordan (R-OH) clearly wants the job, but the steering committee, which makes the call, is not a big fan of his. Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) is more popular with the committee and thought to be the frontrunner. He has been traveling around the country of late burnishing his "I love Trump" credentials. Actually, this was a bit of a turnabout for Collins, who was previously known for working with Democrats to modernize copyright law on behalf of the music industry.

Another serious contender is Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), who has been on the committee for two decades and is not shy about reminding his colleagues of this. He is touting his track record of restricting abortion but also noting that he has known Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who will chair the committee, for decades. Implicit in this argument is that the ranking member doesn't have a lot of formal power, but since he knows Nadler well, he might be able to influence him more than a newbie Nadler has never met before. (V)

An Early Look at the 2020 Senate Races

The 2020 presidential race is in full swing and we have already started to look at some of the potential Democrats who can envision themselves at the Resolute desk. Of course, if the Democrats win the White House but lose the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will once again say that his top legislative priority is making sure the current inhabitant of the White House is a one-term president, and there will be total gridlock until at least 2023. Thus, the battle for the Senate will be as furious as the battle for the White House.

As we have pointed out before, the 2020 map is completely different from the 2018 map. More Republicans are up than Democrats, but nearly all are in safe seats. On the other side, only one Democrat is in danger, Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL). Actually, to be honest, he is not in danger. Unless the Republicans can find another child molester to run against him, he is likely a dead senator walking. So de facto, the 2020 Senate race will start out with 46 Democrats and 54 Republicans.

If the Democrats flip four Republican seats while losing Alabama, the Senate will be split 50-50. The last time this happened was in 2000, when the Democrats and Republicans negotiated a power-sharing arrangement in terms of committee chairs and staff. For legislation, of course, the veep would have to work to earn his or her $243,500 per year by breaking ties in the Senate. No more of this getting up in the morning, calling the White House to see if the president is still alive, and if so, taking the day off.

Here are the races that appear at this time to be the most contested. We have listed some potential challengers, but none of them has said much about their future plans. One thing to note was that all the Republicans were elected in a midterm that was a good year for Republicans. In 2020 they will face a very different electorate, with an expected 25 million more voters casting ballots than in 2018, a goodly fraction of them Democrats. Thus, even large wins in 2014 don't guarantee success in 2020. The people marked with asterisks are incumbents.

State Democrat Republican 2014 Election
Alabama Doug Jones* ? D+2 (2017)
Colorado ? Cory Gardner* R+2
Georgia Stacey Abrams (?) David Perdue* R+8
Iowa Tom Vilsack (?) Joni Ernst* R+8
Maine ? Susan Collins* R+37
North Carolina ? Thom Tillis* R+2
Texas Beto O'Rourke (?) John Cornyn* R+12

Democrats have already collected millions of dollars that will be given to Collins' challenger, so he or she will start with a huge amount of money for such a small state (population-wise). The people most likely to challenge Collins are the state's two Democratic representatives, Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree.

Two years is a very long time, and other races could become competitive for reasons we can't foresee now. Also, Abrams, Vilsack, and O'Rourke may have other plans for 2020 and the Democrats could end up with weaker candidates. So, take this with a barrel of salt for the time being. (V)

Monday Q&A

We get lots of questions about outlandish situations that would have been unthinkable before Donald Trump. Apparently, now they are thinkable.

Since Trump is no fan of the law, what specifically would happen if he refused to leave office at the end of his term? Also, since his supporters are quite loyal, would he have any help from the government or military in refusing to seat the next president? Finally, in the event of some extreme constitutional crisis or disaster, what prevents a military coup from removing Trump from office? S.M., Los Angeles

Whether Trump likes it or not, the powers of the presidency would devolve upon his duly-elected successor. The nuclear codes would be transferred, the Joint Chiefs would begin to take orders from the new person, the right to sign bills would be in the new person's hands, the right to make appointments would become the new person's prerogative, and so forth. In short, Trump would be sitting in the White House with no actual power, and would be the world's highest-profile trespasser.

Could Trump's supporters—his base—do something about that? They could try, but up against the might of the United States military, they would be foolish to attempt it. All the semi-automatic rifles and bump stocks and gun-show purchases in the world won't mean a thing against a few M1A2 SEP tanks or A-10C Thunderbolt II jets. More likely is rioting in the streets, which is violent and dangerous, but has no chance of keeping Trump in power.

And a military coup, either to remove Trump or keep him in office? Very, very, very unlikely. Soldiers, of course, take an oath to uphold the Constitution, and in our experience, they take that oath very seriously. If some generals and/or soldiers were to think about going rogue, they would be sticking their necks out unless they were sure that sizable numbers of their comrades were on board. After all, treason is a capital offense (see below). And the modern U.S. military is so large, and so thoroughly dispersed, that achieving that kind of coordination would be nearly impossible without the conspiracy being exposed before it could be carried out.

Suppose the Russia probe proves beyond any doubt that Trump is guilty of treason, what is the likelihood that he receives the maximum punishment? R.V., Medford, OR

As noted above, treason is a capital offense, which makes the maximum punishment death. The method of execution, as specified by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, is whatever method is used in the state where the offense occurred. Presumably that would be New York. However, New York has no death penalty, and so in that case the Act allows a federal judge to choose, at his discretion, an alternative state that does have capital punishment. That would likely mean death by lethal injection, but it could also mean electrocution (available in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia), lethal gas (Arizona and California), or firing squad (Utah).

That said, there is zero chance that Trump would be executed, or would be given any sort of harsh sentence. Shooting/gassing/injecting/electrocuting a former president, or sending him to the hoosegow for many years, would be a little too "banana republic" for most Americans' tastes. Plus, when a defendant is his age, and has less-than-great health, the courts tend to have mercy. So, the most that is really conceivable—assuming ironclad evidence of guilt of one or more crimes—is a couple of years in Club Fed (i.e., a minimum security prison, where inmates play checkers and bridge all day). And even that is pretty unlikely; the infamy of being convicted of treason, or obstruction, or whatever else would probably be deemed punishment enough.

The day before the election, Rasmussen's last pre-election poll said that the generic congressional ballot was "Republican +1." The consensus forecast was Democrats + about 7 or 8. How could Ramussen be so far off from everyone else and from the actual result? What does this say about the value of Rasmussen polls? J.S., Washington, D.C.

As we have noted many times, every pollster begins with a model of what they think the electorate will look like. Since they will never get a group of responses that perfectly matches that model, they change the weight of the respondents to make things line up. For example, if the pollster expects that 8% of the electorate will be Asian, but only 2% of their respondents are Asian, then they count those responses times four. If they think that 20% of the electorate will be senior citizens, but 40% of their respondents are senior citizens, they count those responses half as much.

Small changes in assumptions can lead to big changes in results. For example, if a pollster assumes that the electorate will be 38% Democratic, and it's actually 41%, then their numbers will be way off. They do what they can to correct for this, but they are largely working from past elections as models. If the current election is unusual, historically, or if the pollster chooses the wrong past elections as baselines, then they can end up with egg on their faces.

So, any pollster can make a mistake or have a bad year. However, Rasmussen is consistently more positive about Republicans than anyone else, and often produces bad results. That is not to say they always get it wrong, but they are way off more regularly than any other pollster, and their errors are always in favor of the red team.

Why does this happen? Primarily for two reasons. The first is that Rasmussen is much more aggressive than other pollsters about talking only to "likely voters." Since Republicans are more likely to vote, Rasmussen's sample skews more Republican than any other pollsters' samples. Generally speaking, they tend to think the electorate is about evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats (37%-37%, with the other 26% being independent/third party). Most other pollsters give the Democrats a slight edge (something in the realm of 39%-35%-26%). Needless to say, a model that takes two Democrats out of every 100 voters and makes them Republicans is going to veer aggressively in the direction of the GOP.

The second issue is that Rasmussen, unlike other major pollsters, adjusts their numbers based on party identification. Scott Rasmussen makes no secret of his belief that party loyalty is like sports team loyalty, and that most people—regardless of what they say—return home when it comes time to actually vote. What this means is that if, say, 20% of Republican respondents say they are voting third party or are voting Democrat, Rasmussen will "correct" that, and assume two-thirds of those aren't really going to vote against their party. In an election where there is no particular pressure to defect (say, George W. Bush's reelection), that assumption isn't going to screw up the numbers too much (and, in fact, Rasmussen did pretty well in 2004). In an election like the one that just happened, where a lot of people really were defecting, Rasmussen's adjustments will result in a disaster for the pollster.

In short, if Rasmussen is saying one thing, and the other major pollsters are saying another, then go with the other pollsters. And if Rasmussen is saying the same thing as the other pollsters, then you don't need Rasmussen. Which means, in all conditions, you are better off ignoring Rasmussen's polls. In fact, they are poor enough that in presidential years, we had a "view polls without Rasmussen" option.

In your writeup of potential House Speakers, you overlooked: Robert Mueller, Beto O'Rourke, Marcia Fudge, and Barbara Lee. Why? K.L., Jersey City, NJ; R.R., Vancouver, WA; J.M., Davis, CA; D.L, Cary, NC; A.K, San Francisco, CA

This was primarily a product of something we always have to think about, namely being informative and interesting without going on too long or repeating ourselves.

(Z) primarily wrote that item, and decided at the start to do only one person for each "type" of candidate that might challenge Pelosi. So, for example, one centrist Midwesterner (Cheri Bustos), one moderate black woman (Karen Bass), one old-school white liberal male (Richard Neal), one outspoken California liberal (Adam Schiff), one newly-elected member (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), one non-member of Congress (Stacey Abrams), and so forth. Each of those folks has a distinctive pro/con profile, but one that would be duplicated if similar candidates were also included. Plus, the list would have grown to 14 or 16 people, and we felt that we were pushing it at nine.

Originally, (Z) intended to include a line after each of the nine candidates entitled "other candidates of this type," but struck that because it was not particularly illuminating. Anyhow, O'Rourke was considered, but Abrams seemed better for that "slot," particularly given the Washington Post op-ed we linked to. Same thing with Fudge (very similar to Bass), and Lee (very similar to Schiff).

We must admit, however, that we did not think of Robert Mueller. If we had, we might have included him as the curve ball of curve balls. He's obviously very well respected, and a Washington veteran, and has an impressive resume, from his military service to his current work as special counsel. That said, it would be a pretty provocative move, and the Democrats would surely prefer he finish up his current job, rather than giving him a brand-new job.

Why don't Democrats, unlike Republicans, have term limits for committee chairpeople? Having them rotate out after 2 terms would help ensure turnover so 1) different members could introduce new ideas, and 2) more members could develop valuable leadership experience. A lack of leadership experience in the Democratic Senate and House caucuses seems to be a big problem because polls indicate a majority of the Democratic base would like to see Schumer and Pelosi replaced in leadership, but many middle-aged and younger congressmen aren't given the chance to develop themselves. Paul Ryan is a little over 50% of Nancy Pelosi's age and already rose to Speaker. R.M.S., Lebanon, CT

Well, there is a "good" reason and a "not so good" reason. The "good" reason is that being a committee chair is a tricky job, and it takes time to learn the ropes. If people are constantly turning over, then a sizable percentage of the committee's time is spent under the leadership of someone who doesn't really know what they are doing. This is the exact same argument that is used when discussing term limits of any type.

The "not so good" reason, meanwhile, is that it keeps the current Democratic leadership in power, because it does not allow challengers to the throne to gain serious experience and exposure. Most of the incoming committee chairs are Pelosi loyalists from way back, and present no threat to her, as they are happy with the (significant) power they have already been given.

Which of these is it? Only the people running the House Democratic Caucus know for sure, but it's probably some of both.

Incidentally, Ryan isn't the best example of what can happen with a different approach. It's true that he had a couple of terms as Chair of the House Budget Committee, and about eight months as Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, but he didn't really work his way up the ranks. He made Speaker because he was tapped as Mitt Romney's running mate. And Ryan got that spot not because of his committee service, but because Willard needed a young budget hawk from the Midwest to balance the ticket.

If I understood the reports correctly, some recount numbers from Florida were not accepted because they were submitted after a deadline. What is the point of such a deadline? Of course, counting should not go forever, but the principle that every vote must be counted seems to me to be much more important than just keeping a deadline. Otherwise, you could manipulate an election by just disturbing the counting process. J.K., Heidelberg, Germany

Well, they are trying to balance between two competing imperatives. The first is fairness; the notion that every ballot counts. The second is time; there is only so much of it between the election and the start of the new term (two months, both of them holiday months), and there are many things that a newly-elected candidate needs to do, particularly if they are not an incumbent. They have to find a new residence, arrange office space in their home district/state, go to an orientation, acquire and file a bunch of paperwork, hire a staff, and so forth. It's easy to think that becoming a member of Congress is like being Superman, but they don't step into a phone booth and come out 20 seconds later ready to go. Plus, there has to be time allowed for any sort of legal challenges, in case any present themselves.

The deadlines, then, are an attempt to balance between these imperatives. Note that for the initial vote, there is no deadline, per se. As much time will be given as is necessary, which is why Utah is still figuring out who won in UT-04. However, since recounts involve fairly small shifts in votes in most cases, then most states have pretty strict completion deadlines. In other words, they are much more flexible when making sure that hundreds of thousands of people are correctly accounted for as opposed to hundreds of people.

As to your last observation, it would not be terribly easy for a private citizen or a candidate to muck up the counting process, since it's generally decentralized and is going on in many places at once. If the candidate was, say, the state's secretary of state, or if the Russians decided to get involved, however...

Representatives Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter are, as you pointed out, under indictment. What would happen, in each respective state, were either or both of these two to be convicted? What is the process for replacing them? Does it vary state-by-state? Does the Constitution (or any federal statute) describe a framework that states must follow? And, is whatever process the same for a U.S. senator? L.E., Santa Barbara, CA

Let's start with the House, where the rules are laid out in Art. I, Sec. 2 of the Constitution:

When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

You will note that there is no provision for appointing a temporary replacement, so if Collins or Hunter is removed from office, then they could only be replaced by someone chosen by the voters. Incidentally, a conviction would not automatically cause them to lose their seats. However, almost everyone who gets into this kind of trouble resigns. And if they do not resign, then the House can (and would) toss them out. That happened most recently to Jim Traficant, the wildly-corrupt Democrat with the world's worst toupee.

Exactly how quickly that replacement would be elected varies depending on the circumstances, but generally it's about 120 days. On one hand, states want to give candidates a legitimate chance to campaign. On the other hand, an unrepresented district is at a significant disadvantage, and so there is motivation to not let the seat remain open for too long.

The Senate plays by a slightly different set of rules, thanks to the adoption of the 17th Amendment in 1913. The Amendment says:

When vacancies happen in the representation of any state in the Senate, the executive authority of such state shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, that the legislature of any state may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

So, in this case, states have more latitude. You can see how the different states handle it here, but most of them allow the governor to choose a temporary replacement, with half a dozen of those limiting that choice to a person from the departed Senator's party. In all of these cases, however, the seat must be placed on the ballot at the next "practicable" general election. That means that an appointed senator can only serve those states, at most, for a little over two years (as would happen with John McCain's seat, if Jon Kyl does not resign before 2020).

In about a dozen states, they speed up the timeline for a new election, unless the general election is imminent anyhow. For example, Washington requires that an election be held 80 days after a seat comes vacant, unless the general election is less than 8 months away. Most of these dozen states allow a (very) temporary replacement to be appointed, but five of them (North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin) leave the seat open until it is properly filled.

Why don't pro-voter states move their state elections to weekends, both days even perhaps? If many did, would it add an example to calls for reform elsewhere? B.P., Salt Lake City, UT

To begin with, many states already offer weekend voting, as they are entitled to do. However, according to a statute passed by Congress in 1845, states must allow people to vote for president on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November. They can also offer voting on other days, but they must be open for business on that particular day in presidential years.

Why that particular pattern, you might ask? Because in 1845, the United States was an agrarian and very religious country. Sunday was church day, so that was out, and Monday was set aside for travel, leaving us with Tuesday. That allowed people to vote and to get home in time for market day (usually Wednesday or Thursday). And the "after the first Monday bit" was to make sure that an election never fell on November 1, which is All Saints' Day, and used to be an important holiday for some folks.

So, changing presidential elections to weekends would require Congressional action. But it is certainly within the power of states to move all other elections to weekends, and/or to expand the window for voting. Why don't states do this? A few explanations present themselves:

  1. People in general, and Americans in particular, dislike change
  2. Some states don't have the money for two days of voting, or at least don't think it's worth spending the money
  3. One could argue that weekend-only voting discriminates against certain religious groups, like Jews or Seventh-Day Adventists
  4. Weekend voting would drive up turnout, and there are certain political parties that feel higher turnout is to their detriment

So, we are unlikely to see universal weekend voting anytime soon.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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