Dem 50
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Ties 1
GOP 49
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Saturday Q&A

Aaaaaaand the Q&A is back, just in time for the midterm elections!

Current Events

C.S. in Philadelphia, PA, asks: As a pro-fact, pro-democracy, anti-cruelty Republican who bought into the anti-Nancy Pelosi rhetoric a decade ago, I feel bad that this question feels even remotely conspiratorial. Based on the Speaker's role (second in line to the Presidency), the current climate, and the Pelosis' personal wealth, how the heck did this guy get inside their home? I know she's not the president or vice president (Secret Service) but she is also not your average member of Congress. What am I missing?

V & Z answer: There are two problems with giving people 24/7 protection (or some approximation). The first is that it is expensive. The second is that it is a significant imposition on people's quality of life.

For these reasons, the U.S. government gives protection to high-ranking officeholders, including the president, vice-president, leadership of Congress (speaker, majority leaders, minority leaders, whips), and members of the Supreme Court, but does not generally protect family members (unless they are presidential/vice presidential family members or are with the protectee). Since Pelosi was in Washington, there was no protective detail in San Francisco, and the attacker was able to forcibly enter through the back of the Pelosi residence.

In view of what happened, there is now some chatter about extending protection to spouses of all protectees.

P.N. in Austin, TX, asks: Care to game out what will happen when a political leader is killed here? Let's assume it's a Democrat... not a bold assumption, after all. From my view, when I game it out, nothing will change. Republicans will continue down their path to democracide. Your thoughts?

V & Z answer: You're right, nothing will change. If and when someone is assassinated, people from the other political party will disclaim any responsibility for the attack. The line from Donald Trump's rhetoric to the 1/6 insurrection to the attack on Paul Pelosi couldn't be much clearer, and yet Republicans have responded with denials, (faux) outrage at being blamed, and conspiracy theories. Those things will just get louder if and when someone dies.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, asks: I saw this today on Mike's tsunami of truth:

Since September, the GOP has purposefully flooded the zone with conservative-leaning polls in an effort to game these aggregators.

This is admittedly a brilliant strategy—but it also means headlines warning of a red tsunami that may be severely overstating the Republican advantage.

It also explains why recent polls don't reflect the early-voting data—which shows a clear Democratic advantage.

Is this true?

V & Z answer: We suppose it's possible, but: (1) We haven't perceived an unduly large number of polls from Republican houses this cycle; (2) We don't include polls from Republican houses in our projections, so if the theory was true, our numbers should theoretically skew more Democratic than they do; and (3) It's actually somewhat risky for a party to persuade its voters that things are better than they actually are, since it could convince some of those voters they don't need to bother voting.

Y.A. in Newton, MA, asks: Do you think the more quacky partisan polling outfits (Rasmussen, Trafalgar, Center Street PAC etc) do any actual polling, or do they just make up the most favorable story for their side that can pass as real at the moment of publication? For example, the Pennsylvania debate was a perfect opportunity to shift the story in Mehmet Oz's favor, which they did of course. The fact that most of the mainstream outfits seem to have given up on polling makes the fringe pollsters all the more powerful.

V & Z answer: Most of the "quacky" pollsters are political consultants that a candidate can hire to help win an election. The candidate absolutely wants to know how well he or she is doing so the consultants really do polling as best they can. However, the candidates can decide which polls to release and which ones not to. If a poll helps the candidate, they release it, otherwise not. Also, the published numbers may have been doctored and may not be the real internal numbers.

In short, the pollsters aren't cooking the books, but the campaigns might be.

M.K. in Charlotte, MI, asks: With early voting already underway in multiple states, and millions of voters having already cast their ballots, how do pollsters now poll these states? Do they ask if you have already voted, and if so, for whom? Do they give these responses more weight? Do they account for the fact early voters probably overrepresent Democrats, since the Republicans have demonized every form of voting, save voting in person on Election Day? It seems early voting is just one more factor throwing a wrench into the process of getting accurate polls.

V & Z answer: Pollsters always ask if you already voted. This is the magic "likely voter" question. If you have already voted, you are definitely a likely voter, so they are very happy to interview you. It is doubtful that they are given extra weight, though. And if the already-voted voters skew Democratic, that is corrected with the same weighting used for all other respondents.

J.P. from Phoenix, AZ, asks: You wrote about how to include non-responsive Trumpers in the polls. Isn't the real problem that more and more people of all stripes do not answer calls from numbers they don't know? I get calls and texts daily from what look like polling places (maybe) but I would never answer them. So they would be undercounting my opinion as well. What makes the pollsters believe it's limited to Trumpers only?

V & Z answer: Nowadays, maybe 1 in 20 people responds to a poll. But if the people who do respond represent an accurate sample of the electorate, the low response rate just makes polls more expensive, not less accurate. The problem is when certain kinds of people systematically don't respond, then the sample will be biased because that group is underrepresented. And there is very good evidence—namely, comparisons of polling data with actual election results—that Trumpers are being undercounted in a manner far more substantial than other groups.

D.P. in Oakland, CA, asks: What is Nate Silver's game? His "lite" forecast is very nearly where it was 2 months ago. It's only after he adds his secret sauce that his "deluxe" numbers tilt heavily GOP. He has all the bases covered.

V & Z answer: We can understand the desire to cover all bases, and to give readers multiple ways of looking at the data. After all, we are both teachers and, like Silver, we write a projection-centered website.

That said, part of the reason that people read FiveThirtyEight (or, or Cook Political Report, or TPM, etc.) is that they want people who have special expertise to make, and share, some judgment calls. Silver built his reputation on how good his judgment calls once were. But now, perhaps looking to preserve that reputation, he seems to be trying to avoid expressing any strong opinions.

T.W. in McLean, VA, asks: Having just voted in Virginia, I was reminded of questions I'd had about the timing of vote counting and the potential for a so-called "red mirage," where early returns strongly lean Republican, and Democratic votes catch up later, sometimes even days later. My understanding is that it is largely because Democrats are more likely than Republicans to vote early (in-person or by mail). I know you've covered this before, but could you go over again why early voting patterns (and maybe other factors?) lead to a red mirage and whether we should be expecting one this coming Tuesday?

V & Z answer: To start, people who vote Democratic are more likely to use early-voting options. This is, in part, because they tend to trust early voting more, and in part because they are demographically more likely to need alternative hours (working class, parents with children, students, etc.)

On top of that, blue-leaning states, counties, and cities are more likely to offer early-voting options, or to offer them more liberally (no pun intended).

Meanwhile, many states place an embargo on the counting of early ballots, so as to keep results from leaking out and influencing the election. In some cases, the embargo ends early on Election Day, and in other cases, it ends when polls close. Either way, early ballots are often the last ones counted. In part, this is because the ones that are sent via mail take more time to process (they usually have to be removed from multiple envelopes, verified, and scanned, as opposed to in-person ballots, which just have to be scanned). In part, it is because if a state, county, or city is short on poll workers, it is better to deploy those poll workers to handle in-person voting. The early ballots can wait until there's enough labor available; the in-person polling places can't.

And there is every chance of a red mirage this time around, at least in some places.

P.S. in Arlington, TN, asks: What has Merrick Garland been doing for the last 21 months? If he thought a special counsel was needed, then why not appoint one in February of 2021?

I agree 100% that any investigation will be viewed as illegitimate by Trump's supporters and a special counsel will only slow things down, which is exactly what Donald Trump wants. A special counsel is completely pointless.

Why not just indict on the classified documents next Friday, since Trump was caught redhanded, and let the other investigation play out on its own? In America, the jury is what ultimately gives the final legitimacy or illegitimacy to the charges, anyway. Trump's supporters won't accept even a jury's verdict so why cater to them at all?

V & Z answer: The reason a special counsel hasn't been appointed already is that doing so would mean ceding control, which Garland does not wish to do.

Meanwhile, the one upside to appointing a special counsel would be to forestall legal filings from Team Trump claiming a conflict of interest. We agree with you that the theoretical "better for appearances" benefits would not materialize.

Our guess is that the AG is just being characteristically methodical in examining all the options, but that he won't opt for a special counsel.

M.W. in Northbrook, IL, asks: I have this dream that on Nov. 7, the Department of Justice obtains an indictment under seal and on Nov. 9, Trump is arrested. Is there any chance this could happen ("so you're telling me there's a chance"—Dumb and Dumber)?

V & Z answer: We've addressed this once or twice since you sent the question in, but yes, there is a chance. Going after a declared presidential candidate adds a whole new layer to things, and Garland might proceed with an indictment to try to avoid that.

D.T. in San Jose, CA, asks: How quickly could a lame-duck Congress push through the paperwork to grant statehood to Washington, DC?

I think it is extremely unlikely that the Filibuster Twins would allow it... but let's imagine they could somehow be convinced to add a "Statehood Bill Carveout" for the filibuster.

Would it even be possible for the current Congress to get it done? Does DC need to hold another local election or anything first? Is a regular bill, passed by Congress, the last major step?

V & Z answer: Congress makes the rules for what it takes to become a state. So, they could easily set whatever standards they want in order to facilitate immediate statehood.

However, even if Congress sticks with the existing set up rules, as laid out in the Northwest Ordinance, DC has already qualified. They have cleared the population requirement (60,000 people), have elected a legislature, have drafted a constitution, and have supported statehood in a referendum.

So, if Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) climb on board, then it could indeed be done in the lame-duck session. In fact, it could be done by the end of November.


W.R. in Tyson's Corner VA, asks: I know the 19th century reasons for why Election Day was set for the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November (not on a Sunday, before Wednesday market day, with Monday a day of travel to the voting place), but we're no longer living in the 19th century (most of us, anyway). Why has there been no serious effort to change Election Day in the U.S. to a Saturday or Sunday (or both), like 90% of the other democracies in the world? I know the Republicans may like the suppressed vote that Tuesdays afford, but I would have thought a Democratic congress would have gone all in on changing Election Day to a weekend long ago.

V & Z answer: First of all, you missed one nuance of the original setup. The reason that it's the first Tuesday after the first Monday, as opposed to just being the first Tuesday, is to make certain that Election Day is not the same day as All Saints' Day (as it would have been this year). All Saints' Day (or All Hallows Day) used to be a pretty important religious holiday; roughly the 18th century equivalent of Christmas.

And as to the lack of change, we can only point out two things: (1) Americans tend to fetishize tradition, and (2) Politicians don't tend to change things that have been working perfectly well for them.

J.M. in Arvada, CO, asks: I'm sitting here at 10:45 pm MT on a Friday night watching my Washington Huskies take on Oregon State on ESPN2. During the last commercial break, we saw an anti-Patty Murray ad. A big game between two northwest teams the weekend before the election is a logical place for campaign ads, except I live in Colorado. Why would somebody in the GOP (I didn't catch who paid for it) buy national airtime for the Washington Senate race? Seems like a waste of money.

V & Z answer: As chance would have it, (Z) won the Orange County science fair in 7th grade by studying this basic question.

What it boils down to is that with any form of advertising, and in particular TV advertising, there is a certain amount of "spoilage." McDonalds spends millions per year marketing hamburgers to vegetarians, Toyota spends millions per year marketing trucks to children who cannot drive, and Nike spends millions per year marketing shoes to people who require special orthotic footwear. That is the cost of reaching the people who do eat meat, who do drive trucks, and who can wear sneakers. The goal is to have as little of this spoilage as is possible.

If your goal is to reach potential Patty Murray voters—live in Washington, skew educated, skew reasonably affluent—then a UW football game is a pretty low-spoilage pick, since the broadcast might be national, but the audience largely won't be.

B.D. in Lincoln, MA, asks: My question is simple. Why have the Democrats not used advertising like this?

A picture of the 1/6 
attacks with the caption 'Republicans consider this to be legitimate political discourse.'

V & Z answer: It is not because such messaging has simply not occurred to the Democrats. Nor is it because the party is too honorable to run ads like this.

No, it is because the people who vote Democratic, or who might consider voting Democratic, largely don't respond to negative messaging like this. It's the same reason that there isn't a left-wing equivalent to Fox.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, asks: Probably like most of the other readers, I find my email inbox flooded with these words in the subject line: "Alert," "Match," "Quadruple," and "Last Chance" from President Obama to, strangely enough, FiveThirtyEight! Which leads me to a two prong question.

First, what with the election four days away, what possible good could any donation do in that time span? Surely every possible and buy has been nailed down long ago. No one could find and train a canvasser in that time. The window for direct mail is more than likely closed. What would that money go to besides buying pizzas for the returns watch?

Second, if there is a $2,500 limit per person per campaign or $5,000 per person through a PAC, how are these matches legitimate? If I'm Rich Democrat Pennybags and I agree to quadruple any donation, don't you reach your limit pretty quickly. Although if I, as Mr Pennybags, strongly agreed with a candidate enough to give him/her money, I don't understand why you have to go through the silliness of a match and not just give your limit instead of waiting for Poor Democrat Handout to cough up some bucks. Imagine Mr. Pennybags saying to a candidate, "Well I was going to give you $2,500 but since you had only two contributors of $25 each, I only gave only $200. Shame you lost by one vote." I don't know, but the whole thing sounds super shifty and a really crappy way to campaign.

V & Z answer: You are right that, at this point, a donation to your preferred candidate is not likely to affect their election. What you would really be helping them with is future elections, or with their debts from this election. Much of the money that has been "spent" won't actually come due until after Election Day. That is why many campaigns, particularly losing campaigns, remain in debt years later.

And, except for very rare circumstances, the whole "matching" thing is super shifty. If you give $100 during a period of "TRIPLE MATCHING," the campaign is telling you that they'll get another $200 after you give your $100. That is true, they will. What they are not telling you is that they will get that $200 even if you don't give your $100. So, the dishonest part is the implication that they will only get the additional money if you donate first.

T.B. in Detroit, MI, asks: This idea of mine used to be a joke, but the more truth-challenged—and willing to support candidates who over-promise and under-deliver—MAGA voters become, I'm starting to wonder if it would actually work: What if I, a liberal Democratic Socialist, were to move to a rural area and run for the House as a Republican? I could campaign on a platform of outlawing abortion and blaming immigrants for everything and then, once in office, I would reliably vote for the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. Two years later, all I would have to do is tell the voters that I built a wall around Hawaii and made China pay for it, and I would get reelected in a landslide. Do you think it could work?

V & Z answer: No. Any seat that is legitimately winnable, and even some seats that aren't, will attract a gaggle of primary candidates. And so, you'd be up against actual right-wing Republicans who would lay claim to all the Republican votes. If you were willing to pretend to be a hardcore Republican until the election, and you were a really good actor, then maybe, except that electoral success is usually built upon years of networking. And the Republican movers and shakers in whatever state you might run in are going to notice that they've never heard of you. Meanwhile, everyone is going to notice that you're a recent arrival, and thus a carpetbagger.

L.C. in Lake Spivey, GA, asks: Is voter suppression voter fraud?

V & Z answer: Legally speaking, no. Suppressive measures are, as a general rule, allowed by law. Fraud, by contrast, is punished by law.

However, if we think in a more abstract sense, then... maybe. Both are designed to produce a result favorable to the schemer(s), and contrary to the result that would happen absent the suppression/fraud.

M.B. in Montreal, QC, Canada, asks: A number of years ago (at least ten, long before current events) I read an article by a computer scientist that claimed that voting machines were unsafe because their software was proprietary and secret and could not be studied by experienced programmers. Would you—especially (V)—care to comment?

V & Z answer: That is absolutely true. Even if the voting machine manufacturer publishes the code, making it open source, the voter doesn't know if the software in the machine at the time of voting matches the published code. One of us, namely (V), has even published papers on how to verify the software currently in the voting machine using a security chip that some computers have built in. See here, for example.

There has been a vast amount of research on making elections secure. The problem isn't really technical. It is political. If the politicians wanted secure voting, there are hundreds of experts out there who could help them make it happen. But if some politicians want to be able to claim their losses were due to rigged elections, having measures in place to make sure elections can't be rigged is not on their agenda.

J.B. in Britt, IA, asks: I know this will never happen, but what would if party designation was removed from the ballot? I'm thinking people would actually have to study the candidates to see which one is the best pick

V & Z answer: There are already plenty of elections where party designation is removed from the ballot. This is particularly common for municipal elections; the majority of mayoral races are officially non-partisan, for example. So are the majority of judicial races. And yet, everyone still figures out who is an (R) and who is a (D).

G.H. in Branchport, NY, asks: I was having a discussion with my MAGA sister-in-law (M.S. in history and retired High School history teacher) about media outlets. She said a poll was conducted on whether right wing or mainstream news outlets covered more opposing views. The supposed results were overwhelming that the right wing covered more of the opposite views. Any idea on what poll she might have been talking about? I would have asked her, but the discussion deteriorated from there, as you might imagine, and I left my brother's house very upset—feeling as if our relationship had been damaged to the point of not wanting to see them again. Which leads to question two: How much damage to relationships do you or readers think has occurred from the widening divisions in political views exacerbated by the party of T-Rump?

V & Z answer: As to your first question, we cannot find that poll. It is exceedingly common for people on social media, and even on certain "news" channels, to invent polls or statistics. So it may be that your sister-in-law was told the poll exists when it does not. Or it may be that she misunderstood or misremembered. Or it may be that she made it up herself in order to "win" the argument.

That said, even if the poll does exist, that finding is meaningless. Covering opposing views is not the same thing as covering opposing views fairly. Let us give you a specific example. As (Z) noted, he just gave the propaganda lecture in his "History and Hollywood" course. And now, for the writing assignment, students have to choose one of four clips, and make an argument as to whether or not they should be considered propaganda.

Among the four clips is one from Fox. In order to randomize things as much as possible, (Z) asked a student to choose a random number between 10 and 50 (they chose 13). Then, (Z) tuned in to Tucker Carlson at 8:13 p.m., waited for the next commercial break, and recorded the first full segment thereafter. As chance would have it, it was an interview with Candace Owens in which she and Carlson spent about 6 minutes talking about what a scam Black Lives Matter is.

So, did Fox cover an "opposing view" during that segment? Yes, they did. But does that segment make the channel "fair" or "balanced"? Clearly not. (Incidentally, one of the other clips students could choose was the first full segment after 8:13 p.m. on MSNBC, where there was a considerably less acidic discussion of insurrections in U.S. history.)

As to the familial harm done by widening political divisions, we will open that to the readership.

M.M. in Newbury Park, CA, asks: My understanding (from is that if Kamala Harris ascends to the presidency after January 20, 2023, she is allowed to run again in 2024 and 2028, giving her the possibility of nearly 10 years in office.

Considering President Biden's low approval ratings, what do you think the chances are that he steps down on or soon before that date to give her the benefit of incumbency? Is there any chance this has been the (top secret) plan all along?

After 2016, I've often wondered if a female VP being elevated to the highest office is America's only shot to break the ultimate glass ceiling.

V & Z answer: This is very doubtful. First of all, Joe Biden worked his whole adult life to reach the pinnacle of his profession, a pinnacle that many aspire to but few achieve. It would not be easy for him to throw away half his term, along with any chance of reelection.

Second, if Harris were to ascend like this, she would be seen as illegitimate by many people. And that would hang around her neck like an anchor when she stood for reelection. Sure, if she had a successful 2 years, she might overcome that. But if the Republicans take the House, as is likely, there is virtually no chance she could accomplish anything that would really impress voters. Meanwhile, there would be 1,000 House investigations of the "new corrupt bargain" between Biden and Harris.

L.T. in Washington, DC, asks: is anyone talking about Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) as the next Secretary of Defense? Sure, there's the one small obstacle of Lloyd Austin, but it certainly wouldn't be hard to convince him to take a corporate job at a Fortune 500 corporation. It will also really upset Michelle Flournoy, who was hoping to be the first woman in that job.

But the benefits to Biden are enormous. It would keep her from running as a third-party candidate in 2024, would give her a chance to remain relevant, would allow her to keep working with "real" Republicans, would further his "bipartisanship" credentials, and would repay her for her work on the 1/6 Committee. There would be little difference between her and a Democrat, since she and Biden are largely on the same page on national defense matters.

Is there any real downside?

V & Z answer: It is well within the realm that Cheney ends up with some sort of role in the Biden administration. But leading the DoD? Generally, the Secretary of Defense has military service on their résumé, or extensive experience in the DoD or intelligence communities, or both. Cheney has served on the House Committee on Armed Services, yes, but she doesn't have the level of experience that usually precedes that position. Oh, and her dad has close ties to defense contractor Halliburton, which would raise—fairly or not—questions about conflicts of interest.

In addition, cashiering Austin—who is the only nonwhite appointee to occupy a "Big Four" secretaryship in the Biden cabinet—would look icky.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, asks: Given the utterly embarrassing and incompetent fiasco of their open letter to Joe Biden about the war in Ukraine (which undermines President Biden's foreign policy, a president from their own party no less—did they think about the ramifications for more than 2 minutes?) and acting like a slim House majority and a tied Senate with the veep tiebreaker somehow was a mandate for progressive Democrats' policy agenda, I am left to wonder why progressive Democrats are so very bad at politics. Why do they continually misread the situation and think they somehow represent the majority of Americans' opinions?

V & Z answer: Everyone lives in a political bubble, and the bubbles that the progressives live in tend to be very blue.

J.E. in San Jose, CA, asks: Is there any chance Donald Trump endorses Charlie Crist (D) to keep Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) from winning? DeSantis could not run for president if he lost his gubernatorial reelection bid, right? Some 3-D chess for Trump?

V & Z answer: Time has pretty much run out for that trick. But there was no chance Trump would do it, anyhow. He can steer votes to one Republican among several, sometimes. But, as we are seeing in Alaska, his endorsement is not enough to get people to vote for a candidate they just don't like. He knows that, even if he doesn't admit it publicly. And if he were to endorse Crist, only to have DeSantis win (which is overwhelmingly likely), that would be a huge embarrassment.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, asks: Why is everyone calling the Republican candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania "Dr. Oz"? It lends legitimacy to his medical degree, legitimacy he lost years ago on his shi**y TV show. They (and you) should be calling him by his name, Mehmet Oz, just like every other candidate. At the very least, people who oppose him should drop the "Dr." moniker. Besides stripping away the title that he doesn't deserve, as much as I hate to say this, it would also remind racists that he has a "funny" name and wasn't originally American.

I snuck in some commentary, but there is a question here. Could you at least speak for yourselves and explain why you call him "Dr." Oz?

V & Z answer: Part of the reason some outlets use the "doctor" title is that it's one of those high-respect titles that some people feel should always be conferred, much like military ranks. Another part of the reason is that he spent 10 years playing the "Dr. Oz" character on TV, and so that is the name for him that comes most naturally to some people.

As to us, while we do tend to use military ranks for people that have them, we do not generally grant doctors their titles, in part since we decline that honor for ourselves. We suppose it's possible we slipped up once or twice with Oz, though we did a search of our archives, and nearly every instance of "Dr. Oz" we found was us quoting someone else's words, headline, or tweet. The most recent occasion where we were the ones who referred to him as Dr. Oz appears to be this posting from 2016, when he was still just a TV doctor, and we did an item headlined "Trump to Reveal Personal Health Regimen to Dr. Oz."


K.S. in Harrisburg, PA, asks: Have there ever been any national elected officials with dual citizenship. Why is it allowed?

V & Z answer: There are only two national elected officials: the president and vice president. And the reason that it is allowed is that it's not explicitly prohibited. The Constitution says that a president/VP must be a natural born citizen, but it doesn't actually say they cannot also be a citizen of some other country.

There have been a few cases where a president might have qualified for dual citizenship. For example, Chester Arthur might have been eligible for Irish citizenship. But a person usually has to actively pursue the additional citizenship, and there's no evidence that any president or VP ever did so.

There is one semi-exception to that last sentence, though. VP Charles Curtis (who served alongside Herbert Hoover) was an enrolled member of the Kaw Nation. That is, in some ways, a second citizenship.

F.L. in Denton, TX, asks: Can you think of any member of the U.S. Congress, past or present, that was appointed, yet never ran for office, neither before nor after their appointment? Not counting senators before 1913.

V & Z answer: To start, this can only happen with senators. The Constitution specifies that all members of the House of Representatives, including those who serve the remainder of unfinished terms, must be elected.

And it's actually quite common for there to be appointed senators who have no previous runs for office, and who don't run for reelection. These folks are placeholders, and are usually chosen so a governor can avoid "taking sides" and can "allow the people to choose." To give a notable recent example, when Joe Biden left the Senate to become vice president, he was replaced by his longtime aide Ted Kaufman, who had never run for election before, and who agreed that he would stand down once he finished off Biden's term.

M.S. in Cupertino, CA, asks: What is the certification process for U.S. senator elections? What kind of trouble could a state secretary of state or governor cause by refusing to do so, or by certifying as the winner a candidate that did not win the actual election?

V & Z answer: By the rules of the Senate, "an election certificate must be presented to the Senate to confirm that the person was duly elected. Issued by the secretary of state representing the state of the incoming member, the election certificate is affixed with the state's official seal and is delivered to the secretary of the United States Senate for official recording."

If a state secretary of state were to refuse to provide the certificate, then the victorious candidate would sue in court, and would win. If the state secretary of state were to falsely certify someone else as the winner, that would be fraud, and they would be indicted on federal and state charges.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, asks: Are early votes contestable on grounds that the voter who cast an early ballot died after they voted but before Election Day? Do the rules vary by state on this?

V & Z answer: It does indeed depend on the state. There are 17 states that allow the ballots of deceased people to be contested and 10 states that specifically say the vote counts. The other 23 states and D.C. have no rule on the books, one way or the other.

In case you are wondering about this year's key elections, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania don't count early ballots cast by voters who die before Election Day, while Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Ohio do.


C.C. in St. Paul, MN, asks: I have a half-snarky and half-serious question: Do you think the many people who make a living off of political speculation would stand to lose from eliminating the Electoral College and/or fixing the unrepresentativeness of the Senate? Because they seem to spend an awful lot of time talking about things like why some random county matters so much or which states one candidate/party can't afford to lose. They'd have to fill that time with either more of the others things they talk about, or some new things. Or just talk less.

V & Z answer: Well, just to take recent examples, the U.K., Israel and Brazil all lack the Electoral College and an unbalanced Senate, and yet still seem to have plenty of fully employed political pundits.

Put another way, every system for choosing representatives has its fulcrums, and so there's always something to talk about.

O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, asks: This week was the first time I have ever heard you mention the Lakers! Is (Z) a fan? They'll get the shooting with a trade for Buddy Hield. One question I have always wanted to ask (Z), as a native of L.A.: Are there any true Clippers fans in the city?

V & Z answer: (Z) is indeed a longtime Lakers fan, dating back to the Showtime era. And there are some true Clippers fans, though the primary basis for that seems to be that they are the team that is not the Lakers.

Most other cities with two teams in the same league, there is some geographical basis for fandom, like Cubs (North Side) and White Sox (South Side). But the Clippers and Lakers share the same building, and while the Clippers tried to become the East L.A. (and thus Latino) team, it didn't take. And when the Clippers finally do move to their own arena in a couple of years, it will actually be in the southwestern part of the city, and not the east side.

Further, in most other cities with two teams in the same league, each team has some historical success and some famous players for fans to latch onto. For example, you could be a Jets fan because you really like Joe Namath or a Giants fan because you really like Lawrence Taylor. Both of those teams have also won Super Bowls. But the Clippers have virtually none of this. They haven't won a title, or even been to the NBA finals. They've never sent a player to the Hall of Fame, or even had a star player long enough to retire their jersey number. If you go to an event at the arena formally known as the Staples Center, there's a whole wall of Lakers championship banners/retired numbers; the Kings have two championship banners and 8 or 9 retired numbers; and the Sparks have several championship banners and several retired numbers. The Clippers literally have nothing; you wouldn't even know they play there.

Hence the conclusion: Clippers fans root for the team because they are not the Lakers.

M.M. in Gypsum, CO, asks: A sports analogy for (Z): If Pitt is in the ACC, I'd say Pennsylvania is "on the Atlantic coast" is excellent fodder for a barroom argument. Your item is pretty picky if you ask me. Of course, if Gonzaga ever joins the Big East, I'll have some issues with that argument. When the Atlanta Braves were in the NL West, I definitely did. My question: What is the most absurd current conference membership in college sports that destroys my point? Marshall in the Sun Belt? Creighton in the Big East? The Jesuits certainly know how to push things.

V & Z answer: We wrote that item because it seemed like the sort of subtlety that Pennsylvanians would be aware of, and non-Pennsylvanians would not. And we checked with a couple of actual Pennsylvanians to confirm that. To give a rough parallel, only a native Californian would know that it's "The 405" and not "405."

As to your question, we are going to go with Pac-12 member Colorado, whose campus is located nearly 1,500 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

M.H. in Boston, MA, asks: The World Series will be in Philadelphia shortly before Election Day. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) embodies the regular-guy gritty underdog spirit of the Phillies while Mehmet Oz... does not. If Oz shows up at the game, then he will be booed (and worse), but if he doesn't show up then he will play directly into the view that he's not really from there. If you were running Oz's campaign, what would you have him do?

V & Z answer: This is now a moot point, since there are only two World Series games left, and they are both in Houston. However, this is an easy call: Oz's attendance at a Phillies game would have been a very bad idea. It would look like a cheap attempt to be "authentic" (since that is exactly what it would be), and he would be booed mercilessly by Philadelphians, which would be a bad look. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) learned this lesson the hard way a couple of weeks ago, when he had the temerity to attend an Astros playoff game in New York.

C.P. in Silver Spring, MD, asks: While watching the World Series, I had a thought: Do you think voting in Pennsylvania would be affected more by the Phillies winning or losing?

V & Z answer: Well, nobody has studied the effect of losing, but there have been a number of studies of the effect of winning. These studies focus mostly on local offices, and find that when a team wins a championship close to Election Day, that tends to boost the party in power by 1-2%. Needless to say, that effect would be watered down if applied to the entire state, but it's plausible a Phillies WS win could give the Democrats a few thousand extra votes.

P.W. in Columbus, OH, asks: I can only assume that the California Uber Alles headline was a veiled Dead Kennedy's reference, which I enjoyed a lot.

Can you speak to whether this comes from a mere passing familiarity with one of Jello Biafra's most famous songs, or is this the masque slipping off to reveal Z's deep DK fandom? Is there, in fact, an early California punk churning out daily political dispatches?

I'd love to know about your (and V's!) musical interests, even if they don't involve X, The Germs, Black Flag, et al.

V & Z answer: (Z)'s musical interests are pretty broad, but particularly focus on rock and roll and its harder forms (punk, metal, etc.). He picked up something of a taste for the Dead Kennedys in high school, though his punk preferences actually tend toward the British variant. That headline was most certainly a DK reference.

(V)'s musical interests are mostly centered on folk and folk rock.

J.M. in Silver Spring, MD, asks: You mentioned Steely Dan in the last Q&A. What I wonder is: Why Steely Dan is considered rock music? I feel it bears no resemblance to the genre. (Although I concede it doesn't really fit anywhere.)

V & Z answer: As the folks at the Every Noise at Once project have demonstrated, the amount of musical ground covered by rock and roll and its offshoots is staggering.

In any case, while there is no precise definition of what is and what is not a rock song, there are three "defining" characteristics of rock music. First, rock tends to have a rebellious message or aesthetic. When you name your band after a dildo, and you record songs like "Do It Again" and "Peg" (about a pornographic actress), you clear that bar. Second, rock tends to feature the electric guitar. Steely Dan songs almost invariably did, with Walter Becker handling the live playing and studio pros usually handling the albums. And finally, rock tends to have a backbeat—a simple rhythm that is usually provided by drums, and plays underneath the song for most of all of its duration. Think "We Will Rock You" by Queen. Steely Dan songs almost always had a backbeat.

There are some rock songs missing one of these things. There are even some missing two of these things. But Steely Dan usually had the trifecta, and so clearly qualifies as rock and roll.

B.C. in Manhattan Beach, CA, asks: Are (Z)'s dogs "attack-wiener dogs"?

A Far Side cartoon with a man on his 
knees wearing a fake nose, a dachshund biting that nose, and the caption 'How attack-wiener dogs are trained.

Inquiring minds want to know!

V & Z answer: Ha! They bark pretty loud, but they have zero bite. Usually, within 30 seconds of an "intruder" entering the residence, the barking has ended, and Flash is trying to secure a belly rub while Otto asks for treats.

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