Elections have consequences: four hidden effects this year

When people vote, they pick candidates. That’s what elections are all about.

Not really. This year, there are least four hidden elections taking place.

The push to put a new conservative on the Supreme Court before Election Day makes the presidential vote a referendum on that effort, perhaps after the fact. If Joe Biden and a Democratic Senate emerge as winners, they could consider their victory as a mandate to quickly rebalance the Court.

President Trump has pushed his authority to overturn actions by regulatory agencies that are supposed to be independent, making them just another part of his administration. The presidential election could lead to their recovering their lawful, independent powers.

That would mean environmental, banking and many other rules could be recovered. Plus, federal inspectors general could be restored to their independent authority. That is what’s just behind the presidential ballot.

Then, there’s the Senate. If the Republicans hold on, expect continued roadblocks for the Democrats. If the Democrats gain control, they might use GOP methods. Their judicial appointments could sail through. But more than the courts are in play. All top federal officials are subject to confirmation.

The big question is whether the Democrats would halt the GOP’s ability to kill their bills by ending the filibuster, which now means many bills need 60 votes. If so, they could take advantage of their potential control of government and make major policy changes.

The Senate balance is now in question. Analysts give the Democrats a good chance of holding 51 or even 52 seats out of 100. That would include a Democratic gain in Maine.

Though campaigns focus on issues from health care to taxes, the big issue is which party controls the Senate. On that vote, all senators remain loyal to their party. So, in voting for senator, Mainers and others are really making a broad policy decision on government, more than on candidates’ promises on specific issues.

The House of Representatives is a little more complicated. It now has a large Democratic majority, which is likely to be preserved.

If election challenges or inconclusive ballot counting prevent either presidential candidate from receiving the required 270 electoral votes by January 3, the new House could elect the president.

Members vote by state and the single vote for each state is determined by its House delegation. The two Maine House members would have the same weight as California’s huge delegation. Today, with two Democrats, Maine would vote for Biden, but the new House would decide.

Right now, despite the Democratic majority, Republicans control most of the state delegations in the House. That gives congressional races in small states, including Maine, particular importance in determining the state majority.

The fourth hidden vote will be for state legislatures. Under the Constitution, state legislatures elected this year will be responsible for redrawing the congressional district lines resulting from the census. In each state, the districts must have the same population.

Some states have moved toward leaving the task to independent, nonpartisan commissions, but many congressional districts are drawn subject to statehouse politics. In states like Texas, political gerrymandering has created incredibly shaped districts, designed to limit the seats held by Democrats or minorities.

Few voters may be aware that their legislative ballots will influence the state’s congressional representation. In some states, reapportionment could produce major shifts in the composition of House delegations for the next ten years.

In Maine, the two congressional districts are far from as compact as possible. They appear to represent a political compromise that gives the Republicans the chance to win a seat. That situation could change as population grows in the southern part of the state. It might take two-thirds of the Legislature to redraw the lines.

Beyond these four hidden votes, another issue surrounds this year’s elections – the elections themselves.

Since becoming president, Trump has attacked the security of the electoral system, though he provided no provable evidence that it is vulnerable. Cheating is possible in any human activity. Trump has turned that obvious truth into a claim that, if cheating could happen, it does happen.

With elections stretching back over two centuries, no evidence exists that cheating has been much of a problem. To support Trump’s claim, more than mere assertion is required. Otherwise, the intent of the claim is suspect.

If Trump-Pence loses the election, their campaign seems ready to rely on the suspicion the president has created to try to nullify the results.

States should keep good records on the safety of polling places and all types of remote voting and vote counting. The data must be strong enough to quickly persuade a court.

The rest is up to voters. Vote.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.