Another Voting FAQ

What if Florida’s election officials aren’t able to certify a final result by the Dec. 18 Electoral College vote? Or if Florida’s final result is a tie?

The state legislature–which is Republican-controlled–could step in. United States Code Title 3, Section 2 gives the legislature the power to appoint electors if a state has “failed to make a choice on the day prescribed by law.” While there’s some argument, constitutional scholars seem to be leaning toward the view that the Electoral College could choose a president without Florida’s participation.

What if Florida’s Republican secretary of state certifies that George W. Bush won, but Democrats say the result was illegitimate?

They could look to the election of 1876 and send their own slate of electors. During Reconstruction, when there were questions about what was a legitimate state government, Florida (!), Louisiana, and South Carolina each sent in Democratic and Republican sets of electoral votes. In the end, only the Republican slates were counted. 

When ballots are double-punched for one race, is the whole ballot invalidated?

Only the double-punch is invalidated. The properly punched selections are counted.

When did ballots become secret?

The secret ballot was created in Australia in the late 19th century and first adopted in this country in 1888. Before then people made ballots at home and brought them into polling places. Since there was no presumption of secrecy, polling places were like open auctions. Political parties produced their own ballots, with only their own candidates on them, and bribed people to use these. By 1900 the majority of states had laws providing for selection in private from a government-printed ballot listing all legitimate candidates.

Can the government trace how you voted?

No. All voting systems are supposed to separate the recording of who voted from the ballot that person cast. Absentee ballots generally have two envelopes, one with a return address and an inner one that is blank. The election official who separates the two envelopes cannot see how the person voted.

Speaking of absentee ballots, why did Explainer say yesterday that these ballots generally aren’t recorded until sometime after Election Day?

Because it’s true. In Oregon. In most other states they are recorded on Election Day. (Explainer was distracted by the sudden realization that she may have accidentally voted for Pat Buchanan.)

For more voting questions, click here  and here.

Next questions?

Explainer thanks Tony Sutin of the Appalachian School of Law, Daniel Ortiz of the University of Virginia School of Law, Kirk Jowers of Wiley, Rein & Fielding, and Michael White of the Office of the Federal Register.