Understanding Guyana and U.S. presidential systems 
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Dear Editor,

THERE are still doubts among Guyanese (in Guyana and the diaspora) and people as far away as India and in other countries on whether Joe Biden will be the next President. There seems to be a misunderstanding of the electoral systems of both.

Unlike Guyana that has a simple, straight forward election to choose a President and the government (Chief Executive and Cabinet), the U.S. has a peculiar process to choose its President and the Cabinet and even ambassadors. There are several layers or levels in the process to declaring and swearing in the U.S. President.
Congress will meet on January 6 to count the Electoral College votes (538) and certify the winner. I have no doubt that Biden will be declared as winning the presidency of the November elections and Kamala Harris the Vice-Presidency.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in on January 20 in front of the Capitol Building that has been the tradition for some 200 years. There, the President will deliver his acceptance speech. And sometime in February he will address a joint session of Congress on the state of the American union.

The process of electing an American President is different from Guyana. In the U.S., potential nominees of a party compete against each other in 55 state and territorial (primary) elections (or caucuses) to win delegates. The process takes some six months. The candidate who wins a majority of the total delegates (of about 4500 in the Democratic Party and 2500 in the Republican Party) wins the nomination. He or she becomes the nominee of that party at an official convention in July or August. Only registered members of a party can vote in a primary or caucus to prevent people from joining both parties and voting in both of their primaries.

Each party’s nominee face off in a general election on the first Monday in November. Getting a majority or the most votes of national total votes cast does not guarantee one a victory. The candidates compete for electoral votes in 50 states and the District of Columbia (capital of the U.S.). There are contests in each one for electoral votes (EVs); the number of electoral votes equals to the size of its congressional delegation (House and Senate).  It varies from three to 55. The candidate who wins the most votes in each state wins the delegates, except in two states where they are based proportionally on votes received or districts won. A candidate needs 270 votes to win the presidency; so he or she focuses on winning states that would produce at least 270 EVs.

A candidate was known to win 270 EVs without winning an overall majority of national votes. Gore defeated Bush in 2000 in popular votes but lost the presidency. Similarly, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in 2016 in the popular vote but lost the presidency. In 2020, Biden defeated Trump for the national votes and the EVs.
In Guyana, votes are cast for one President, but the same vote in America also elects the Vice- President. After the Guyanese President is sworn in,, he appoints a Vice-President (VP). If none is appointed, the Prime Minister, whom he appoints, is the de facto VP to succeed or act for the President when he is out of the country.

The American Electoral College (prominent people who equal the total number of EVs of each state) met on December 14 in each state capital and Washington territory to formally elect the President and VP. A separate vote is held for each position. (In NY, Bill and Hillary Clinton were electoral voters of the college in 2020). The college is not bound to vote for the candidate that won the state vote and some in the past were known to vote for a losing candidate. The ballots were counted and announced. In the December vote; Biden got 302 votes and Trump 232. Harris got 302 and Mike Pence got 232. No college member deviated from the preference of the majority of votes of each state last December 14.

The ballots were placed in a sealed envelope in each state and delivered to Congress. Congress will be sworn in on January 3. The envelopes will be opened on January 6 in a joint session of both houses and counted in the presence of members of both Houses. The count will be announced publicly. A member of the Senate or House can object to the count of a state or request the EV of a state be disregarded in the total count. The session will be adjourned. The objection will be debated in the House and a vote taken on whether to reject or accept the EVs of that state. Republican Senators plan to disrupt the process. Some plan to object to some states EVs where they claim fraud. Their objection will be defeated in the House where the Democrats have a majority. So Biden’s victory is assured.

Once sworn in, the President’s appointments for Cabinet positions will be debated in the Senate and put to a formal vote. In Guyana, the President appoints Cabinet members and ambassadors without parliamentary approval. The Cabinet is drawn from the Parliament and up to four non-elected members. In the U.S., a Cabinet member cannot be a member of Congress; members of Congress can become Cabinet members, but must resign their seats for which there are by-elections. Each appointee to the President’s Cabinet (and even Deputy Cabinet positions) and for ambassadorial positions and several other appointees must be debated and a formal public hearing held, followed by a vote only in the Senate. Most judges of the federal courts and all Supreme Court judges are also nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate by a simple majority. A majority vote is required for all confirmations; Democrats lack a majority in the Senate (50-48). Two Senate contests in Georgia on January 5 will decide control of the Senate. At any rate, Biden’s appointees will sail through the Senate, regardless of which party controls it. The Senate tends to defer to the President on Cabinet or ambassadorial positions except in rare situations. Formal hearings for Cabinet berths will begin next week, long before Biden’s swearing in on January 20.

Yours truly,
Dr. Vishnu Bisram (Pol Scientist)

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