A Presidential Decision: What happens next?

The Means Report

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – We thought when we scheduled this broadcast that this would be the broadcast where we just put a bow on everything and wrapped up our Election 2020 coverage. It didn’t work out that way, did it? No, so we’ve brought back our political analyst, Dr. Craig Albert, to talk about the vote count, to talk about the balance of power and how things are shaking out in Washington, DC, as the final results continue to be officially official. And then what’s next? What happens to our nation going forward? And if you haven’t had the privilege of hearing Dr. Albert break things down, I think you’ll appreciate it. We have to be careful today, because we record “The Means Report” on Thursday. So that’s several days before it’s going to air. So you’re not gonna see any hard numbers up on the screen here, but what you will hear is some of the reasons behind what’s going on in our nation right now, why the election is working out the way it is, and what makes voters behave the way they do, and really what is to come for our country.

Brad Means: Craig, thank you for spending all of election night with us here at NewsChannel 6, and thanks for coming back today to be on “The Means Report.”

Dr. Craig Albert: Thanks for having me. You’re too kind in your words.

Brad Means: Well, I mean every bit of it, and I learn so much during our time together. And so I guess my first question is help me learn when this thing will be official. Doesn’t it have to be by January 20th when Inauguration Day rolls around?

Dr. Craig Albert: It has to be official two weeks before the Electoral College vote, which is this year, December 14th. So the first certification from the states has to arrive two weeks prior to that. So it has to be official by December 2nd-ish.

Brad Means: All right, as of this recording, there are lots of lawsuits flying around on both sides. And so if I heard you correctly just then, all those suits need to play out by that deadline, correct?

Dr. Craig Albert: Absolutely. Everything that needs to play out by the courts has to play out by then, unless something absolutely dramatic happens. And then we’re not sure how the Supreme Court, if they get involved, would handle that, because it’s never really gone that far except for 2000. And that was decided before the date.

Brad Means: I’m glad you mentioned the Supreme Court, because there’s this perception out there, I think, that they can decide this election. They can tell us who the real winner is. That’s not right at all. Is it?

Dr. Craig Albert: That is not right. The Supreme Court can only decide if procedure and processes that are handled by state law, in this instance for the electoral process, for the national election, if the processes that were already in the law books, if they were handled procedurally correctly. That is all the Supreme Court in this case could rule on. So they can’t pick a winner. They could just say, for instance, if ballots were counted past the day of election in the State of Pennsylvania. If their state law says that’s allowed, the Supreme Court would be able to say “According to the Constitution and their state law, that was allowed,” and that’s all they could do. So they couldn’t pick a winner.

Brad Means: How did we get here? Why couldn’t we just wrap this up on Election Day? Did the mail-in system change everything?

Dr. Craig Albert: It had quite a lot of consequences. The way this works is that some states don’t allow for those mail-in ballots to be counted or even opened until actual in-person voting on November 3rd started to happen. That’s determined by state law. And there are actually quite a few states that requested their own states to allow the opening of envelopes and the counting of ballots before Election Day, so that this would not happen. And the state assemblies denied those requests. So this is all due to how states decided they would count absentee ballots. And so what you could be assured of is that for the next presidential election, mail-in voting will be here to stay, but by then, states will have readjusted these laws and regulated it to have a clear understanding of when absentee ballots in this massive numbers must be counted by.

Brad Means: All right, so you say mailing in your ballot is the wave of the future. It’s not going anywhere. If things stand the way they stand, and again, this is very difficult, because we’re recording it on Thursday. But at this point I would ask you, next time around do Republicans need to get better at mailing in their ballots? Or if things switch by the time “The Means Report” airs on Monday, does one side need to get better at mailing things in?

Dr. Craig Albert: So it looks like at this point that the Republicans were relying on the in-person voter turnout. And what seems to have happened is that voter turnout in many of these states, in the Rust Belt states, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and perhaps even in Georgia, the in-person expected turnout did not match what the Republican Party thought it would. So the ballots, the mail-in ballots, which the Democrats were really pushing, did meet expectations in most of the states. For instance, in the state of Georgia, there were about 4 million mail-in ballots. Republicans were relying on the in-person turnout to sway the vote towards them. And as of right now, it doesn’t look like the percentages of in-person match those expectations. So they will definitely have to do a better job in 2024 of encouraging the mail-in ballots. Both parties will have to do this, along with a dramatic shift in how campaigns work overall, because with the mail-in ballots, more diverse groups will be able to participate easier in the national elections. And so you won’t be able to concentrate on just one state for the Electoral College or one precinct or one county. So both parties are gonna have to be much more inclusive in their campaign strategy to encourage more voting overall.

Brad Means: Tell me if the perception is correct, and all you have to do is get on, you know, pick a website and you can find a perception that suits your viewpoint. So what about this one? Everything was going really well for President Trump on Election Night. He was winning all the states he needed to win, and then the counting stopped. And then the ballot dumping began. The ballot fairy started showing up in the middle of the night with loads of Biden-only ballots. Is there any validity to any of those theories that we hear like that?

Dr. Craig Albert: No, the way this happens is, in most of these states, again, all determined by state law, and in some of these states, they’re Republican state assemblies that constructed the very laws that are seemingly conflictual right now. What happened is the states were releasing in-person voting statistics first. Then when all of those in-person voting statistics were released, they started to tabulate and release the mail-in ballots. Depending on the state, that means they were giving you numbers as they were opening them, because their state assemblies would not allow them to be opened until that day. In other instances, after the in-person results were released, they released in total all of their mail-in ballots that they had been accumulating and counting for, but could not by state law release the numbers until the in-person votes were accounted for. So that’s how it appears all of a sudden Trump has a million-person vote lead in one of these states, and then the next minute he’s down by 500,000. That’s because the state law allowed for the mail-in ballots to be released in massive numbers as one group at that time. And so those total vote counts went up tremendously in those states, but that is an issue that was caused by state congresses deciding how those votes were going to be counted and displayed and tabulated.

Brad Means: It seems like that makes things stressful certainly, misleading, possibly. Why can’t we just count everything, not report the numbers until there’s a final?

Dr. Craig Albert: That’s a possibility, Brad, but that has to be done by state law. So each state legislature has to regulate that. So if people are unhappy with how this turned out, then it’s the time to call your Congresspeople and make sure that you tell them you want this process regulated differently for the 2024 election.

Brad Means: So if somebody said to you, “My vote doesn’t count. The outcome is predetermined. This feels rigged.” You’re telling me that’s not true at all.

Dr. Craig Albert: That is not true. Every vote counts. It is a sacred duty, a sacred honor to be able to vote, and look at these numbers. I mean, as of Thursday afternoon, we’re talking about states that have 10 million registered voters coming down to 700 vote totals, coming down to 5,000 vote totals, coming down to one town in one county in these states. Those are the differences that are gonna make this presidential campaign, who’s gonna pick the president. So it could very well come down to one person who decided not to vote, or one person who showed up at, you know, 6:59 in the State of Georgia and cast their vote. Every vote counts, especially this new election cycles that we’re experiencing.

Brad Means: Do you think it’s fair? And I have a feeling you’re gonna tell me, it’s just the way it’s set up in each state. But do you think it’s fair that a heavily populated area like Atlanta can determine the outcome for the entire State of Georgia? The State of Georgia really is Atlanta and the rest of us. So why should they have such a huge say in the outcome in that heavily populated, heavily Democratic town?

Dr. Craig Albert: Well, the argument would be, Brad, that the rural outlying counties also have a tremendous say. So if you look at the numbers, the Republicans versus Democrats in the State of Georgia are relatively even, so it’s really a get-out-the-vote campaign. So I don’t think it’s unfair. It’s just perhaps rural Republicans might not have matched the numbers. They might not have gone out to vote or mailed in their ballots, compared to the Metro Atlanta area residents who did mail in their ballots in massive numbers, or showed up on Election Day to vote.

Brad Means: We have so many questions for Dr. Craig Albert today. When we come back on “The Means Report,” we’re gonna cover trust in the media, trust in the polls. What does this country look like going forward for the next four years? We’ll get his insight. You’ll want to hear it. Our conversation with political scientist Dr. Craig Albert from Augusta University, when “The Means Report” continues.

Part 2

Brad Means: Welcome back to “The Means Report.” Continuing our conversation with Dr. Craig Albert, political scientist from Augusta University, to really try to understand this election. I want to remind our viewers we record “The Means Report” on Thursday. And so we’re not gonna try to get overly specific with where Joe Biden or where Donald Trump stands today. Again, we want to find out what happened on Election Night, and what might happen going forward as far as the state of our nation. Should we trust the media, Dr. Albert? You always tell me in our years of knowing each other, not to just trust one source, to gather your information and to form your opinions after listening to several media sources. What about on Election Night? We had some outlets calling states, others not. Who do we trust when we’re trying to get those up-to-the-minute results and that up to the minute information?

Dr. Craig Albert: You know, as a political scientist, I’m pretty against national media organizations from calling particular states. I don’t think that we should persuade the public one way or another or let them know. It could persuade how people on the West Coast vote, for instance. So by the time Georgia polls close, and those numbers are generally reported, that’s not the case this year, of course, but usually the West Coast polls are still open. And if they think one candidate has a commanding lead or that Georgia’s been called, for instance, people in the state of California might vote differently or might not vote at all. So I think that we should rest until the Electoral College decides what it’s going to do, which is the second week in December. That’s when we know for sure who won a state. So Brad, I want to caution everybody, even though certain states have been called, that’s not necessarily the outcome that’s gonna exist come the Electoral College voting day, which is in mid-December, December 14. How a democracy handles itself. And that’s what the world is looking at. They’re looking at a global leader of democratic politics taking place.

Brad Means: I want to ask you about division in our country, because when you look at an election that’s split down the middle, when you look at a country that gave neither candidate a landslide, you might think that we… You know, half the country is happy, half is sad. We don’t like each other. I don’t pick that up in my day-to-day life, though. I don’t pick that up in my interaction with friends or strangers. Do you think this nation is 50/50 at odds with each other?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think there are certain issues that the nation is 50/50 at odds with each other about, but I don’t think that that naturally defines us or makes us opposed to one another just because of our split differences on the issues. Now, there is a particular population that are at odds with each other, but that doesn’t define the country. I mean, to me, just looking at it objectively, we seem unified. Of course, we’re nationally anxious right now, because there needs to be a result, and the country’s waiting on that. But look at how calm and peaceful everything is. So there’s a lot of hype and a lot of disinformation, especially by foreign adversaries, trying to create the image, that some people in America are unfortunately buying, that we’re very split and very dis-unified, but we’re not dis-unified. We have differences of opinions on certain issues, but I look forward to moving forward in this country where we can get, no matter who wins, and who has won by the point that this airs, that we’ll be more unified and the world can see that we’re more unified in the process of democracy, in democratic discourse.

Brad Means: Yeah, I do want to tap a little bit more into your knowledge of international affairs. It is one of your strongest areas of expertise. And you did tell us during this broadcast that no, you don’t think this election was rigged, but do you think that a foreign government or entity influenced it?

Dr. Craig Albert: Oh, absolutely, and it’s still being influenced. Right now on social media, Russia is very heavily involved in mis and disinformation social media campaigns as we speak. They’re trying to create the idea of conspiracy theories about secret ballots, about these types of things. They’re amplifying them because they seek our destruction. So they want both sides, the left and the right in this country, to think that the election was not handled properly or that it was rigged, because if they influence Americans thinking this, they believe they can divide us, cause civil insurrection and rioting, which is what they want. They want to see the United States dissolve from the inside out, without them ever having to fire a shot at us. Every American needs to be aware that foreign adversaries are trying to make you think a certain way based on social media platforms and the fake news that they’re deploying.

Brad Means: And that presents itself, Dr. Albert, that shows up in our feeds, in the comment section of Facebook, for instance, right?

Dr. Craig Albert: It’s not just in the comment sections. They’ll go far as to create deep fake accounts. So without getting too technical, they’ll create people with a story on Facebook that don’t really exist. They’re intelligence operators for the Russian military. They’ll have faces, names. They’ll have friends. They’ll tell you what their job is. And then they’ll friend you on Facebook, and then you’ll accept it. And when you accept it, then you’ll see their feed and they’ll release stories. And those are the stories that are fake, but you trust them because you’re friends with these people on Facebook. And so you don’t know that it’s actually fake news, and Russia’s information specialists are experts at this. They do it all the time, and they do it perfectly well. So it’s not as though you would know it’s fake news. There’s not a signal on it or a hashtag that says “fake news.” And so that’s why don’t just believe something that shows up on a friend’s timeline on social media. Go and verify it before you reshare it or tweet it out yourself or buy it yourself. Double check all those sources, because we just don’t know if it’s accurate information. And remember, this is Russia, and this is just one of five state actors that are doing this. They are very sophisticated in being a strategic adversary of the United States. They’ve been engaging in propaganda, and that’s what information warfare is, is a type of propaganda, for three centuries now. So the only thing that’s changed is the apparatus that they use for propaganda, and that’s social media, but their theory, their institutional mechanisms, the structure of their government has been doing this for three centuries now, Brad, so they’re experts at this, and they know how we think. So we need to adjust for that and not let them break our unity.

Brad Means: Because when it’s broken, it makes them either be or think they are stronger, right?

Dr. Craig Albert: Precisely. They become the top actor on the international scene, and the United States does not want that.

Brad Means: I remember not too long ago, I don’t know if it was Lent or for some other reason, but you kind of unplugged from social media for awhile. You fasted when it comes to checking your feed. Should we do that when this is over? Should we break away from it for a few weeks maybe?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think it’s always a good idea to fast from social media once in a while, at least for a week or two, to cleanse oneself of everything that you hear. You just want to maintain your mental health, and you want to maintain objectivity. And if I can say so, you want to maintain love of neighbor. And so often we need to cleanse ourselves from social media so that we regain our good virtuous engagement with one another.

Brad Means: A lot of people said the pandemic would go away November 4th. Well, we’re recording this November 5th. The pandemic is still here. Real quickly, what do you see for that in the months ahead?

Dr. Craig Albert: I’d like to point out that on November 4th, we actually had the highest number of reported cases, new reported cases, in the history of the pandemic. So it’s here after Election Day and it’s gonna be here. It’s a public health crisis. We’re still in a crisis. It’s not gonna go away. The physical effects aren’t gonna go away for a long time. People unfortunately are still gonna get sick, and unfortunately, people are still going to die from this. Even once a vaccine is approved by the FDA in the United States, and once people believe that it works and it shows that it works and starts getting vaccinated against the coronavirus, the longterm economic and mental health issues from the pandemic have lasting so long, Brad, is gonna be here for a generation. So the effects of this are almost everlasting as far as individuals are concerned.

Brad Means: Craig, we have 30 seconds left, and I’ll just say this to you. What I found most encouraging after this crazy election season is the sun came up the next day.

Dr. Craig Albert: The sun also rises and it always will. And remember, if people are unhappy with how the election happened, you only have to wait two years to change Congress’s structure, and only another four years to change the president. So if you don’t like it, it’s like the weather in Georgia, right? If you don’t like it, wait a minute, and it’ll change. That’s the way elections in this country are built as well.

Brad Means: Well said. Political scientist, Dr. Craig Albert, our friend on “The Means Report.” Thank you for everything.

Dr. Craig Albert: Thanks for having me.

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The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.