ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — In the coming week, we might be looking to the U.S. Constitution to help us navigate an electoral quagmire.
It likely won’t happen, but possible and if it does, Ben Sheehan will have a good idea where in the Constitution we should look for answers and where the Constitution might come up short.
He wrote a book called “OMG WTF Does the Constitution Actually Say?” and it examines the obscure rules built into the Constitution and the document’s notable omissions, but he does so in a light and humorous way.
Thursday, Sheehan took part in a virtual talk as part of JCC Lane Dworkin Jewish Book Festival 2020, which runs through the weekend.
Here’s Adam Chodak’s interview with Ben Sheehan:
Adam Chodak: One of the things that your book lays out is how vague the Constitution can be when it comes to elections and how much is left unsaid.
Ben Sheehan: Really the Constitution leaves the decision around elections to the states and Article 1 Section 4, state legislatures get to have dominion of the times, places and manner of our elections, but Congress by law can make or alter those things so while the logistics are largely left to the state level Congress could change that. They’ve done that in the past by making Election Day the same day across the country and laws like the 1965 Voting Rights Act, how many days of early voting we have, whether we can vote by mail, a lot of that stuff is left to the states.
AC: Are there any areas that might be considered obscure to the public that might come into play on Election Day or in the days or week afterwards?
BS: Several. There’s the process of what happens after we count the electoral votes and what happens if nobody gets a majority of the electoral votes or if there’s a tie, the House would choose the President in that case and they would do it as states with each state getting one vote so California with its 53 representatives would get one vote for the state, Wyoming with its one representative would get one vote and you need 26 states to win so if there was a tie or no one got a majority of electoral votes for Vice President, the Senate would choose the Vice President and it would every senator voting and you would need 51 to win and that’s starting January 6th and then after, but there’s also stuff that could go haywire between Election Day and that date.
AC: And then the electors. I didn’t fully realize that not every state has it like this where the electors aren’t bound so you might win Wisconsin, but you might have, according to the electoral college rules there, go and vote for someone else…
BS: Right, so about a third of states, 17 to be exact don’t have any laws mandating their electors to vote for the popular vote in the state. Some states that have no elector-binding laws include Texas and Georgia and Pennsylvania so it is possible that you could have some electors that don’t vote for the person who wins the popular vote in the state and there are even states that have those laws, but if the elector were to vote for somebody else, there’s no penalty for doing that and the vote still counts so kind of ask the question, what’s the point in having that law? And throughout history we’ve had about 167 faithless electors casting votes who didn’t win their state, but none of those votes have every tipped the balance of an election.
AC: So take away the election stuff, what specific part of the Constitution surprised you the most – that’s the first thing you talk about at a party?
BS: I would tell everyone at the party that they are qualified to be a Supreme Court justice, they have all the necessary qualifications to be Speaker of the House, Senate President Pro Tempore and elector because there are absolutely not qualifications for any of those jobs in the Constitution.
AC: Maybe you just inspired me? Speaking of inspiration, you were connected to the website Funny or Die. How did you move from that to something – I know it’s funny – but something this sophisticated?
BS: So I grew up in DC and I was surrounded by politics for better or for worse my entire life. It was my focus of study throughout my career in school and so when I started at Funny or Die I naturally gravitated towards the more political projects and I found it interesting and a personal challenge to take what I thought was intriguing and fascinating and try to turn it on its face and try to make it interesting for other people and engaging and so when I tried to do that with the Constitution, I tried to do it from a bit of a Funny or Die angle and make something that I find interesting and may not be interesting to some audiences, but by presenting it in a new way through that Funny or Die lens hopefully reach more people with the information.
AC: What is it like to be asked by a group in Rochester, NY, the Jewish Book Festival, to take part in a talk like this?
BS: Well, from my Jewish upbringing I was always learning and through my religious schooling that it’s important to be involved in the world and to be paying attention to what’s going on around you and to get involved in government, so civic education and an understanding of government and participating in government I’ve always considered part of Jewish faith and it was an honor to be asked to part of this talk and I’m really looking forward to it.
AC: I followed you on Twitter and I scrolled down. It seems like you’re studying the polling fairly closely. Are you putting out any predictions at this point?
11:30 I’m not putting out any predictions, but I am seeing some interestingly close races across the country all up and down the ballot. And think some states that we traditionally thought of as red states or blue states are coming into play. One state that’s of interest to me is Texas. It’s leading the country in early voting, young people are voting at historic numbers and I think because it’s the fastest state where demographics are changing and I think you’re going to have some really close races up and down the ballot.
AC: Ben, anything else you’d like to add that I might have missed?
BS: The book is available right now, it’s also available in Spanish if that is your preferred language, you can get it in Spanish and there’s also a journal that specifically explains the issue of gerrymandering and I can be found at @bensheehan on Twitter and Instagram.
AC: I forgot to ask you, you were on Bill Maher recently, what was that like?
BS: I was, it was a very surreal experience, I’ve been a fan for a long time. I watched Politically Incorrect growing up in middle school and high school, I was that cool, so it was pretty surreal to be on the show and talking with them.