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Election Preview: Polling Should Be More Accurate; Possible Legal Battles Ahead

School leaders say they're reaching fewer older voters with their referendum campaign messaging compared to other age groups, but are encouraged by the amount of people getting out to vote ahead of Election Day.

(Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

Next Tuesday is Election Day, and voters on both sides say the stakes are the biggest in their lifetime. WFIU News brought together four experts to talk on the Oct. 23 Noon Edition about national, state and legal issues heading into this election.

Here is a breakdown of a few of them for today’s City Limits.

Polls say Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden leads incumbent president Donald Trump (R) as Election Day nears. But many recall Hillary Clinton was in a similar position before losing to Trump in 2016.

Indiana University emeritus professor of political science Marjorie Hershey said there are fundamental differences this time when you dig into the numbers.

“Biden’s lead is larger now than Clinton’s was in 2016, and it’s been much more stable than Clinton’s was in 2016,” she said. “In 2016, an unusually high percentage of people told poll takers they were undecided close to the time of the election, close to 15 percent.”

VOTER GUIDE: Meet The Candidates For Indiana's 9th Congressional District

She said that number include a high number of so-called “shy” Trump voters who planned to vote for him but didn’t want to tell anyone they were doing so. Those Trump voters are no longer shy about doing so and no longer would show up in the undecideds.

These factors mean the polls should be more accurate this time. Hershey said the election will hinge on who can get their supporters to turn out to vote.

Former Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke now leads Indiana University's Civic Leaders Center. He said this election is unlike any other he’s seen, and the coronavirus pandemic is the main reason. It has changed the way candidates can campaign and has changed the very way in which people cast their ballots – which could affect turnout and leads to many questions.

“We’ve seen more early voting perhaps because of that, how’s that going to shake out?” he asked. “It looks like it’s mostly Democrats voting early, but we don’t know that for sure. How’s that going to affect the way the votes come in on election day? We don’t know that.”

Helmke noted two historical factors that are in conflict – one for Trump and one against him. He said in Trump’s favor is that incumbent presidents generally get re-elected. However, Trump lost the popular vote by about 3 million votes in 2016, and it is rare for somebody to win a second time if he did not win the popular vote the first time.

VOTER GUIDE: Meet The Candidates For Indiana's Gubernatorial Race

IU Maurer School of Law Professor Kevin Brown says along with the presidential race, he will be studying Senate races for clues about what could happen with issues such as racial justice and affirmative action.

“If you think about something like affirmative action, it may only survive if the Democrats both win the presidency, the Senate, and then take the extraordinary and unprecedented step of adding justices to the Supreme Court,” he said.  

He said he won’t predict that will happen, but if it does, he expects the Democrats to say Republicans set off the court battle with their refusal to even allow Obama nominee Merrick Garland a hearing in 2016 and then rushing through Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett. In 2016, Senate Republicans said voters in the next election should weigh in before the next justice is picked and blocked the Garland nomination from getting a hearing for nine months.

They reversed course this year and seated Barrett on Monday – just eight days before voters will complete voting in this presidential cycle. Helmke said no other justice has been seated after July 27 of an election year.

READ MORE: Indiana Republicans Praise Amy Coney Barrett Confirmation

“Expanding out the Supreme Court would be viewed as a declaration of war,” Brown said. “But if you don’t take that first step, we’re going to be in a situation where our political process is far more liberal than our Supreme Court.” That’s because, he said, the Republicans move to seat Coney solidifies a 6-3 conservative court majority for at least 15 more years. The current oldest judge is David Souter at 83, and he is considered another liberal. The oldest conservative, Clarence Thomas, is 72.

Brian Howey of Howey Politics Indiana said he does not expect either Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb or huge GOP majorities in the Indiana House and Senate will be challenged. But he believes national analysts will closely watch the congressional race between Republican Victoria Spartz and Democrat Christina Hale.

“The fifth congressional district … that’s a pure toss up, I think it could go either way,” Howey said. “It fits the profile of a suburban seat, when the polls close in Indiana, first in the nation at 6 p.m. on Nov. 3, I think there will be a lot of attention to the Fifth Congressional District.”

Our experts were unsure whether results will be complete enough on the night of Nov. 3 for a new president to be declared.

Hershey said the differences in how people vote could create election night uncertainty. She said most Democrats say they are planning to vote early or by mail, while most Republicans say they will vote in person on election day.

“In a number of states, the data that come in on election night, will be those counted at the polls in person, which means they are going to be more Republican than the vote as a whole,” she said. Over time, as the mail ballots and the absentee ballots get counted, the total is going to trend more and more Democratic.”

Hershey said if Trump is losing and claims the mail votes are fraudulent, that could lead to serious legal entanglements.

On the other hand, Helmke sees a way the decision could be clear on election night. He said if Trump loses one or more of Florida, Georgia and North Carolina – all states that supported him in 2016 - the election could be called for Biden before midnight.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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