US election English vocabulary

US election issues – English vocabulary

In this video lesson we look at the issues we expect people to be talking about, so you can join in the discussions.

  • We look at words you’ll need for topics like:
    voter fraud
    voter suppression and intimidation
    the electoral college
  • And also words to do with some recent events:
    the presidential debate
    the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg
    President Trump’s corona virus diagnosis

We can’t predict what will happen in this year’s US election.
But there are some issues and topics we expect to hear about.
So in this video we’re looking at some controversial issues, so you have the English vocabulary you need to join in the discussions.
Normally with our videos, we shoot a video like this in one day. We might go back another day and pick up lines. But basically it’s done in one day. How long have we been working on this one?
This is the fifth shoot. This is the fifth time we’ve stood in front of these cameras to tell you the story.
And every time we do, something else happens.
In our last video we looked at lots of basic vocabulary for talking about the election.
And in this one we’re going to go deeper.
If you find we’re saying words you don’t know, you might want to go back and check out our last video. I’ll put a link in the description below.
One of the questions people are discussing here is how secure and accurate the voting system is.
And some of the questions are about mail-in ballots and absentee ballots.
They’re ways we can vote without physically going to the polling station.
So I got my official mail-in ballot in the mail yesterday. And today I’m going to open it up and vote. There’s a lot of controversy about these.
One of the phrases you need to start learning is naked ballot. Now if somebody is naked it means they’re not wearing clothes, but a naked ballot is …
Well, here’s the ballot and here’s the secure envelope you’re supposed to put it in. And if you don’t put it in this envelope, and you send it in to the county election board without it, this is a naked ballot.
And it doesn’t count. In Pennsylvania, your vote will not be counted. Erm … But you’ve also got different envelopes there.
So in addition to the one that I have to put the ballot in before I send it back, there’s another envelope here and this one says voter’s declaration, and it’s got a space for my signature over here. And I have to sign it in the same way as the county election board’s book has my signature.
Now the other thing that has to happen Jay is we have to turn the camera’s off. Because you have to do this in secret.
I will. I just want to point out that we put the one envelope inside the other one before we mail it back.
In the 2016 election in the US, about a fifth of the votes were sent by mail.
This year’s different because so many people will be voting by mail. And there are some people who say mail-in ballots are subject to fraud.
Fraud is the crime where you pretend to be someone or something you’re not in order to cheat.
And some people think mail in ballots will be a way for lots of people to cheat the voting system.
For example, by applying for mail-in ballots using false names.
What other instances of voter fraud are there?
Well, many years ago the joke was that dead people were voting in Chicago, for example. People would go to the cemetery, write down names, and then go vote. But that rarely happens any more in American politics.
So that would be an example of voter impersonation. But you could also have examples of bribery or paying people to vote.
Well, that’s not necessarily illegal. Here in Philadelphia we have something called street money. People in the political process called committee men or committee persons are given money by campaigns to give to people to get them to vote for their candidates. It’s called street money or walking around money and it’s quite common here in Philadelphia.
Now President Trump claims that the mail in ballot system is rigged. A rigged system is an unfair system. It’s been set up in a way that’s dishonest to get a particular result.
I should point out that there is no evidence of massive fraud in mail-in balloting, which has been going on for decades in some states.
Yes. So other people argue mail in ballots have been used for years and fraud has been very rare.
There are other issues with mail-in ballots too. Sometimes they get rejected because voters forget to sign them.
Or they arrive late. There have been changes at the Unites States Postal Service recently that have resulted in delays in the mail, letters and packages arriving late.
And mail-in votes can take longer to count, so we’ll have to wait longer for the election results.
Mmmm.
My guess is it will be several weeks before they have a really good idea of who has won the presidential election, which is going to be hard for Americans. They’re used to getting their numbers the night of the election itself.
So on election night, one of the candidates might say, ‘I’ve won’, before all the votes are counted.
And then the other candidate will conTEST it.
Notice this verb. ConTEST. The stress is on the last syllable. You probably know the noun – a CONtest. That’s like a competition, but conTEST is a verb and it means to challenge results.
We’re expecting a lot of court cases contesting election results.
President Trump has said that he will accept the results of a free and fair election, but he’s also said that if he loses, it will be because the election is rigged.
And that’s raised concerns about the peaceful transfer of power.
That’s a key phrase. You’ll also hear the peaceful transition of power.
It is fundamental to democracy. It’s been a tradition in the United States since our first president, George Washington. When his term of office came to an end, he stepped down and passed the power on to the next president.
So some Americans are concerned about that. And the other question here is who decides who the president should be. Since 1787 the citizens have decided by voting. But this time Trump may contest the results and ask the courts to decide instead.
The Supreme Court. And we had some sad news about that last week.
So sadly Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was a liberal justice, that is left wing, passed away at the age of 87, after years of battling pancreatic cancer.
She was a strong champion for women’s rights. And now the president can nominate or name her replacement.
But it’s another controversial issue. If the results of the election are contested, the Supreme Court might have to decide the winner.
OK, back to the vote. We talked about security with mail-in ballots, but is security an issue when you vote in-person too?
Not really, but in some places the voting equipment is old, so we might hear about some malfunctioning voting machines.
Malfunctioning means failing to work correctly.
In the past, ballots were always pieces of paper, weren’t they? When did they go electronic?
Well, not everybody has gone electronic. There are still pieces of paper used around the United States and they are the safest kinds of ballots to cast because no one can hack into the machines that we use to change your vote.
Erm. Is there way that you have of being able to check what the machine has registered.
The electronic machines, the answer is no. The poll workers will press a button and the electronic machines will print out a record of every ballot, so that the numbers that the machine tallies on its computer matches what’s on the paper record. But it doesn’t really guarantee that what you voted for is what’s recorded on that piece of paper.
Ooooo. So there could be questions about vote tallies being wrong. A tally is a written record of the number of votes.
Tally is also a verb. If numbers tally it means they match exactly, and we can also say tally up, that means to add up the total.
Are you just being a bit skeptical unnecessarily there?
No, I don’t think so. The United States intelligence services have determined that foreign powers have hacked into the electoral systems of several states, and into some of the machines.
So hacking is a concern. And another is suppressing the vote. If you suppress something, you try to bring it down or stop it.
So voter suppression is where you try to stop a group of people from voting.
Yeah, it usually targets black voters, native American voters, students.
Hispanic voters as well.
Sometimes, yes.
And the way they do that takes different forms but one example might be closing a lot of polling stations in a city so people have to travel far to get there or wait in line at a polling station for hours to vote.
Yes, and it could take the form of voter confusion. So this would be when you give people the wrong date or time for the election, or you send them to the wrong place to vote.
In some states there’s a practice called purging the rolls. What happens there is, if you haven’t voted in a couple of elections, they’ll remove your name from the list of registered voters and not tell you about it.
Yes. There’s voter suppression, but there’s also voter intimidation. Intimidation is when you frighten someone or threaten them to make them do what you want.
And that would be illegal. Well it happened in Jacksonville Florida a couple of years ago where people, mostly black people, were going to vote. And police would stop them as their vehicles would approach the polling place. Maybe they had a tail light that was broken or a headlight that wasn’t working. But this was a matter of intimidation. Some black people would see other black people being pulled over and decide not to vote.
But it’s not just the police that can be intimidating. Yes, in fact some right wing groups want to form an army of poll watchers to ensure election security.
So I think there are a lot of people who are concerned that we’re going to see vigilantes at the polls. Vigilantes are groups of people who act together to take on duties that the police normally perform, because they think the police are not performing them. And many people think …
Well, in many cases vigilantes in America are armed.
Oh yes, of course.
OK, something different. A big thing that happened this week is President Trump tested positive for the corona virus. Fortunately he seems to be doing fine.
He says he’s feeling great – better than he did 20 years ago and also we shouldn’t be afraid of COVID-19.
Hmmm. Something it has brought up again in discussions though is the issue of wearing masks or not. Trump has never been a strong supporter of wearing masks.
Mask wearing has become a political issue in the US and we’re wondering, are there other countries where people object to wearing masks? Tell us in the comments.
Now another thing that happened since our last camera session was the debate between President Trump and former Vice President Biden.
I found it hard to understand. There was so much interrupting and talking at the same time that I couldn’t hear the candidates.
Opinion polls show that Americans agree with you. Republicans and Democrats agree that it was bad.
I heard a funny description on CNN. One of the reporters there said,
‘It was a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck’.
You’ve got 3 great idioms here. A hot mess. A dumpster fire. And a train wreck.
If something’s dirty or untidy then it’s a mess and a hot mess is a chaotic situation.
And the other two mean much the same. We use them to describe chaos, situations where there’s no order and everything’s confused. But obviously we just use them one at a time normally.
Most people who watched the debate thought it was unpresidential. Mmm. Unpresidential is an interesting adjective.
There’s the adjective presidential and that just means to do with the office of the president. So this is a presidential seal, and these are presidential candidates.
Candidates in the presidential election.
But Americans use the word unpresidential too and that’s a bit different.
It basically means not behaving as a president should. So behaving with formality and courtesy and seriousness, those things would be presidential behaviour. And if you don’t behave like that, it’s unpresidential.
Following the debate, opinion polls showed a significant jump in support for Joe Biden.
We still have about 3 weeks to go but the polls indicate this could be a landslide election.
That’s when one party gets many more votes than another. They win by a landslide.
And if an election is very close we might say it’s tight.
It could be a narrow victory or a narrow defeat.
OK, I’m British, and in my view there are some crazy things that happen in British politics and American politics. And one of the craziest things that happens is that the person who wins the popular vote does not become President necessarily.
That’s because of the electoral college.
They’re a group of people who come together to elect the President and we call the group the electoral college.
When you vote, you are actually not voting for the individual whose name is on the ballot like Joe Biden or Donald Trump. You are voting for electors.
OK, now this is only true of the presidential and vice presidential election. In other elections, it’s the popular vote, isn’t it?
That’s correct. Notice the phrase the popular vote. It means the choice of the majority of people who vote. Sometimes it’s different from the winning vote.
And two times in the last five elections, the person who has won the popular vote has actually lost the election.
So who are the electors and how many are there?
Well the electors are the people who will vote for the candidate you voted for. Hopefully. Well each state has two electors plus a number determined by the size of the state’s population. Now who are they is interesting. They are people who have promised to vote for the candidate you voted for, and in some states, like Pennsylvania, we elect them in the primary elections. So Democrats vote for democratic electors and Republicans vote for republican electors.
OK, so basically it’s the parties that are choosing these people. And what kind of people are they?
They’re people from all walks of life. They could be politicians. They can be doctors and lawyers and teachers and bus drivers. They can be anybody who has applied to the political party to be a candidate for election.
OK. And do they always vote for the candidate that won the popular vote?
They’re supposed to.
There have been cases where they haven’t.
This is a really interesting problem. 30 states have passed laws that say electors must vote for the candidate the people have voted for. Those laws are valid in states that have them.
But the thing is, there are another twenty states that don’t have laws.
Well, not only that but there’s a difference between the way electors vote in different states.
Oh yes. Maine and Nebraska have a proportional system.
So if Donald Trump wins half of the popular vote and Joe Biden wins half of the popular vote, then half of the electors will vote for Trump and half of the electors will vote for Biden.
Yes. But in most states it’s not like that. Even if you just win a state by one vote, you get all the electoral votes.
That’s right. We call it ‘winner takes all’ system.
We have a similar system in the UK but we call it a ‘first past the post’ system.
I haven’t heard that here.
It’s very similar to winner takes all. We’ve had politicians who lost the popular vote but won the election too.
So here’s how it can happen. Let’s imagine a country with four states, and two political parties. If these are the votes then which party wins? Well with a proportional system, it’s the blue party because they got 246 votes and the red party only got 154.
But if it’s a first past the post system or a winner takes all system, the red party wins because they won three states.
So some people argue that the electoral college is a very good system because of its federal nature. It gives two votes automatically to each state. And it doesn’t matter how big you are or how small you are. You’ll still get those two votes. And then you get extra votes for the number of people. So if you’re voting in a small state like Rhode Island, your voting power is actually much stronger than if you’re voting in a state that’s very populous like California.
But there are lots of people who argue against it as well.
They say it’s unfair because the winner of the popular vote doesn’t always win the election. And they say it’s unfair because it makes the candidates pay too much attention to some states and ignore others.
Candidates will only have to focus on the swing states, the purple states, And they can forget about the other states because they don’t matter.
So on election night and in the weeks after, when the votes come in, you’re going to hear about which state has voted for which person.
Each candidate wants 270 electoral votes. That’s the goal!
There are 538 votes in total, so when someone gets 270 they’ve won the presidency.
And then the election is over.
I think Americans are going to be very relieved when it’s over.
But three years from now it’ll start all over again.
OK, this video is all over now too.
It’s been a long one.
We’ll do something different next time.
So make sure you subscribe to our channel.
And I just want to say, we’ve been working on our website, where you can see all of our videos and get the transcripts too.
So check it out and tell your friends about it.
Bye everyone.
Bye-bye.

 

 

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