Citizens and commentators frequently mix up the words “campaign” and “election.” The campaign — take the presidential campaign — involves candidates and their advocates promoting their candidates and knocking down the opponents of their candidates. The election concerns voting itself.
It used to be the case that the campaign preceded the election, or at least most of it did. The election was on Election Day, and the campaign preceded it. Even this was only partly true, because some voters did not vote on Election Day; they voted before Election Day because they had absentee ballots or in-person early voting.
Election 2020 is very different, since the majority of the voters might not vote on Election Day itself on Nov. 3. Therefore, the claim that the campaign precedes the election is largely untrue.
In addition, in the United States the votes for president are not directly for president. Votes are for electors, and the electors vote for the president in December. Therefore, Election Day is not when you vote for president. You vote for electors on that day.
This year, the campaign for president will probably go beyond Nov. 3, because things can happen after the election that can affect how electors cast their ballots. A candidate must secure 270 Electoral College votes to be elected president, and there are factors that can sway electors between Election Day and the day they cast their ballots.
Constitutional experts and crisis managers are addressing a potential constitutional crisis this year because President Donald Trump has indicated that he does not trust mail-in ballots and may not accept the results of the election. State legislatures controlled by Republicans (and possibly Democrats) could send their electors to Washington to vote before all of the votes cast in this election are tabulated.
This year, it is best to use the words “campaign” and “election” very carefully, because their meaning has changed substantially. The very phrase “Election Day” is virtually meaningless: How can you have an Election Day if few people are voting to elect anyone on that day, even leaving aside the old point that votes for president on that day are not votes for president in any strict sense of the term?
So what is Nov. 3, 2020? It’s the day the battle starts over how to count the votes that were cast during the campaign through Nov. 3 itself. By mid-to-late October, most of the votes will probably have been cast already through mail-in ballot voting or in-person early voting.
And why does this all matter? It does because language matters a great deal to politics. Remember “Crooked Hillary?” Language relates to thought, thought to feelings and desires, and feelings and desires to actions.
Some citizens might vote by mail too late for their votes to be counted because the mail service may be slowed down, either due to Trump’s actions or just the volume of mail being handled by the Postal Service. Citizens who think the campaign ends on Nov. 3 may fail to campaign for their candidate after the election if the nation is foisted into a constitutional crisis.
Dave Anderson is the editor of the book “Leveraging,” and he ran in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District in 2016.