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By Sam Cabral
BBC News, Washington

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The US presidential election was five weeks ago, but the votes that officially anoint the next president are just about to be cast.

When Americans go to the polls in presidential elections, they are not directly voting for president. They are actually voting for a group of 538 “electors” that make up the Electoral College.

Electors cast their vote on Monday 14 December, after all 50 states and the District of Columbia have certified their election results.

We’ll introduce to some of these electors in a moment – two ordinary Americans and another who everyone knows – but first, let’s remind you how this all works.

Who can be an elector?

The US Constitution only states that electors cannot be members of Congress or others who currently hold federal office. So they can be:

  • Retired politicians – former president Bill Clinton cast an electoral vote for his wife Hillary in 2016.
  • State and local elected officials – New York governor Andrew Cuomo was a Democratic elector in 2016
  • Grassroots activists, lobbyists or other figures from a state – we have two examples below
  • Personal or professional connection to candidate – Donald Trump Jr was an elector for his father last time
media captionThe president of the United States is not chosen directly by voters, but by what’s known as the electoral college

How are electors chosen?

Each political party with a candidate on the presidential ballot nominates or votes on its own slate of electors in the months prior to election day. States have their own rules for choosing electors.

Roughly in line with the size of its population, each state gets as many electors as it has lawmakers in the US Congress (representatives in the House and Senate).

Once we know who won a state’s popular vote, we know which party will appoint the electors for that state.

Electors are like rubber stamps that formalise how their state voted, so they are usually loyal supporters of their party.

What role do electors play?

Electors have already pledged their support for a certain candidate, so they almost always vote as pledged.

This changed in 2016, when a historic number of so-called “faithless electors” – seven in total – voted for candidates other than those they had pledged to support (five turned against Clinton, two against Trump). It was the first election since 1948 to feature more than one faithless elector.

States have since looked to strengthen their rules against faithless electors, pushing laws to remove them and have their votes redacted if they do not vote as pledged, a move backed by the US Supreme Court.

What is happening in 2020?

With the backing of several high-profile supporters, President Trump has called on Republican state legislatures in states he lost to throw out their popular vote results and appoint their own set of electors. Election law experts are sceptical that this is possible and Republican state leaders have pushed back against this suggestion.

  • Trump’s latest legal longshot – could it work?

A successful presidential candidate must get at least 270 out of the 538 votes that make up the electoral college.

If electors vote based on the certified results of their states, they will give Joe Biden 306 votes and Donald Trump 232, thus officially handing the presidency to Mr Biden.

‘I’m an elector in New York’

By far the most famous elector this year is Hillary Clinton.

The former secretary of state and first lady lost the 2016 presidential election to Mr Trump, but she gets the last laugh as an elector this year from her adopted home state of New York.

In announcing that she was an elector, Mrs Clinton said it would be “pretty exciting” to cast her vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the next president and vice-president, respectively.

Mrs Clinton has previously called for the abolition of the Electoral College, arguing presidents should instead be selected by popular vote. In 2016, she was defeated in the Electoral College despite winning nearly three million more votes than Mr Trump.

‘This is real change’

image copyrightKhary Penebaker

Khary Penebaker is a father of three, a small business president and a proud Democrat. He will be one of 10 electors from the state of Wisconsin, casting his electoral college vote for Mr Biden and Ms Harris.

Mr Penebaker has been one of the state’s elected Democratic National Committee representatives since 2017 and ran for Congress in 2016, so he is a familiar face in the party politics of Wisconsin.

“In 2016, I was an elector for Hillary Clinton, but didn’t get a chance to cast my electoral ballot for America’s first female president,” said Penebaker. “At least now, I can cast my ballot for Joe Biden, who is going to restore some semblance of civility and decency.”

He will be one of two black electors in his state and is thrilled by the prospect of Vice-President Harris: “For people of colour, we don’t want to be seen as the enemy. With our first black female vice-president, we have someone who can see us as equal and as human beings.”

‘This is a very honourable position’

image copyrightNaomi Narvaiz

Naomi Narvaiz is a mother of five, a community activist and a staunch Republican. She will be one of 38 electors from the state of Texas, casting her electoral college vote for President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence.

In addition to being a Republican Party official in Texas, Narvaiz has been actively involved at various levels in her community, from her school district’s health advisory council to her city’s ethics review commission. She was nominated as an elector by her sister-in-law, a former local elected official and was selected at the state party convention earlier this year.

“This is a very honourable position to hold,” said Narvaiz, “and I’m very grateful that the people in my congressional district honoured me with their votes to do that for them.”

Texas is one of 17 states that does not bind its electors to vote for the person who won the state’s popular vote. Two Texans were among the seven faithless electors in the 2016 election, casting their votes for former presidential candidates John Kasich and Ron Paul.

Narvaiz says her support for President Trump is rock solid: “I wanted to make sure our congressional district was well-represented and that we would have a faithful elector to vote for President Donald J Trump, and I knew that person would be me.”

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)


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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers

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Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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