Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Electoral College---But Vote, Anyway!

Hi Madame Elle,

I have a question for you about the electoral college and how it works. My understanding is that it was put into place back when the 13 colonies had no easy way of tabulating each individual vote, so representatives from each state were sent to cast their vote representing the state. Each state got a certain amount of delegate votes based off that state's population.

In this day and age where technology allows the votes to be tabulated, accounted for and reported on the same day as the election, why do we still need the electoral college? Doesn't it essentially cancel out my vote?

Let's say, for example, I'm a Republican in California, or a Democrat in Utah. It's a given that my state's electoral college votes are going to go the majority party of my state, so what's the point of me voting as an individual? (Besides the whole "exercise your democratic right" thing.) That's my first question.

The second (I lied - I have two questions, it looks like) question is - has there ever been a case of the electoral college not going with the majority of the state?

The third (I'm so naughty!) is - do we even NEED the electoral college anymore? Which voting process REALLY counts in the final tally? The electoral college's? Or each individual who actually votes?

Thanks in advance,

I-said-one-but-there-are-really-eight-questions Pal

Dear Eight Questions Pal,

Thanks for asking! This is an issue Madame L has also wondered about, ever since the 2000 election in which Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush won the electoral vote. 

Like you, Madame L doesn't see the need for an electoral college now, no matter how valid the reasons for its establishment in the first place.

And it usually won't make a difference, though if you were Gore in 2000, or Jackson in 1842, or Tilden in 1876, or Cleveland in 1888, it mattered. And Madame L thinks the Electoral College should be abolished altogether, as it actually negates the power of the people to elect their president. As the Wikipedia article puts it: 

   "A result of the present functionality of the Electoral College is that the national popular vote bears no legal or factual significance on determining the outcome of the election. Since the national popular vote is irrelevant, both voters and candidates are assumed to base their campaign strategies around the existence of the Electoral College; any close race has candidates campaigning to maximize electoral votes by capturing coveted swing states, not to maximize national popular vote totals. 

   "The United States is the only country that elects a politically powerful president via an electoral college and the only one in which a candidate can become president without having obtained the highest number of votes in the sole or final round of popular voting. —George C. Edwards, 2011/"

Madame L thinks, though, that if you're voting contrary to the majority in whatever state (great examples you gave, voting as a Democrat in Utah or a Republican in California), it's not the electoral college that is making a difference; it's that you're in the minority.

Finally, then, electoral or popular vote aside, why should you vote if you know the other candidate will win in spite of your vote?

Here's why: In every election, you're also voting for a Representative, and in some years for a Senator, and always for local officials. And so your vote will be important in deciding, for instance, how many federal dollars your district will receive, who will be confirmed as Supreme Court justices, and who will go on to aspire to higher offices.  

So that whole "exercise your right to vote" thing, as you call it, has a purpose beyond being an exercise in futility. 

And then, if your vote for local and state officials seems to have been wasted, and you despair of the newly elected officials, you can become active in your local political party and make a difference for the next election year.


Madame L 

(Who used to live in a state in which it seemed she was the only member of the minority party, and yet she voted; and whose S.O's vote often canceled out hers, and yet she voted; and eventually she came to see the majority in that state switch, and her S.O's political views, Dear Readers, hope on!)

1 comment:

AskTheGeologist said...

The Electoral College is not only obsolete but also profoundly undemocratic. Does that mean it's Republican?

By the way: what does "S.O's" mean? Why just one period?