Monday, November 5, 2012

The Electoral College and You!

I'm not sure if I just didn't pay attention in class or if my teachers didn't quite hit the subject as hard as they should have, but I knew nothing about the voting process until a few years ago. OK, I wasn't completely in the dark, but I never knew what function the electoral college had. I just knew that we all voted, the votes were counted, and whoever got the most in that state got all the electoral votes. It's a little more confusing than that. When we cast our ballot, we are not voting for the president, but a person that will vote for the president. Confused yet? The electoral college is filled with a bunch of people that are assigned to each party. Let's say that Michigan votes Democrat again, as they have since 1992. The Democratic Party receives all the electoral votes for Michigan, which in this case is now 16. If you've been keeping track, our electoral number was 17 last election. The electoral numbers for each states are reassessed after every census, so it would make sense that our number would change from 2008 to 2012, seeing that the last census was in 2010. If you remember government class, then you'll remember that our representatives are based on the population of the state. You take that number, plus the amount of senators we have per state, which is two, and you have the amount of electoral votes your state has! The electoral number can be as high as it wants to be, the current champion being California with fifty-five. The lowest a state can get, however, is three. Washington D.C., per the 23rd Amendment, is allotted the same amount of electoral votes as the lowest electoral number state, which is three. It does not matter if the population of D.C. is greater than Wyoming, it will always be three.

Anyway, so Michigan's popular vote shows that it has voted for Barack Obama let's say, so the Democratic Party is now allowed to cast its votes for Barack Obama. Seems kind of redundant, right? Why not just have it to where we just vote for the president and not for an elector? Well, way back when they were setting up how to vote for president, they realized that the states with little to no population would basically have no voice in who was elected. If there are 500,000 people in New York, but only 20,000 in Vermont, whose voice is going to be heard? The founders decided the best way would be to have an electoral college decide the president instead of a popular vote, as to give small states a bit more power in deciding who would lead them. The bigger reason for the electoral college, however, was slavery. Slavery basically dictated how all our documents were finalized, as the Constitution and even the Declaration of Independence had to delete anything that was critical of slavery lest they offend the south and not get both documents accepted. The mode of electing the president went the same way. Though men like James Wilson and James Madison preferred choosing the President by way of popular vote, Madison himself realized that "it would be difficult to get consensus on the proposal given the prevalence of slavery in the South." The population of the North at that time greatly outnumbered the South, so any election would favor the North. That is, unless the we had let African-Americans vote, but that wasn't going to happen at that time. There was no winning for the South unless we went to an elector system. So, in a roundabout way, you can blame our electoral process on slavery.

Who can be an elector in the electoral college? Well, it is usually people that are well connected inside of their respected party. It really matters on what state you belong to. In most, electors are nominated by their state political party months before the election. Other states nominate the electors in primaries, similar to how presidents are selected. Other states, such as Oklahoma, Virginia, and North Carolina nominate electors at party conventions. There is a stipulation that no representative or senator can be an elector, nor anyone who has sworn allegiance to the United States and then rebelled. That last part was more for all those who took part in the confederacy, though Congress could reinstate them to be an elector if they receive two-thirds vote in both houses. Now here comes the messed up part about the whole process. As an elector, you can cast your ballot for whomever you want. If you are a Democrat and decide to betray your party by voting Republican, you can. In other words. there is a weird way in which all the electors in your state could totally change what the majority wanted. These people are called Faithless Electors. The faithless are few and far between and most happen by accident, due to writing in the wrong name, or choosing the vice president nominee's name for president and vice-versa. There have been a few times where electors have defied their party and voted for another candidate on purpose. In the 2000 election, Barbara Lett-Simmons, a elector from D.C. did not submit her vote at all, though she was pledged to Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, due to D.C.'s lack of representation in Congress. In 1972, Roger MacBride decided not to vote for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew and instead voted for Libertarians John Hospers and Theodora Nathan. There are many more, and can be seen here. Many states, including my state of Michigan, have a law punishing faithless electors, though no one has ever been tried. Besides a law in some states, what keeps people from stabbing their party in the back? Well, if you decide to be a faithless elector, you can kiss your political aspirations goodbye. It is literally political suicide. You probably couldn't even find a place with the party you defied your old one for, as you would be marked as unreliable.

So, a short review. You cast your ballot, you are actually voting for an elector, you hope and pray elector actually votes for who they say they will vote for, we all count electoral votes, first one to 270 wins. One last little note about the electoral votes: Maine and Nebraska do not go by winner takes all. They assign an elector to each district and they vote which way they want. This is a fairly recent thing for both states and neither have ever split their electoral votes. Now, there are a few people that don't like the way we elect the president. And by that, I mean most people. There are a large amount of people who believe that we should decide the president by popular vote. This comes from the times that the president has received enough electoral votes, but didn't have the most popular votes. That literally means that more people in the country wanted one president, but somehow, the other got elected. Silly, huh? This has happened three times, in 1876, 1888, and 2000. We all remember 2000 and saw for ourselves how the electoral college kind of failed us. Another thing that could happen, but has only happened once is a deadlocked election. In 1824, nobody received the minimum amount to be president. Andrew Jackson received the most electoral and popular votes, but it wasn't enough. Per the 12th amendment, the House of Representatives had to decide. Henry Clay, who ran, but since he came in fourth place was not allowed to be considered anymore. Clay was a member of the House and used his influence to give not Jackson the presidency, but John Quincy Adams. See the problem? Now, we are basically stuck in a two party system, so I don't see this happening again, but you never know what the future holds.

Another argument against the electoral college is the amount of time the nominees focus on swing states and forget the rest. States like Texas, New York, and California have voted a certain way for a very long time, and thus don't warrant much attention from the candidates (The maps on the left show the amount of visits each candidate made in the last five weeks of the election in 2004 via hands, and each dollar sign is a million dollars spent on advertisements . Michigan, Iowa, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, among others, to warrant attention. Lots of attention. These states can go either way, and they all have a good amount of electoral votes, so they are the ones that the candidates focus on. Small states, like the big three I mentioned before, are also ignored, for they are basically split down the middle how they vote, plus who cares about three measly electoral votes when you can get twenty? In turn, voter turnout suffers in those states that are ignored due to their heavily entrenched political identity. Why vote if you know how your state is going to vote? Proponents argue that the popular vote would give people a reason for going out to vote, as they would feel more like they are making a difference. I agree with this, as we should be encouraging all people to vote, not just those that are in swing states.

There are those that do support the electoral system, however. Those who do claim that if we decided the president by popular vote, the only places that would matter would be high volume areas like cities, and therefore rural areas would lose their say. Proponents also claim that the electoral system benefits smaller states and minorities. Minorities, who might not be heard in a popular vote, can make a difference in a electoral system. A more unusual pro for the electoral system is that if an elected president dies, the electoral college could decide on another for us, instead of us putting in a dead person. That seems a little unusual and unlikely, so I don't buy that one. I honestly don't think the electoral college is going anywhere, barring a huge election faux pas. There have been many times where someone has tried to submit an amendment to the Constitution that would change all this, but as you can see, they have all been shot down. I honestly think both sides make some good points, and no election process is perfect, but it does seem like there is more going for the popular vote. That is just my opinion, so take it or leave it. Sorry this post was a little dry. Like Sahara dry, but I thought it would be useful to some if they knew how voting worked in our political system. No matter what, please go out and vote tomorrow, mostly because you can. Some may argue that your vote doesn't count in the long run, and they may be correct. But, so many others around the world don't have what we have, so we should be taking advantage of our freedom, not looking at it with cynicism.