Monday, November 20, 2006

The Electoral College is neither Educated or Elected

I have been intrigued by the Electoral College, mostly because of the result of the 2000 election, one of four instances whereby a President was elected in the United States, without receiving a majority of the popular vote. Even as I sat in disbelief, watching the elections unfold, I could not bring myself to understand this system. As I’ve researched it, I’ve found out the underlying reason why I would have hesitated to spend the time and effort figuring this baffling system out. It doesn’t make any sense, and that’s why nobody knows how it works!

The idea that we are a nation who elects their leader is engrained in every American’s psyche. It is something we present to the world as a system to live by, and countless have died for it. It is an idea so entangled within our social fabric, that it is a complete mystery as to how 300 million Americans could all not know that it is a complete illusion. Even more astounding, is the incorrect assumption that each person’s vote is equal. Consider this, if only one person in California voted in the 2008 election, then whomever that person voted for, would receive 55 of the 270 electoral votes necessary for a majority. That means one person’s vote could in theory count for 20% of that majority. Granted this is an extreme case, but it reveals the potential flaws in the system. A more practical approach is to look at the more populous States vs. the great void that is the interior of this country. Consider this; Alaska, Deleware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia, carry the same number of Electoral Votes as Florida, but only have 1/3 of the population combined. Therefore, a resident of Florida counts for only 1/3 of that of one of these States.

Below is some more information about the Electoral College. I was interested to know that when you vote for President, your vote actually is going towards an Elector, who is chosen by the parties. 85 times in our Country’s history, an elector has refused to vote as was determined by the populace. These “Faithless Electors” further show just how ridiculous this system is. The idea of Democracy is something I myself hold dear, and I’m disappointed to find out it is nothing more than just that, an idea, that has yet to be practiced in the United States. Any system that has 3 Amendments defining it, and still can’t accomplish the goal, needs to be eliminated.

How many electoral votes does each state have?
AL: 9AK: 3AZ: 8AR: 6CA: 54CO: 8CT: 8DE: 3DC: 3FL: 25
GA: 13HI: 4ID: 4IL: 22IN: 12IA: 7KS: 6KY: 8LA: 9ME: 4
MD: 10MA: 12MI: 18MN: 10MS: 7MO: 11MT: 3NE: 5NV: 4NH: 4
NJ: 15NM: 5NY: 33NC: 14ND: 3OH: 21OK: 8OR: 7PA: 23RI: 4
SC: 8SD: 3TN: 11TX: 32UT: 5VT: 3VA: 13WA: 11WV: 5WI: 11
WY: 3

TOTAL: 538

The Electoral College Today
* Each state is allocated a number of Electors equal to the number of its U.S. Representatives plus its two senators (in CA the total electoral votes is 54).
* The political parties of each state submit a list of individuals pledged to their candidates for president that is equal in number to the number of electoral votes for the state to the State’s chief election official (in CA it is the Secretary of State). Each party determines its own way of choosing its electors.
* Members of the Congress or employees of the Federal government are prohibited from serving as Electors.
* After the parties hold their caucuses and the states hold their primaries, the major parties nominate their candidate for the Office of President. The names are then submitted to the state’s chief election official (in CA, the Secretary of State) as they will appear on the general election ballot.
* On the Tuesday following the first Monday of the month of November, registered voters in each state cast their ballots for the Office of President and Vice President.
* Whichever presidential candidate gets the most popular votes in a State wins all of the Electors for that state except for the states of Maine and Nebraska which award electoral votes proportionately.
* On the Monday following the second Wednesday of December, each state’s electors meet in their respective state and cast their electoral votes (one for President and one for Vice President).
* Each Elector must cast at least one of their two votes (see above) for a person outside of their state in order to prevent the election of a president and vice president from the same state (however, the presidential and vice presidential candidates choose each other as running-mates and are on the same ticket in the popular vote).
* The electoral votes are sealed and sent to the President of the U.S. Senate and are read aloud to both Houses of Congress on January 6.
* The candidate with the most electoral votes, provided there is an absolute majority (over one half of the total vote) is declared president.
* If no one candidate receives an absolute majority of electoral votes the U.S. House of Representatives selects the President from the top three vote-getters.
* On January 20, at noon, the elected president and vice president are sworn into office.


Andrew said...

Okay I'm still utterly confused. I should have slept more. So... If a sate, say Oregon, has a majority of the population vote for a certain presidential candidate, say John Kerry, then all of the electors will go to Kerry? But the electors are still free to vote for whatever candidate they want? So if the majority of Oregon voted for Kerry he would get 7 electors that had sworn allegiance to Kerry, but would still have the option of voting for Bush when the actual vote came around the next Wednesday? What kind of ass-backwards country do we live in? Now, I can understand, but do not agree with, the idea that voters in extremely rural areas should have slightly more power over the vote otherwise huge sections of the country, and the majority of the farmers out there would not have much of a say in politics but it seems a little too skewed in their favor if you ask me. Look at Montana, it gets 3 electoral votes and has a population of around 940,000; Massachusetts has a population of about 6,000,000 and only gets 12 electoral votes? That means that residents of Montana have almost twice the voting power as residents of Massachusetts. Ridiculous! The electorate system must have been invented by neo-conservatives who somehow traveled back in time to 1776 to influence how the voting system would be run knowing that Massachusetts would be extremely liberal in the future.

jerems said...

Yes, they have sworn allegiance to a party, and therefore a candidate, and SHOULD vote how the majority of the population votes. The electors are allowed to vote on the basis of the popular vote, that's what determines who gets to cast the vote, but they are not required to. That's when you have a "faithless elector". You're vote for Kerry, is actually a vote for some random dude, who then has the choice to vote for him or not. It's ridiculous. Originally this was set up, so that a president and a vice president wouldn't be elected from the same state. I'm not really sure how this achieves that, but like I said, it's still a flawed system. And I don't really know what that has to do with current elections either.

Ian said...

Do electors vote anonymously? When electors turn "faithless" can we force them to face their respective states and give them a big f#@% you!

Andrew said...

Why has there not been a call to end this charade? To try and get closer to real democracy? Is it really because so many of us just don't understand the system well enough to really have any idea that it is so obviously a poorly designed system?

jerems said...

It's weird. I've been asking people about this...... and I have yet to find someone who really understands the system. They see the name of the presidential candidate, and they figure that's who they are voting for. I honestly believe that people don't know what the deal is, and they definitely wouldn't be okay with it if they knew.

Anonymous said...

I too am baffled! I have heard it said that the electoral college and its "first past the post" distribution scheme for electoral votes is a de facto shut out of third-party candidates. can anyone here speak to this? are there any historical examples that amount to exceptions that prove this rule? thanks for the original and insightful discussion!

Andrew said...

Well I agree that our system has, de facto, shut out the possibility of a third party getting elected for president. Who wants to waste their vote on someone like Ralph Nadar if it means that Bush potentially gets a larger plurality? What we need is a system where multiple votes can be cast in a ranking order, such as 1) Nadar, 2) Kucinich, 3) Kerry, and if Nadar does not win a plurality of the number one votes then then your next choice gets your vote and so on. That's easy enough so I don't know why it hasn't been implemented yet.

Anonymous said...

what a clever idea! It does seem easy enough. Huh, I wonder why we don't use such a system in the USofA? I know that i am sold on it!

Wigginton said...

Your multiple vote idea is not bad, but seriously they have enough trouble counting even one vote, much less multiple votes.

Andrew said...

It's all about the paper trail...

jerems said...

I think we have so much trouble with our system of voting, obviously because of systems like this, but also because we are just too cheap to spend any money fixing it. The beauracracy of the federal government is always going to be in direct conflict with any real progress. Why do we have voting machines anyways? Why do we have chads? Why do we have people counting votes? Is it really that difficult to create a secure online service for voting? How much overhead would that eliminate? What would the uncertainty be? Surely the uncertainty in an online computerized system is less than judging what voter intent was with a hanging chad!!!! I find it utterly ridiculous that there isn't an online system of voting, secure in its technological and human elements, that couldn't do a better job. I understand that some people can't use computers, but for those that do, their absence at the voting booth could free up money to get a nationalized system for those that prefer to vote by mail or at a booth. I am as baffled by the electoral college as I am our unwillingness to rid this crucial element of democracy from defects.