“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” – Isaac Asimov
Do you live in the United States? Have you voted, yet? Today is Election Day. If you have not already participated in early voting, please get out today and vote. I spoke to many people over the last week, and I am surprised at how many do not plan on voting because they think their vote doesn’t count. They told me that they have lost faith in the voting process, and many cited the Electoral College as the problem.
While I have serious issues with the Electoral system, using it as an excuse not to vote reflects a misunderstanding. Many people who say their vote doesn’t count, do not understand how the Electoral system works, or how their vote is influential in trends and which party has the balance of power.
Some Basic Info…
My opinion is that the Electoral College needs to be eliminated. There is no good reason why Russia has a more democratic system of picking a leader than the United States does. Two of the reasons given for the creation of the Electoral College was to create a buffer between the general population and the selection of our President, and to give extra power to the smaller states. Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers:
“It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations. It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief.”
There are so many issues with that statement, and perhaps I will address them in a future piece. You can also find more here. Suffice to say, it’s a throwback to a time when we did not have the technologies we now possess, which include the ability to avoid moving mass amounts of ballots around using means that took quite a bit of time, and moving through treacherous and geographically unforgiving and often lawless lands. The advent of electronics in communication and calculation, etc., would make a popular vote very much doable. In fact, New Jersey just proved that there is a way for people to vote via email and/or facsimile.
Even if one considers that problems that are inherent with the Electoral College, the argument of a vote ‘not counting‘ is not a very solid one. This is even in spite of those states which have no faithless elector law. Faithless electors are members of the Electoral College who do not vote for the candidate he or she has pledged to vote for. In many states, there are laws that prohibit this practice, including fines, sometimes imprisonment and a replacement of the Elector and their vote.
The states that do not have any penalty, meaning the Elector can cast their vote for anyone they please, include:
- ARIZONA – 10 Electoral Votes
- ARKANSAS – 6 Electoral Votes
- DELAWARE – 3 Electoral Votes
- GEORGIA – 15 Electoral Votes
- IDAHO – 4 Electoral Votes
- ILLINOIS – 21 Electoral Votes
- INDIANA – 11 Electoral Votes
- IOWA – 7 Electoral Votes
- KANSAS – 6 Electoral Votes
- KENTUCKY – 8 Electoral Votes
- LOUISIANA – 9 Electoral Votes
- MINNESOTA – 10 Electoral Votes
- MISSOURI – 11 Electoral Votes
- NEW HAMPSHIRE – 4 Electoral Votes
- NEW JERSEY – 15 Electoral Votes
- NEW YORK – 31 Electoral Votes
- NORTH DAKOTA – 3 Electoral Votes
- PENNSYLVANIA – 21 Electoral Votes
- RHODE ISLAND – 4 Electoral Votes
- SOUTH DAKOTA – 3 Electoral Votes
- TENNESSEE – 11 Electoral Votes
- TEXAS – 34 Electoral Votes
- UTAH – 5 Electoral Votes
- WEST VIRGINIA – 5 Electoral Votes
However, an Elector voting outside the popular vote is extremely rare, and the only case of it ever changing the outcome of an election was in 1836, when twenty three faithless electors prevented Richard M. Johnson from winning the Vice Presidency. That was short-lived, though, and Johnson was promptly elected Vice President by the U.S. Senate in February 1837. Thus, in reality, faithless electors have never changed the expected final outcome of the entire election process.
Florida posed a different problem in the 2000 election, which many believe should have gone to Al Gore. You can read more about the controversies here, and the Supreme Court decision that resulted in the appointment of Bush to his second term, here. Now, back on point.
Examining The Blue And The Red…
Some magical paint fairy doesn’t reach down and stretch their hand over a state and paint it red or blue. People make up the red, and people make up the blue. Individuals make up a constituency, and each individual vote is counted and put into a database that reflects trends in voting. These trends are used by campaign people to ascertain what percentage of resources are used in any given state. This is why swing states are so crucial in the Electoral College, because nobody really knows who the Electors will cast their significant votes for until sometimes during the last minutes of the Election.
Landslide elections notwithstanding, Presidential contenders know that a few swing states will end up deciding who gets into office. If a State is ‘awarded‘ either blue or red by virtue of pledged electors, there isn’t much campaigning there on a Presidential level. Local politicians, political action groups, political campaign machines, grass roots efforts will more closely effect whether a state is Republican or Democratic. The slant of the media will generally keep it there.
Let’s use Georgia as an example, mainly because I live here, but also because Georgia is a great example of how voter trends and local activities are used by political parties to swing an entire state from one side to the other. Simply put, the Republicans got hold of Georgia because a majority of people had been convinced by the Republicans that the Democratic party no longer held their values, or was not representative of their points of view.
That’s it, in a nutshell. If you are a Republican in Georgia, this is great news. If you are a Democrat, not so much. It might now seem like an daunting task to get a Democrat elected anywhere in Georgia, but a closer look will reveal something unexpected to many. Georgia is a ‘red state,’ meaning the Electors here will cast their ballot for Governor Romney because voting trends pretty much follow the GOP ticket all the way down the line.
When your average citizen turns on the news and sees the map showing red states and blue states, it appears that Georgia (along with entire southern United States), is full of nothing but Republicans. Voter turnout in local elections is pretty good here, and on a local level, there are many Democrats that hold office. The Presidential election poses a different problem, though.
Many I spoke to here are not voting in the Presidential election because they do not believe it will make a difference, citing the fact that we already know who is getting the Electoral vote. Thus, the problem of low voter turnout in the Presidential election. This is something the Republicans hope will not change, and something that the Democrats have placed as a priority in voter drives.
In one aspect, the belief that their Presidential vote doesn’t count is accurate. It won’t make a difference. Not in this election. However, as I have stated already, Georgia is not as red as one might think. There are a still significant pockets of Democratic strongholds here. In fact, Georgia used to be solidly Democratic. Democratic Senators and House representative legislators from 1872 to 2002 were consistently being elected. The slide toward Republican representation began in the 1950’s (involving the Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights Movement), but if you look at the data, you will find that Republican domination did not really take hold until 2001. It wasn’t until 2011 (just last year) that Georgia went completely red in their legislative body.
In fact, since 1884, Republicans got the Electoral vote in Georgia only nine times, and once even put an Independent up (George Wallace in 1970). In 1964, Georgia put up Barry Goldwater. In 1971, it was Nixon. Reagan got the votes in 1984, Bush in 1988, Dole in 1996, Bush II in 2000 & 2004, McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012. That’s nine Republicans in almost 130 years.
Even in those years of transition, Democrats still managed to put their Electoral votes into the hat. Clinton got the vote in 1992 and Carter got the votes in 1976 and 1980. Between Goldwater in 1964 and the 1996 election year, just about all of the Georgia Legislature was Democratic. The real push came after 9/11, and that was largely aided by the way the Republicans handled the terrorist attacks with respect to scaring the crap out of three hundred million people. As of only this year, though, the entire slate of legislators and the electoral votes go to Republicans.
What Have We Learned..?
Your vote counts. Who you vote for today is tallied and categorized. There are 7.3 million people in Georgia who are eligible to vote, and roughly 3.9 million of them got out there. That’s roughly half. President Obama managed 47% of those votes. What is even more interesting is that there are more registered Democrats in Georgia than there are registered Republicans.
If popular voting existed for the Presidential election, and everyone voted who was eligible, Georgia would be, in fact, a ‘blue‘ state. The same goes the other way around. The point is, the individual vote does count, but only if it’s used.