Voting(?) for President
Now the the popular vote for President of the United States has concluded I can reveal to the world, hopefully without repercussion, something that will likely upset a large portion of my readers. I did not vote for President. “But Wes,” you say, “I know I saw the terrible cliche voting booth selfie on your Instagram account showing you were in the voting booth.” That’s true, you did see that picture. I did vote. I always vote. I just never vote for President and I won’t vote in a Presidential election until the Constitution is amended to remove the concept of the Electoral College.
I’m sorry to inform all of you out there that voted in the Presidential election that not one of you actually voted for President. Depending on where you live and the rules in your state you probably voted for electors. Let me try and give you a brief background on what the electoral college is and how it works.
Nowhere in the Constitution of the United States does it outline that an individual with the right to vote (you and me) shall be responsible for electing the President of the United States. The Constitutions states that “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress; but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.” It is these Electors that then cast a ballot for the President of the United States. That is why it only takes 270 votes to be elected President of the United States. That is why a candidate for President doesn’t have to win the popular vote to be elected President. That is why I believe my vote for President does not count. And that is why I don’t vote for President.
“But Wes,” you say, “it never really works out that way. The candidate that gets the most votes from individuals always wins the Electoral College vote and becomes president!” Oh, you think so there smart guy? Did you know that as early as 1800 there were problems with the Electoral College system? During that election Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr both received 73 electoral votes which put them at a tie for the winner. It was generally understood that the votes were made so Thomas Jefferson would be President and Aaron Burr would be Vice-President but that isn’t how it worked. As a result, the election was sent to the House of Representatives to decide. After only 36 ballots in the House of Representatives Jefferson was named President and Burr Vice-President but, in theory, anyone could have been voted President and Vice-President by the House of Representatives. Literally anyone so I guess we dodged a bullet on that one (get it?).
But wait, there’s more. Have you ever heard the name Samuel J. Tilden? Mr. Tilden was a New York lawyer that made a name for himself in corporate law. He served in the New York State Assembly and was then elected the Governor of New York. Mr. Tilden was named the candidate for President for the Democratic party and, in 1876, he was elected President of the United States by a majority of the population. Unfortunately for Mr. Tilden he didn’t win the right states so instead Rutherford B. Hayes served as President because Mr. Hayes had 185 electoral votes to Mr. Tilden’s 184 even though nearly 250,000 more people voted for Mr. Tilden. Sorry Sam, no one will remember your name.
“Oh Wes,” you say, “that only happened once and it didn’t turn out so bad.” Well, only 12 years later the same thing happened. This time the difference is more stark, not just a single electoral vote. In 1888, Presidential incumbent Grover Cleveland (a Democrat) was in a hard fight to retain the presidency against Republican Benjamin Harrison. It was a close race with President Cleveland only earning about 90,000 more votes than Harrison. Funny how it turns out that such a close race can seem so far away. Benjamin Harrison was elected President with 233 electoral votes compared to Cleveland’s 168 electoral votes. What seems so close in a popular race (.8% difference) seems like a landslide in the electoral college (16.2% difference). Huh, that is weird?
“Wes, seriously,” you say, “all of these happened over 100 years ago. This doesn’t happen anymore.” Oh if only that were true. I have voted in one, and only one, Presidential election in my lifetime. That was the first Presidential Election that I was old enough to vote in as a young buck of 20-years-old in the year 2000. President Bill Clinton had just finished up his second term and there was a hotly contested race between the Governor of Texas, Republican George W. Bush, and the Vice-President, Democrat Al Gore. I don’t remember much of the issues or the debates. I do remember I voted for Al Gore. So did about 51 million other people. In fact, about 500,000 more people voted for Al Gore than voted for George W. Bush. However, in the end, George W. Bush received 271 electoral votes to Al Gore’s 266 electoral votes resulting in George W. Bush serving as president even though he didn’t receive the most votes.
“But Wes,” you say, “in my state the candidate that wins the popular vote earns all of the electoral votes that my state is entitled to so, in effect, my vote does count!” Oh does it now? The Commonwealth of Virginia, where I live, the candidate that wins the popular vote is awarded all 13 of the electoral votes. Congratulations to that candidate but does that mean your vote really counted. If you think so, let me ask you a question. Since I have already shown you that not only is it theoretically possible to get less votes but still win the Presidency, what is the lowest percentage of the vote that a candidate can receive and still become the President of the United States? Is it 45%? 40%? 35%
Try 23%! That’s right, someone could theoretically run for President, 77% of the U.S. population could vote for someone else, yet that person could still win the election. Now, to be fair, this number will change based upon voter turnout in any given year. However, based upon the voter turnout during the 2012 Presidential election as calculated for an article published by NPR, someone could become President with just 23.1% of the vote. That is just outrageous.
Perhaps the Electoral College was a good idea in 1789 when the voting public was not informed about the candidates and voter fraud would have been a simple undertaking. However, in the era of 24-hour news, high speed internet, and a population that is more literate than ever before, it is unreasonable to assume that the public can’t actually make an informed decision.
I believe voting is important. I will be voting for every other position and ballot measure that appears in front of me. In those cases the majority rules. Whether my selection wins or loses, I know that my vote was counted. However, until my vote counts, I will not be voting in this or any future Presidential election.