Nov 06 2008

Does Your Vote for President Count?

Published by at 8:25 am under Fall 2008

Unless you live in a “battleground, state, no.

For every political office in the country, the victor is determined by popular vote.  The only exception is for the most important office in the land, that of president.  We all know it was set up this way originally because of the distances involved and lack of technology during the 18th century.  But this is the 21st century.  The system no longer serves us and should be abolished.

Once again the country that touts itself as the greatest democracy in the world has endured another presidential election using the dumbest and most unfair election system ever devised.  We are urged over and over during the weeks leading up to the election to get out and vote, and that every vote counts (meaning matters).  But presidential candidates and all political advisers know how the system really works.  The voting outcome in all but about 8 major states is well known and will not change regardless of the amount of campaigning conducted in those states.  Therefore, the candidates spend almost no money or time in those non battleground states during the campaign.  I guess you could say those who don’t live in battleground states are the lucky ones.  The battleground states are those whose population is large enough to make a difference, and whose outcome is close enough to be contested, and they receive almost all the attention.  I can’t imagine what it feels like to watch TV in Ohio, PA, or FL.  There must be more political commercials than TV programs!

The states that are written off include three of the most populous states in the country; CA, TX and NY.  Combined they account for 26 percent of the population.  That is considerably more the the combined population of the 8 battleground states.

In those states that are written off, it does not matter what the margin of the anticipated win is.  They know they will win or lose the state, so they don’t really care if they receive every vote or only win by one vote — the outcome is the same.

There have been multiple cases where the candidate with the most popular votes has lost the election in the electoral college, but that is not the worst result in my mind.  It is that this system has resulted in presidential election campaigns being conducted only in a few select states.  If you don’t live in one of those states you may as well not vote.  None of the candidates care one way or the other, because they have either written you off already, or taken your vote for granted.  Either way, your vote does not matter to them.  In other words, your vote does not count.

13 responses so far

13 Responses to “Does Your Vote for President Count?”

  1. Donon 06 Nov 2008 at 10:18 am

    Here here! I agree completely with this. I’m really tired of my vote not counting. If it wasn’t for the other stuff on the ballots I would have a hard time convincing myself there was a reason to vote.

  2. Momon 06 Nov 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Have they even counted the mail in votes? I doubt it. I voted so long ago that I’ve almost forgotten how I voted on some ot the propositions. Hopefully, before many more years, voting will be done totally through computer, and/or some other way to make “every vote count,” I probably won’t live to see the day, but the rest of you may. Then we can forget the stupid Electoral College.

  3. Donnaon 06 Nov 2008 at 5:56 pm

    I bet most Americans agree. In the information technology age, it’s ridiculous that we continue with this system.

    And what’s the deal with primary “delegates” and “super-delegates”? Another antiquated idea. Let the people decide!

    Mom, maybe our grandchildren will see the day that we transition to computerized voting. With the current gaffes and glitches, it’s not looking that good for the rest of us. :(

  4. Darylon 06 Nov 2008 at 8:53 pm

    As I understand, another reason for the Electoral College is that they didn’t trust the “common man” to always make a good selection. Therefore prominent, educated electors are chosen, and are free to vote however they want. Just in case the public makes a foolish choice, the EC can over ride it.

    Don proabably thinks this is the time for them to exercise that right… ;)

  5. Markon 06 Nov 2008 at 9:29 pm

    I completely agree! Unfortunately, another example is the state propositions. No matter how the voters vote, there are teams of lawyers just waiting to file a lawsuit to negate the voters decision. California’s proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage (whether you agree or disagree) has now been approved twice by voters, overturned once, and in the process of lawyers trying again.

    What’s the point? No matter the outcome, someone is not going to be happy and try to fight the results.

  6. Donon 07 Nov 2008 at 7:10 am

    I’m not sure why I would think they should exercise that right. The people have spoken and more than 50% of them have chosen Obama.

    Unlike so many of the people on the other side I believe he won it fair and square and didn’t steal it. ;)

  7. Richardon 07 Nov 2008 at 5:45 pm

    I wonder what it will take for this to change. Is a constitutional amendment required? Maybe it’s time for a letter writing or email campaign to our elected officials.

  8. Robinon 08 Nov 2008 at 10:38 am

    I’m actually in favor of keeping the electoral college. For several reasons, it allows even the smallest of states to have at least minimum representation. It prevents candidates from playing only to the largest urban population centers.

    Consider also, that the black vote only makes up about 10% of the population. But in our current system, it is a very consequential vote because it is so highly concentrated in key states. Also, Jewish voters only make up about 4%, but they matter because they are also concentrated in key states. (And so it goes with gay voters, evangelicals, Catholics, Hispanics, etc.)

    Also, remember the mess in Florida in 2000? Well, imagine if the popular vote was that close overall. Without the electoral college, we could be looking at recounts and lawsuits in every precinct across the U.S. In fact, there would be incentive for candidates to stall the recounting process long enough to force it into a house vote.

    The system may not be perfect, but I think there are valid reasons to consider keeping it. And, yes, you have to amend the constitution, which requires 2/3rds of the house and senate, and then 3/4 of the states to ratify. Not likely, in today’s political climate. Especially when you consider that essentially, a lot of the smaller states would be voting to make their states less important in the process, because their popular vote makes up a smaller percentage of the outcome than their electoral college vote.

  9. Richardon 09 Nov 2008 at 9:12 am

    Robin — While I understand your concern about smaller states receiving attention in presidential elections, I don’t think the current system does that. In fact, it does exactly the opposite unless the outcome in your state is in doubt. The same can be said for any minority population regardless of what state they live in. If they are not in a battleground state they do not matter to presidential candidates.

    The need to balance the interests of states with small populations with those of large populations was identified by our founding fathers. That is why they invented the Senate which has equal representation from each state, in contrast with the House which has representation based on population. The electoral college system basically follows the plan of the House, but with one huge difference.

    The difference is that the electoral college is winner take all in most states. Neither the House or the Senate works that way. Individual senators and representatives are free to vote individually. However, in the electoral college, all the votes from the state are given to the winner in that state, regardless of the number of votes the candidate received.

    There are a couple states that have attempted to address this “winner take all” inequity by changing their state constitutions to provide for splitting the number of electoral college representatives based on the number of votes each candidate receives. This comes close to achieving the desired result, but even in those states, except in the highly unlikely event of a popular vote that is exactly divisible by the number of electoral college representatives, it is not an exact split and one candidate receives more representation in the electoral college than they earned in the popular vote.

    But, all that aside, the real point of my post is that for the vast majority of the people in the country, your vote is meaningless and it does not matter whether you vote or not. With the current system, if you live in a “Blue” or “Red” state, the candidates take your vote for granted. They have no reason to campaign in your state; no reason to try to convince you that they are the best person for the job.

    And, consider the fact that after the election the new President will be concerned about winning that state again when re-election time rolls around. We all know that campaigning for the next election has already begun. What better way to promote your re-election than to promote policies, programs and projects that will win favor in those battleground states? Why promote such things in states you know you can’t win or can’t lose? Considered from this aspect, it is not just an unfair way to elect a president; it will likely result in unfair and inequitable spending of tax dollars as well for the next four years.

    I understand why you are concerned about candidates devoting all their attention to only the largest states, but the current system does not prevent or promote that. The current system results in candidates campaigning only in those states where the outcome is in doubt, and then only in those states where the number of electoral college votes is enough to make a difference. It just so happened that this year there were eight such states, and none of them were the largest three. If the outcome in CA, TX or NY had been in doubt, you can be sure that the candidates would have devoted tremendous attention to those states.

    As for your statement about the “black” or any other minority vote being “consequential”, I don’t think the current system does that either. Consider the fact that the south has a very high percentage of black voters, however it is almost completely “Red”, although we know that black voters vote “Blue” over 90 percent of the time. From a presidential election standpoint, all those black voters in those southern states do not matter. Their vote is meaningless because the outcome of the state is going to be “Red”, and their votes will do nothing to effect the outcome of the election.

    A much better approach for everyone involved would be the direct vote system that I and the vast majority of Americans advocate. In such a system, the votes of all Blacks, gay voters, evangelicals, Catholics, Hispanics, etc. would count equally, regardless of what state they live in. During the just concluded election, unless you lived in one of the eight “Battleground” states, your vote did not matter regardless of the minority or majority you belonged to.

  10. Jocelynon 10 Nov 2008 at 7:58 am

    If we went with the popular vote, we would have elected Al Gore. I think life would be a bit different if that had happened.

  11. Richardon 10 Nov 2008 at 8:08 am

    Joce — That’s not necessarily true. We will never know. If the electoral college had not existed, the candidates would have campaigned in all states, not just the battleground states. More people in the remaining states would likely have voted since their vote would have mattered. Who knows what would have happened? Whatever the outcome, it would have been fair and “the will of the people” in the entire country, not just the will of the people in the battleground states.

  12. Robinon 15 Nov 2008 at 10:54 am

    I guess some of it is your perspective, Richard. I don’t see my vote as “not counting” because I live in a red state. I still contributed towards a victory in my state. And my state’s victory still contributes to the national election. If 10% of conservatives in my state decided their vote didn’t count and didn’t go to the polls, our state would have turned blue! (Which, by the way, is one of the things that happened in this election. Voter turnout among conservatives was way down from 2004.)

    But, I think we agree that without the electoral college, candidates would not focus on campaigning in battleground states, but in the largest urban population centers. How is that any better than our current system? Would the candidates have to adjust their platforms to appeal to the majority in urban America? That’s how to get the most “bang for their buck”. In fact, I could argue that instead of my state not mattering, my demographic wouldn’t matter. Suburban and rural American issues might take a backseat to the urban issues.

    And again, I bring up voting system problems. In our current system, instances of voter fraud or irregularities are contained within their own states. Right now, there are all kinds of problems with Minnesota’s senate election. They are “finding” ballots in the trunks of people’s cars, absentee ballots are being rejected, and officials are assuming “voter intent”. (If they voted for Obama, then they must have wanted Al Franken too, right?) Fortunately, all of this is Minnesota’s problem and it is contained in Minnesota. The only reason it would matter outside of Minnesota is if the presidential election were close enough that Minnesota could make the difference and ballot recounts were necessary. One could only imagine the chaos that would ensue in every semi-close presidential election, if we as a nation had to examine every precinct in the whole country for voting irregularities that might sway the mass pool of votes. Law suits, accusations, and recounts would abound!

    Also, let’s again consider battleground states. You argued that future politics could be swayed in favor of those states in order to win future elections. But in the absence of the electoral college, wouldn’t there be just as much incentive for a candidate to pander to the largest cities in America, allowing federal earmarks and political decisions to favor those cities? The reason that battleground states are in question is because they are so evenly divided in their demographics and party leanings. I would much rather see politicians have to move to the center to appeal to these states, than move to the left to garner the most support in large urban areas. (Although I know, not everyone agrees that moving to the left is a negative :)

    In my opinion, removing the electoral college creates the same kinds of problems it solves. And what about the problems we can’t foresee? Would that kind of a change increase the splintering of parties and move us to a 4-5 party system? If one party splintered more than the other party, we could see a scenario where America would be dominated by 1 party and all other opinions become obsolete. And all because we want to feel like our votes matter.

  13. Darylon 17 Nov 2008 at 9:37 am

    Robin,
    You make some good points. Does your logic and position extend to state and local elections too?

    Should Governor be chosen by electors from each county? This would push the candidates to campaign in rural counties, and not just in the cities.

    Should Mayor be chosen by electors from each city district?