As some of you might have noticed, there’s a presidental election cycle happening in the USA right now. I know the media hasn’t really bothered to talk about it too much, but it’s happening.
Anyhow, all sarcasm aside, did you know that how you vote on Election Day doesn’t really count all that much? It’s true! If you vote for Candidate X, who gets 48% of the Presidental vote, and then Candidate Y gets 48.5% of the vote (we can assume the rest goes to Bob Barr), then your vote will not count. This is due to a fun little thing in the USA called the Electoral College.
For those who don’t remember from the jolly little 2000 Presidental Election, the Electoral College is the group that actually selects the President of the United States of America. They get together and cast votes based on what the people of their state decided, and that’s what selects the President of the USA. This is a very simplified version of what happens, mind you.
There’s two fun side-effects of this. First, the popular vote winner can still end up losing the election. This happened in 2000, when Gore had more votes (543,816 more), than Bush. Bush ended up with more electors and so won the election. Similar things happened in 1824, 1876 and 1888.
The other fun thing is that it’s possible for an elector to change their mind and vote for whomever they want. These are called faithless electors, and while they haven’t changed the outcome of an election, 158 of them have happened in our nation’s history.
This is a really bad system and needs to be done away with. Sure, there’s plenty of arguments people will make to keep the Electoral College (like the fact that it gives small states like Wyoming, who has three votes, a say in the process), but on the other hand, it means that per voter, the voters in a state like Wyoming have a lot more say than the voters in California. And don’t think three electoral votes don’t matter. Gore lost the election by 266 to 271 electoral votes.
It also keeps third-party candidates out of the running for President, at least in any meaningful way. While I don’t think we’re ever likely to have a viable third-party in this country, we should at least balance the playing field and give them a shot at it.
Besides, this is a democracy. A federal republic form of democracy, true, but the will of the people matters, and the Electoral College serves to undermine that. Yes, it would take a Constitutional amendment to change the current system, but we can do that and shoud. While we’re at it, we might as well remove the requirement that you have to be born here to be President (if someone is born in, say, Monaco and moves here at the age of two months, they can’t be President, no matter what other qualifications they might have. Heck, Madeline Allbright and Henry Kissinger were both good enough Americans to be Secretaries of State, but they can’t be President), and we should do away with the two-term limit the President has. If someone is genuinely popular enough and good at their job we want to give them three or four terms, that should be allowed.
I’m not under any dellusions that the Electoral College is going to go away anytime soon. I think it would take a scenario like one I read about online to happen before that occurs. But I hope we do change it, cause right now it’s more trouble than it’s worth.