I did not vote this year for the Presidential elections. Yes, I live in Canada, but could have gotten an absentee ballot for New York. Being that my life lately has been very busy I felt that I needed a very good reason to vote. Believe me, I would have liked to vote, but only where it counted. And I knew that my vote wouldn’t. I am talking about, of course, the Popular Vote.
Historically, the original idea of a democracy was that everybody’s vote counted and it was always “the patriotic thing to do.” However, when the electoral college was established in 1787 (when the United States was still trying to get established as a country), it changed the voting system as we know it. This system was set in order to not let large states control Presidential Elections.
The Electoral College Process As I See It
However, that’s what it has come to. The Presidential candidate has to earn a certain amount of Electoral College votes to win. The number of seats per state are arbitrary and go based on the population that’s updated by the Census Bureau every few years. So New York this year had 29 seats and a few years prior had 33 seats, meaning that the population decreased for the state (either that, or people stopped caring to fill out the Census form). This past year, the first one to get 270 votes won.
When looking at it from a States perspective, I know that New York is a democratic state and not republican. If I wanted to vote republican I know that the majority will overrule me. So what’s the point?
I know I’m simplifying the process here, but I believe that this is what it in essence is. Please correct me if I’m wrong here.
It Works Both Ways
I am very much a patriot, but it works both ways. If I am to be a meaningful citizen, then my vote also has to have meaning. Why doesn’t it? Why should I go out and vote myself when it won’t count?
The way I see it, We the People vote for the number of electors to represent us. The only time it’s newsworthy is when the Popular vote goes contrary to the Electoral College vote and all it’s worth is a place in a U.S. History book.
We elect our officials through means of a short ballot, and there are only so many seats as per census collections every few years. Among the criticisms are:
a. The irrelevancy of the national popular vote, which in turn
b. Discourages turnout and participation
c. Focuses on large swing states
d. Allows states to “disenfranchise” people such as convicts so that they cannot vote,
e. The decision of how many members per state favors less populous states,
f. Gives 3rd parties a huge disadvantage so that you can only be either a democrat or republican, and
g. It’s not straightforward.
The only upsides I can (barely) see is that:
a. It maintains the “federal character” of the nation (whatever on earth that means), and that
b. The status minority groups are enhanced. For example, New York can in theory have a 1% Jewish population yet have 10% Jewish electors, therefore the state is heavily influenced by Jews.
Re-Thinking the Electoral System
The way the system is set up, I see it akin to going to a sports event as a fan. I go, pay for my ticket to not participate, and sit in the sidelines watching the top athletes play. We the Fans cheer for the home team and boo the visitors, which has no quantifiable effect on the game but can mentally affect players on the visiting team. Similarly the President can see that he’s not so popular and that may make him mentally realize that he needs to “get his act together.”
However, to take this analogy further, is that sports players can either take the criticism personally or mentally block the fans’ reactions and just focus on the game. Similarly the President can either take it personally or mentally block the polls showing how unpopular he is.
To spread this analogy even further, let’s say that the game is a blowout, where one team has a very high scoring advantage over the other team. The losing team will give up and stop satisfying the fans since eventually, it will all be over. The President, when he is serving his second term, knows that after that one there will be no more terms to run for. So why should he care, especially since he’s currently losing to one of the most ridiculous financial crises in U.S. history?
In that case, why don’t we just elect our electors to vote for us and simply leave us out of it? Why should we personally get up on a cold November evening to go to a voting station only for it not to count?
So, what’s the point in me voting?