Something to be Mad about This Week: Voting
May 6th, 2019
Voter fraud! Vote weighing! Classism! Ageism! International interference! All this and more in the U.S.’ modern day monstrosity we call the Presidential election. With 2020 candidates already declared and in the swing of things, I figure it’s a ripe time to look back at why voting in this country sucks so incredibly much.
Here’s a sample sentence to dissect before we can really cut into the meat of why this country sucks: “Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the election.” What a strange chain of words these are! They seem (perhaps are) almost contradictory. First, we’ve got “the popular vote.” What does that term even mean? The popular vote? Why qualify it? It’s just The Vote! The way I see it, something’s either The Vote (being fair, democratic, and equal for all voters) or it isn’t. The popular vote, counting the number of people who voted for any given candidate, certainly is The Vote; any other system just isn’t. Second, “lost the election?” We, the people (thanks, Thomas, but I don’t mean only rich white men this time) certainly elected her; it’s the system that failed to get her into office. But don’t worry, there’s ever so much more to be enraged about in the U.S. voting system than the election snatched from Hillary Clinton’s mitts.
The electoral college! There’s one. Sure, it snatched from Hillary, but that’s not all! (I realize this is quite the well-trod road, so I won’t linger on it for too long. A quick explanation of what the electoral college is for those who don’t know can be found in endnote 1.) The first big issue I have with it is that it values certain voters a lot more highly than others (and those voters aren’t me, which adds insult to injury).
Let’s say you live in a state where two candidates, Mr. A and Ms. B, are running for president. If in your state you know off the bat that Mr. A is going to win, your vote for Ms. B might change the margin from a tidy 100% to 99%, but Mr. A would still get 100% of the “points,” so your vote for Ms. B doesn’t change anything. However -- if you move to a state where Mr. A and Ms. B are tied 50/50, your vote could be the deciding one that swings all the electoral points one direction or another. Your vote could change the direction of 100% of the points in a state! This means that the idea that my vote in one place matters more than my vote somewhere else is intrinsic to the electoral college. And giving someone else’s vote more importance than mine hardly seems fair or democratic!
Weirdly enough, this is a big argument that some people make in favor of the electoral college. According to these folks, the electoral college makes all states relevant; without the college, no one would ever campaign in smaller states like, say, Utah. But what actually happens is the opposite. With the electoral college, there are states where everyone knows that Mr. A is going to win and others where Ms. B is going to. This means that no one visits these states at all because the outcome is effectively predetermined (sorry New York, California, Hawaii, and many others). Instead, we have just a few swing states (AKA “battleground states,” a term I like more because it makes me feel brave as I type this late at night in a dark room) where the winner isn’t always clear. These are virtually the only ones candidates visit and campaign in! Sure, the electoral college would shift the focus to urban areas where there are higher populations, but it would also shift the focus to all 50 states, instead of just the relevant few in our current system.
(Fun fact: I actually read one article that says the electoral college protects us against the “tyranny of the majority.” I think that one’s title goes to refute it better than I ever could.)
And here’s the second problem with the electoral college; the Big One: a candidate can win The Vote and still lose the election (see: what I wrote at the beginning about The Vote). “Well, Declan,” you might say if you’d been hibernating for the last three years, “There’s no way that someone could win The Vote (and the support of the majority of the country’s voters) and still not end up in the White House; we just wouldn’t let that happen!” But of course we have. This has actually happened five times. The first three were in the 19th century, so I’m not really going to talk about them, but the last two were in the 21st. No doubt there’s the infamous bleached prune headed, dead squirrel haired, gelatin filled Russian agent of today, but there was also the Bush v. Gore election of 2000.
This is a fun one to discuss, particularly because of how blatantly the Bush campaign cheated and got away with it. First of all, there’s no doubt that Gore won The Vote, with 539,898 more than his opponent. But key to understanding this election is looking at Florida -- it’s what the whole thing hinged on (it’s one of those battleground states we were talking about earlier). The Bush scheme started in 1999, the summer before the actual election took place, when Bush campaign co-chair and Florida secretary of state in charge of elections (conflict of interest? I hardly know ‘er!) paid $4 million to a private company to start purging the Floridian voter registry. This was all, of course, sanctioned by Florida’s governor, who just so happens to be Bush’s very own brother (nepotism who?).
Now, it would be one thing had the Bushes only purged ex-felons from the registry who, by Florida law at the time, could not vote. But in an upright case of voter fraud, Bush’s campaign co-chair ordered her lackeys to also get rid of voters with names, birthdates, or social security numbers similar to those of felons, purging thousands from the rolls who’d done nothing wrong except be in the way of a campaign dead set on victory no matter the cost.
But this wasn’t just a random, accidental mixup. Bush’s campaign was choosing similarity factors with ex-cons that matched up with demographics who were likely to vote for Gore. They knew that 90% of black voters would (and did) vote for Gore, so that’s who they went for -- black voters with similar info as felons. In Florida’s largest county, 66% of the voters removed were black. Because of course you know the old saying: if you can’t beat ‘em, kick ‘em out of the race.
But even with this obvious fraud on Bush’s behalf, Gore still would’ve won Florida! After a slight miscount had temporarily confused the public, the recount underway was proving just that: Gore’s victory. As the Bush campaign started to realize this, though, our good friend Dick Cheney, Bush’s V.P. and full-time limp-baguetted jabroni, ordered news outlets to call the race in Bush’s favor, as they soon did. But this didn’t stop it all -- as the recount continued, Gore’s victory was getting closer. “A fair election? What the people want?” Bush must’ve asked himself as he ran to the Supreme Court for help. “No, but I want to be president!”
With his father H.W. Bush’s friends on the court (this one’s called “cronyism”), among them Justice Scalia, Bush blazed forward. His case was argued by Antonin Scalia’s son (did somebody scream nepotism bloodcurdlingly, again?) and the court soon ruled that the recount had to halt immediately, effectively handing soon-to-be President Bush the election. Wow!
And that’s just how bad we Americans can get without Russian help. Of the last five elections, Democrats won The Vote four times, but only secured the presidency twice. That hardly seems like what we’d see in a reasonable, democratic country. That means that in the last 20 years, a full 40% of presidential seats have been stolen.
So if the electoral college is such a horrid mess, why on earth would we have it? Originally, the founding fathers, who were elitist down to their wooden clogs, implemented the electoral college as a safeguard -- if the people elected someone obviously unfit (*cough cough*) the college, made up of other elitist geese, could simply pick a president they liked more. Now, this process raises issues itself about how deeply classism’s ingrained in the fabric of our democracy, but it’s not quite as relevant today so I’ll ignore it for the moment. Instead let’s talk about what’s happening now.
Here’s the now: too few people vote. It sucks. Your vote matters as much as Kanye West’s, so you better well cancel his out (see endnote 2 if you want a helpfully discouraging caveat). During presidential elections, usually around 5 or 6 of every 10 people vote, and in midterm elections, it’s significantly lower -- between 3 and 5 in 10. And while less than half of young people usually vote (boo, we can do better!) almost three fourths of older folks (i.e. above 65) do vote regularly. That means that of those 6 voters in 10 every presidential election, 4.5 of them are older than 65. (To be honest, I don’t know how that last 0.5, that 65+ torso, is physically able to vote, but I trust the numbers.) Plus, over half of these oldies are voting for Republican candidates. If you’ve sat through my trashing Bush, then that’s probably not something you like. Get out there and vote! What with the bleakness of my message to this point, I can’t promise you’ll change anything, but at least we can pretend together.
At the end of the day, we live with an election system that is simply does not provide us with true democracy (and filthy electioneering by Russians and Bush’s 200 campaign doesn’t help things). Less than 6% of the world’s countries use presidential electoral colleges, and none of the other ones who do are particularly developed nations. This is an outdated institution that we simply must be rid of. Rise up! Fight not only the patriarchy, but any and all other social constructs with Latin roots, because Romans were terrible at democracy! I don’t know how to fix things, but I certainly know how to be mad about them.
(1) There are two senators and several members of the House of Representatives in every state. The two for the senate is the same for all fifty states; the members of the House vary based on a state’s population every time there’s a census. In presidential elections, each state is assigned a certain number of “points” equal to the senators plus the members of the House. Whichever candidate wins the plurality (highest percentage) of the votes in a state gets all the state’s points. Let’s say we have two candidates, Mr. A and Ms. B. If Mr. A wins 100% of the votes cast in a state and Ms. B 0%, Mr. A gets 100% of the points. But if Mr. A wins only 51% and Ms. B 49%, Mr. A still gets 100% of the points.
(2) Because of our electoral system, your vote actually doesn’t matter at all because you live in New York, an always Democratic state (AKA a blue state). Kanye West lives in another always blue state, California, so his (presumably) Trump vote doesn’t matter either. So although your votes matter the same amount, they also both matter zero.