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I had a conversation the other day with a friend who said that she may not even “bother” to vote in our upcoming election. When I asked her why, she replied, “because it doesn’t matter, the one with the most votes doesn’t win.” This isn’t necessarily true, if you remember your lessons from government class. So do you know why your vote matters?
The Electoral College consists of 538 electors, chosen by various methods depending on the state. Each state has the same number of electors as it does in its congressional delegation. That is; one for each member in the House of Representatives plus two Senators. In order to elect a President, 270 electoral votes are required (a majority vote in the electoral college).
When you vote for a Presidential candidate, you are telling your state who you you want to vote for at the meeting of electors. This is where the popular vote comes in to play. You’re setting the course for your state’s electoral vote. Are you starting to get a sense of why your vote matters?
There is no provision in the constitution or any federal law that dictates how electors have to vote in their states, however some states require their electors to cast their votes according to the popular vote, or “winner take all” . Political parties may elicit a pledge to vote for their candidate, some electors are bound by their state law.
Are you still with me? I know it can all seem counter-intuitive and confusing. There are some who would argue that the electoral college isn’t exactly the best example of democracy, while others argue that it’s a necessary evil.
It’s important to note that there are only 5 times in US history when a candidate lost the popular vote but won the election:
1824 – John Quincy Adams defeated Andrew Jackson
1876 – Rutherford B Hayes defeated Samuel Tilden
1888 – Benjamin Harrison defeated Grover Cleveland
2000 – George W Bush defeated Al Gore
2016 – Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton
As you can see, overwhelmingly the result usually does favor the popular vote. This is why your vote matters!
Using electors instead of the popular vote was intended as a safeguard against states with larger populations having more influence in the vote than smaller states and as a compromise between electing a president by popular vote and letting Congress choose. At the time our founding fathers added this to the constitution, it was also thought to prevent uninformed or uneducated voters from “having control”; allowing the electoral college to “make the most informed choice”. It can be argued though, that as some states require that pledge to the party and members of the electoral college can be selected by political parties, the control is not necessarily in the hands of those making “the most informed choices.” As technology brings us more information than was available to the general public back in 1788 when the electoral college was established, it is safe to assume that there should also be more educated and informed voters.
Another reason for the electoral college is that candidates could limit campaigning only to those states with higher populations; thereby influencing the “popular vote”. However, our current system could be said to give too much power to so-called “swing states”. This would indicate that the electoral college really ignores the will of the people, as there are 538 people who cast votes that are supposed to represent over 300 million citizens. Of course, not all of those citizens are registered voters, so you can see where this all gets a little cloudy. Now, think back to my friend; who is a registered voter. If most felt like her; the actual number of votes cast may still not represent the citizens well – that’s more of us who weren’t heard! Take all of this into consideration and it’s a little more clear as to why your vote matters, right?
However you feel about the electoral college, it is said to be our best system of checks and balances and this may be true, but none of it matters if you don’t exercise your right and responsibility to vote. The less we do, the more the system works against us, don’t you think?
This year, because of the pandemic; the process is likely to take a little longer and here’s why:
Before the electoral college formally cast those votes, there has to be a final tally of voters’ in person, mail in and provisional ballots. The governors of all 50 states prepare a certificate of ascertainment, which is a document that lists their electors. Each state completes that process at their own pace, but once that’s done, copies of the document are submitted to the U.S. Archivist. Then, on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, (December 14th for this year’s election) electors meet in the state capital (DC’s meet in DC) to formally cast the votes for president and vice president. Depending on how the states require; the elector then prepares six certificates to vote, which then are sent to the President of the US Senate and the US Archivist. The other four are sent to the state officials. Once done, the electoral college has completed all the duties assigned until the next presidential election.
You would think that this would be the end of it, but it’s really not. The process continues on January 6 when Congress convenes to count the electoral votes and certify the winner of the election. Of course, by this time we’ve usually seen the winner declared by the media and the candidate who appears to have been defeated usually will have given their concession speech by now. Because the sitting Vice President also serves as the president of the Senate, The Vice President will then announce the results and ask if there are any objections. You may recall after the 2000 election; democratic House Representatives objected and unsuccessfully tried to block the votes for George W Bush. Anyway, once all results are certified, it’s official!
All of this really boils down to one thing…. your vote matters! However you choose to cast it this year, I hope that you’ll remember how important it is that you do!
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