Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How We Elect Presidents: aka the Electoral College Primer

Quick Primer on how we elect presidents (spoilers, our vote doesn’t do it... exactly)*

As always, rude comments will be deleted. Honest discussion and debate are encouraged.

When people refuse to vote because their vote doesn’t matter - they are partially correct and also 300% wrong. The current incarnation of voting for president, as set forth in the the Constitution itself, and then expanded in 12th amendment of the Constitution (ratified in 1804), consists of the Electoral College (hereafter EC).

The short form: We vote for EC delegates. The EC votes for, and elects, the president.

There are 538 EC votes, and the magic number for presidency is 270 (or one more than half). The number of EC votes per state is based on the population of the state, and changes slightly after every census. The 538 and 270 numbers remain the same.

If a candidate does not reach the magic number of 270, then the vote is kicked to the House of Representatives (currently Republican), and the House votes on who becomes president.
In this election, CA has the most votes at 55, followed by TX at 38, NY and FL at 29, PN and IL at 20, OH at 18…

The least number are the 8 states with 3 votes each: Alaska, Delaware, DC, MT, ND, SD, VT WY.

48 of the 50 states are winner take all states. Which means, a simple majority of the popular vote within the state gives ALL of the electoral votes to the winner.

Maine and Nebraska are the weirdos here.

Maine’s four EC votes are split with 2 going to the winner and 1 going to each of the winner of Maine’s two congressional district.

Nebraska’s 5 votes are split with 2 going to the winner, and one each going to the winner of Nebraska's three congressional districts.

Why have I told you all of this? I am telling all of this so you’ll understand what I mean when I say that voting for a third party, or even wanting a third party in presidential elections, can mathematically NOT happen until we lost the EC.

Let me say this more again for those in the back: a third party candidate CANNOT win a presidential election. In fact, the last time a third party even got a single EC vote was in 1968 - George Wallace (who, if you don’t know who that is, you should take a few moments and google - he was a hot mess). Wallace managed to get four Southern States to vote for him. (Quick primer on history - the Civil Rights Act was pushed through by LBJ in 1964. Herbert Humphrey was the Dem party official candidate in 1968 - it was the year that the Dem party officially flipped to the left and became what we now know as the Dem=Liberal Repubs=Conservative. Point being, the passage of the Civil Rights Act is the primary reason Wallace was able to take 4 Southern States.)

Why am I writing this?* I have seen several false assumptions come out of this race, and I wanted to point them out.

If a third party can get a single EC vote then the Presidency will be tied.

  • No. Just no. First off, unless you are in Maine or Nebraska, it is literally impossible to win a single EC vote. It’s a proportional system based on population. The votes are given (again, except for the weirdos) as winner take all.

The system should be changed! Vote third party to get three parties to choose from!

  • Not quite: There is some truth in this. I, personally, would love to see more parties to choose from. However, and here’s the rub, we do that not by running third parties in a presidential election, but by working between elections to get rid of the EC. Because, I will say it again, as long as the EC exist, we are forced into a two party system to elect someone at all. The President is elected when the EC vote is at 270 - period. The president is not the person who has the most votes (popular or EC). They *must* make that 270.

If enough people vote third party, the big political parties will pay attention.

  • No they won’t. As long as there is an EC to stand behind, there is no reason to pay attention. In 1992, Ross Perot managed to get almost 19% of the vote. He also received not a single EC vote. Also note, we are still voting between just the Dem/Repubs 24 years later. Americans have a super short memory. No one will remember your third party candidate after January 20th, when either Clinton or Trump is inaugurated.

Related: If I vote third party as a protest vote, then <insert the major party you are protesting against here> will listen.

  • See above.

42% identify as independents, 29% as Democrats, 26% as Republicans means that a 3rd party has a real shot.

  • There is major false assumption here - the 42% indies are all the same kind of indies. That’s just not true. Within that 42% you will have people on the extremes of both ends of the spectrum, as well as people who are more moderate than either party. That 42% does NOTHING to tell us where on the political spectrum they lie.
  • Beyond that, you are talking about splitting the vote between two indies. Assuming that there is an even split in the votes, that’s 21% per candidate. That means both indies get 21%, Dems get 29% Repubs get 21%. Congrats - you just handed the vote to the House of Reps. Alternatively, in winner take all state, Dems win by 8% and the state goes blue.**
But it’s happened before! It’s how we got the Republicans!

  • <sigh> Ok, yes, it did. The Republican Party was a third party (actually a merging of two third parties) that replaced the Whig party… in 1854. The Whigs collapsed into themselves mostly because of a split about slavery. However, it is a very different world now. Among other things, see above about ideological splits and the fact there are two independents running this year.
There are others, feel free to shoot them my way, and I’ll tell you what I think about them, butt those are the big ones.

A couple of notes on this crazy election cycle. Don’t be so sure the state you live in is going to do it’s normal thing, and therefore your vote won’t matter. There is a lot of talk right now about how a lot of states that are normally easy to call are actually in play this year.

Also, and this is important, do your research. Please, please, please do your research. I have also seen a lot of 3rd party things this season saying a thing THE CANDIDATE isn’t saying.
To that end, I leave you with the links to all the platforms of the two majors and two major 3rd parties. Read them. Learn more. Make educated choices.

*A note, dear reader. I am not telling you how to use your vote, that is genuinely on you. I am going to tell you point blank that voting for a third party is absolutely a vote for a person who has no literal chance of winning, and is also vote that was not for what ever major party candidate you believe would most help your morals and those of the US

** There are so very many things wrong with the way I just did that. I know. My point was to break out some of the numbers to see what happens in the extreme version.

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