6 Reasons Why Your Vote for U.S. President Doesn't Matter
The right to vote and participate in government is one of the most cherished rights in the United States. And no other vote is more important than the one to elect the single individual citizen to represent the entire country-- the Office of the President of the United States. Out of all the things Americans vote for this would appear to be the granddaddy of them all. The big one. El numero uno. So it would make sense then that out of all the votes one casts as an American the vote for President would be the most pure and democratic of all. It's not because...
1. You may not even be voting at all
The sanctity of the democratic vote has been a topic of controversy for as long as voting has been in existence. Ensuring accuracy and protecting against fraud or tampering are the most important considerations. Just ask people in Russia, or Venezuela, or Syria, or North Korea, or Egypt how much fun an election is when the outcome is already determined. Not much incentive to brave the elements or travel a great distance to vote only to be laughed at while your ballot is turned into a paper airplane or used as toilet paper by election officials. Or for every one of your vote the guy next to you is voting 15 or 20 times.
Fixed elections aside, what exactly is a vote in the United States? You might bubble in a circle, poke a chad, pull a lever, or touch a computer screen, but does that mean you've actually voted? Of course the answer to that is a resounding eh, maybe. When you're dealing with millions of ballots the probability of error starts to creep into the whole 100% accuracy goal. Adding insult to injury is that people have their own political agendas during recounts that are done by hand or when ballots are challenged.
And then there is the whole possibility of computer malfunction. So when a computer gives a candidate -16,022 votes it's a problem. Not a huge problem, unless the outcome of an election hinges on 16,000 votes! So when you press that computer screen who knows what's really happening to that vote in the digital age in which we now live. You have no physical record of your vote. Your finger hasn't been dipped in ink to show who you voted for. You walk away hoping technology is protecting your democratic will and hasn't decided to flip you the finger and give your vote the Blue Screen of Death when being tallied.
But let's assume your vote isn't actually lost into the digital ether. It's not time to feel confident about your vote just yet because...
2. You are not actually voting for the President
Their names are right there on the ballot, before all the other offices up for election in your district. If you choose not to vote down party lines at the beginning you can crush that ballot with as much democracy as your pen, or pencil, or lever, or computer button will let you. It's a power that Americans have protected for centuries-- since the Founding Fathers wrote that all men (women eventually, minorities a little later) are created equal with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the right to choose which douchebag will jokingly represent your interests in government and protect you from Nazis or something.
So right at the beginning you see the choice for President. And there are names with boxes next to them. It stands to reason that whichever one you choose is getting your vote. Bzzzz. Wrong. But thank you for playing Voting 101. Wait. What?
Yeah. That's right. You are not actually voting for who you want to be President. Now, this is not the case for any of the OTHER candidates you vote for on that ballot because they are elected through a popular election: most votes wins. Not the President though. That office is special and requires a special list of ridiculous but amazingly interesting rules associated with it. To wit:
3. The Electoral College is going to vote for you... maybe
Many people have heard of the Electoral College. Few people, other than those that are REALLY into Presidential elections understand how it works, most of whom are the ones actually running for President. On election night they keep talking about how the winner needs 270 electoral votes in order to be declared the winner. Seems like a low number of votes in order to be elected president. Suzie Q probably got that many running for First Grade hall monitor. So why 270? Let's do some quick math:
Congress is composed of 435 members in the House of Representatives and 100 members in the Senate. Each of these elected officials represents 1 vote in the Electoral College, plus Washington D.C. gets 3 (1 for the House and 2 for the Senate). That's a total of 538 electoral votes available. One-half of 538 is 269. One more than half is 270, or the number of votes necessary to become President. Yay!
But how does this relate to my vote you say? Simple, each state has X number of electoral votes associated with it (total House seats + 2 Senate seats) and each state is considered winner-takes-all. So whichever candidate gets the most votes in a state receives ALL the electoral votes that go with it. Or not. Wait. What?
That's right! Members of the Electoral College are appointed by the governors of the respective states. But there are no federal laws requiring them to vote in accordance with the popular vote. And in the states that have local laws the punishment is simply a fine but the vote cannot be changed.
Ok fine you say! Whatever. Even if someone else is voting for me no one would ever actually vote against the will of the people would they? Of course they would! And it's happened 156 times since the founding of the Electoral College! Such delegates are referred to as "faithless electors."
So in summary. Not only are you not voting for the President, you're voting for someone to cast your vote for President and that person can just say "go ef yourself" and vote for whoever the hell they want.
That's not near a slap in the face as...
4. Where you live probably makes your vote useless
Jesus! There is more that could be invalidating my vote? Sure is. It's just like real estate: location, location, location! You see, because of the winner-takes-all system for the Electoral College your vote only goes toward the electoral votes your state has. And since electoral votes are primarily based on population, if you happen to live somewhere that has more cows than people, your state's piddly 3 electoral votes don't mean squat (sorry North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana), as opposed to say California that is worth 55 electoral votes. And if you do live there don't expect the campaign trail to go through your state unless your definition of "go through" means "fly over" on the way to somewhere important. On the bright side, candidates don't spend money on political ads or robocalls in your state either. So you got that going for you.
And then we come to the other reason your location probably invalidates your vote-- many of the states almost always vote for a certain party. You a Republican? Don't live in New York or California. You a Democrat? Don't live in Texas. All those electoral votes almost always go to the same party every year. So before they even know who the candidates are there is already an idea of how many electoral votes a candidate will have simply based on state voting trends. This is why they talk about "battleground states," or states that have a decent number of electoral votes to be worthwhile AND do not always vote for the same party. So unless you live in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, or Wisconsin, don't waste your time. Or consider dual residency.
Which brings us to the ultimate slap in the face...
5. The President can actually be the one that LOST the election
You read that right baby. Because of the Electoral College system it is possible for a candidate to get the least number of total votes but still be elected President. Here's how:
A candidate wins the states of California, Texas, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina, and New Jersey with 51% of the vote for a total of exactly 270 electoral votes. In addition they lose every other state without getting a single vote. If that had happened in the 2008 election the results would have looked like this:
Candidate Electoral Votes Popular Votes
Obama 270* 34,195,037
McCain 268 91,030,864
* (For ease of explanation the current electoral vote distribution following the 2010 census is being used)
The will of the people would have been heard, but not in a good way! Could you imagine the riots if a candidate only received 27% of the vote and was still elected President? Thankfully nothing like that could ever happen. Or not. Wait what?!?! That's right my lovelies. Not only has it happened, it's happened 3 times! In 1876 Hayes beat Tilden after losing the popular vote but winning in the Electoral College. In 1888 the same thing happened when Harrison defeated Cleveland. And who can forget 2000 when Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore but won the election in the Electoral College? Talk about a tough way to lose. But it's not even the worst result possible because...
6. There could be a tie
Yep. That's right. The good ol' Electoral College screwing us again. There are combinations of electoral votes that could result in a tie, 269-269, and it's a distinct possibility in 2012! So what happens in a tie aside from complete and utter political Armageddon? Well the 12th Amendment provides that the House of Representatives (expected to be Republican-majority) elects the President and the Senate (most likely to remain Democrat-majority) elects the Vice-President. Who else can't wait for a Romney-Biden Presidency?
And what about those "faithless electors" that's already been discussed? Each and every electoral voter would single-handedly have the power to determine the President if they switched their vote. And what if they did? Sort of makes your vote look useless in comparison eh?
So make sure you listen to the debates, study the candidates, read up on the issues, and make an educated decision in November because that vote for President is about as powerful as those being stuffed into boxes by election officials in Russia and Venezuela.