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An Analogy to Explain the Electoral College
2012, another Presidential election year! Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, conservative or liberal, man or woman, black or white, sane or insane...VOTE! And if the pundits and pollsters are correct, this year's presidential election is going to be a tight contest. With that in mind, and with the memories of the 2000 election fading into history, here is a helpful explanation of the Electoral College.
The Electoral College confounded many people in that infamous 2000 race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, along with those hanging chads. For those who are too young to remember, or perhaps you chose to wipe it from your memory, the 2000 election was incredibly close in the popular vote. In fact, Al Gore appeared to have collected more votes nationally than did George W., but the state of Florida's delegate count in the Electoral College proved to be the difference in Bush's victory. How can that be? If more people voted for Al Gore than for George Bush, he should be the President, right? Not so fast! It turns out the simple notion of "he who gets the most votes wins" isn't entirely accurate. On the surface, that may seem peculiar, to say the least. So before it happens again in 2012, be ready for it with this simple analogy.
For the record, I am not a big fan of analogies. They are over used, and often flawed. To be effective, the analogy must clearly parallel the subject, simplifying the complex. In a debate, your opponent can easily poke holes in a bad analogy making your argument appear weak. As a result you spend time and energy defending a bad analogy while your original argument is lost, no matter how strong your position may be. An ill-conceived analogy may do more harm than good. "You're comparing apples to oranges," they will say. A lousy analogy can leave you with nothing but fruit salad. However, in this case, I believe this simple comparison can be useful to make the Electoral College palatable.
In baseball, the team who scores the most runs wins. It couldn't be simpler, right? Here's a scenario to consider. In a rather high scoring affair, the Red Sox scored 20 runs while the Cubs scored 18. (It's my analogy, I get to pick the teams) The Red Sox win! Not so fast...
I am not referring to ONE GAME. This is the World Series! We have to take a look at each game.
In a classic pitcher's duel, the Red Sox lose a 1-0 squeaker in Fenway.
The Cubbie's bats come alive, and they pound the Sox 8-2.
The Series switches to Wrigley Field, but the Sox take the game 4-1.
The Red Sox hammer two grand slams along with a 2-run homer in a 10-4 pummeling.
Both teams utilize their bull pens masterfully, but the Cubs eke out a 3-2 win.
The Cubs bats are silenced as the Red Sox shut them out 2-0.
It takes 12 innings before a walk-off solo home run gives the Chicago Cubs a 1-0 victory and their long awaited World Series title!
Although the Red Sox scored more runs than the Cubs, 20-18, the Cubs won more games, 4-3. This is analogous to the Electoral College system for electing the President. Each state is like a separate game, and it is the number of states that determines the winner, not the popular vote total. In other words, Candidate A may win one state by a landslide and receive 12 electoral votes, while Candidate B may win another state in a close race and receive 13 electoral votes. Candidate A may have more total votes in those two states combined, but Candidate B has more Electoral delegates. The Cubs may have won by a big margin in Game 2, but it only counts as ONE win in the best of seven series. Yes, there is a small hiccup in this analogy in that each state has a different value. The Electoral College is not akin to a 50 game World Series, it is a touch more complex than that. But the analogy works to dispel the simple notion that scoring the most runs is what it takes to win the World Series.
A tennis analogy would also work. The number of SETS won determines the winner of the match, not the number of games won or points scored. Or, if you are a golf fan, think of the Electoral College as a match play round, where the number of HOLES won decides the victor, not the stroke count. I just happen to be a baseball fan, and I wanted to present a scenario where the Cubs win a World Series.
The 2000 Presidential Election
Pros and Cons
I'm not here to defend the system. This is just meant to be an easy way to explain the process. Arguments exist for and against the Electoral College. Those in favor believe the system prevents a candidate from winning a national election simply by focusing on highly populated urban areas. Also, the Electoral College system enhances the power of the individual States over the central Federal government, which some believe was the intention of the founding fathers. Opponents proclaim that the system renders the popular vote somewhat irrelevant, causing outcomes such as the 2000 election. In our nation's history, there have been only two other Presidential elections with similar outcomes, in 1876 and in 1888. Do these three elections prove the fallibility of the Electoral College, or do they represent an acceptable number of "flukes?"
The Electoral College, arguably, has a negative effect on establishing a third party, an idea that has supporters and critics as well. That, however, will have to be the subject of a separate HUB. The baseball analogy only works with TWO teams.
- U.S. Electoral College
For a more detailed, yet less amusing, explanation of the Electoral College.