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Do Popular Votes Really Count?

Updated on September 7, 2012

The fairness of our presidential electoral process has been debated for over 200 years and it doesn't appear that’s going to change anytime soon. At first glance, individual votes on a national basis may seem to be the fairest method for everybody. The founding fathers who framed the Constitution had a difficult time with this assumption as many Americans still do.

Why? It was the Constitution writers who instituted the electoral system, but not without heated disagreements. Some Constitution framers thought the masses couldn't be trusted to elect the president directly. Instead, they should elect representatives, who in turn would vote for them.

And also because voters residing in smaller states had fewer electoral votes to cast while larger ones had more. Therefore, residents of big states naturally got more attention in presidential elections than smaller ones. On the other hand, the way the system is set up, votes cast in smaller states, like New Jersey, count more, whereas, individual votes in a big state have less influence.

The Electoral College was basically a compromise on two important issues: How much power the people should have, and how much power small and large states should have. Today, it might seem odd those should be serious issues, but it should be remembered democracy was an “experiment” in 1787 and no one was certain it would even work. The Constitution was intended to unite the states under a single national government. It should be noted here the original Constitution didn't foresee the formation of political parties.

However, Small states like New Jersey feared if they formed a union with the other twelve, there voice would be drowned out by more populous states like Virginia and New York. Naturally they thought they should have the biggest say.

Therefore, the most logical solution was states would have equal representation in the Senate. Population of those states would be represented by the House of Representatives. In this way Larger states got their say while small states kept their identities. Big states still have the most influence, but small states aren't swallowed up in the national vote.

Yes, it can be confusing at times. Problems can arise when the winner of the popular vote doesn't become president. When this happens, voters automatically reason their vote doesn't really count, so why bother? Let’s look closer at how presidential elections work to make things clearer.

· The United States elect a president every four years, although not directly.

· In November of an election year, each state holds an election for president. All eligible citizens may vote for a candidate ticket. This ticket includes a candidate for president and vice president.

· The outcome in each state results in a determined number of electors for that state. These electors will make the actual ticket choice. There number of electors corresponds with the number of senators and members of the House of Representatives for that state.

· In December, the electors vote.

· Results are verified by a joint session of Congress in January.

· If no candidate wins a majority or ends in a tie, the House of Representatives selects a president from the five candidates with the most votes. Each state delegation has a single vote. The process is repeated by the Senate for vice president. Although, this is rare and hasn’t happened since 1876.

What it boils down to is the candidate with the most votes nationwide doesn’t necessarily win the presidency. Simply put, there is no national election, only separate state elections.

To become president, a candidate must win enough state elections to have a majority of electoral votes. Here is where things can get a little dicey.

State electors are pledged to vote with the will of the people they represent, but this doesn’t always happen. Some states have laws requiring their electors to follow the popular vote, but not all.

Considering all this, does your vote count? When voting, keep in mind you're voting in a state, not a national election. Your vote counts as much as anyone else's…in your state, but it may be more or less than someone’s living in another.

The old adage "If you don't vote, don't complain," still holds true.


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    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Haven't you heard of the war on women...ya'll no longer have the right to vote. ;-)

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      I see. I'll vote anyway. If no one votes, then it REALLY isn't a democracy.