Friday, October 24, 2008

Sex with buff yet violent monkeys

Just kidding, this post is actually about the Electoral College. I just wanted your attention.

My awesome and thoughtful and- dare I say- beautiful best friend brought up the topic of the electoral college the other day. She was looking into it, and frustrated with the lack of information on the whole process. If your high school was anything like ours, you too emerged with a murky sense of governmental process covered only in School House Rock videos. I think Best Friend was smart to think about the electoral college, when it hasn't even crossed my mind, because that's really how the president gets elected.

So I'm posting my best understanding of the Electoral College, in case you were wondering, too.

*Ahem*: In case you aren't already aware, the popular vote does not determine the presidency (but it does determine congressional elections, so rest assured that your vote directly matters when you vote for the folks who actually make the bills and vote to turn bills into laws). What a jip, huh? Anyway, we have 538 electors (equal to the number of folks in the house and senate, plus three electors from D.C.). It takes 270 electoral votes to make a majority win for a candidate.

The electors are nominated by the political parties in each state. Some states nominate electors during the primaries, others do it at their state's parties' conventions. Can I be an elector, you may ask? The answer is probably no, but technically yes. Anyone can be an elector who is not a Senator or Representative, or some kind of Benedict Arnold. BUT electors are usually nominated to recognize them for their service and dedication to their political party. So, basically, your school's basketball coach probably won't get to be an elector, unless the coach is also the state's district attorney, or executive director of the Service Employee's International Union in your state (as were two PA electors in 2004).

After electors are nominated for each state (each state gets a number of electors equal to the number of people they have in the House and Senate, for instance, 34 in Texas), you vote for the elector on election day. But Phoebe, how do I know what elector I want to vote for? What are their names? I never saw this on a ballot before! Well, more than likely, your electors' names will appear as either Barack Obama or John McCain. See, when you go to cast your ballot, you don't *actually* vote for McCain or Obama. Instead, you are voting for the electors who have either pledged to support that candidate or must support that candidate if that candidate wins the popular vote. So you aren't voting for Barack Obama. You are voting for an elector. An elector who is likely to cast their vote for Obama if you did, too.

There are three types of electors: Batman, the penguin, and the Joker electors who can vote for anyone, electors bound by state law, and electors bound by pledges to political parties. There are 24 states not bound by pledge or by state law. The electors in those states are not legally required to vote for any candidate (My assumption is that the electors in those states commonly vote according to the popular vote anyway). Electors bound by state law are required to cast their votes according to the popular vote. Electors bound by pledges will vow to vote for their party's nominee. If an elector breaks this pledge, Al Gore personally breaks the elector's knee caps. I mean, the electors may be subject to different consequences that vary from state to state (some states will fine the elector or replace the elector with a substitute). You can see how your state's electors are bound here.

Even though we hear the results of the popular vote almost instantly at the end of Nov 4, the electors don't actually cast their votes until Dec 15 (that's just for this year...the rule is the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December...who the fuck made that up?). The popular vote results that you hear are just really likely predictions of how the electoral vote will turn out (more than 99% of electors have voted as pledged throughout our nation's history). After the electors cast their votes, and make a bazillion copies of everything, the election is decided.

The electoral college is why certain "swing states" get so much attention. Because most states have a "winner-take-all" system of electoral college votes, the states without clear favorites require a higher voter turn-out to make a difference (like Pennsylvania and Ohio and Florida). But in other states, it actually doesn't matter how many people come out to vote. For instance, California has the highest number of electors (55), but it is considered a "safe" state for democrats (because there are many democrats living there). And no matter how many people turn out to vote in CA, CA still gets those 55 votes. So they don't campaign so hard in California (or New York or Texas), or try so hard to encourage voters to come out, because it's already highly likely that there will be a clear winner from one party.

To sum up this whole mess in a simple way, each party in each state nominates a number of electors equal to the number of congressional representatives afforded to that state; on Nov 4, whatever candidates get the most votes get the corresponding electors "elected;" On Dec 15 the electors theoretically vote for whoever you voted for, but can be "faithless" and vote the other way (although unlikely); the winning candidate becomes the President elect and has until Jan 20 to get his shit together.

There is a site for polls that you should check out called They calculate a variety of election polls by assigning each poll a weight based on the pollster's track record, the poll's sample size, and the recentness of the polls. The more reliable polls have more weight. Then, they do a ton of statistical crap that equals a really thorough and interesting poll system that you can't get from your average CNN polling (the site explains it in its FAQs, for anyone interested). So, according to fivethirtyeight, even though the current polls estimate the popular vote to be relatively close (52.2% for Obama), the electoral vote is a friggin landslide already (354 electoral votes for Obama projected today...the site updates daily).

So it's awesome for everyone to vote, but if you live in a swing state, you can see why it's especially important that you get your ass to the polls. This year the swing states are (as listed by CNN):
  • Ohio
  • Michigan
  • Colorado
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • Florida
  • Virginia
  • Missouri
Are you in one of these? Don't be a dick. Go vote for the electoral college member who will in turn vote for your presidential candidate of choice.


Lucy said...

O.k. Phoebe, I will go and check out the site but here is my frustration. I am considered by most people to be a liberal or democrate but I am moderate. I do not vote straight party line, never have. I voted for Dole and Bush Sr. I have also voted for republicans in my home state and city government. I am tired of being accused of being racist if I say I am unsure if I am going to vote for Obama, which at this point, I am still undecided. Therefore, I guess as a white person I sometimes get frustrated with the double standard, I understand that Blacks are truly mistreated but on somedays I don't like being 'lumped' in with all whites as racist and only thinking about McCain because he is white. That is an insult to me. I am an intelligent person and should be allowed to vote for whoever I choose without being called racist. So, I guess I was just a ticked off white woman.

The electoral college nice explanation but you should have explained the reasoning behind it. I find it helps people to understand it if they know the history of it.

Lastly, it is great to see people get all involved in voting for the President but it is sad they don't vote for everything. They would be surprised at how much their local government affects their lives. State and City governments have a lot to do with taxes and jobs too and yet many people do not know the names of their representatives, mayors and judges.

O.K. I am going to check out that site now! (that picture was gross (ha!ha!))

Phoebe Caulfield said...

It's cool, Lucy, no one should think you are racist just for voting for McCain. The post is specifically referencing Colin Powell and the false notion that black people all stick together (and the double standard that no one would criticize a white official supporting McCain for "sticking together") the SWPD post should clear it up for you.

Man, if you type "monkey sex" into google image search, you get ALL SORTS of things.

White Trash Academic said...

I am sure that there are many people who don't understand the electoral college process and have high school to thank for that. As we're gearing up to election day, this is an important issue. Thanks for reminding me that this is something I might want to discuss with my students.

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