Don’t look now, but there’s a bunch of presidential primaries today. Voters in Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island are heading to the polls. Turnout…is expected to be light.
And that’s fine. The civic duty of voting is more useless inconvenience than anything else when the outcome of an election is predetermined. And all the ballot booth surprises in this election are on hold until November. But even then, there will be huge swaths of the electorate that will have every reason to feel disenfranchised. Because of our stupid, stupid system of using the Electoral College to choose our president, only a handful of states will be in play this fall. Individual voters in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming can be reasonably to absolutely sure which way their state is going to go in November. That’s well over half the electorate not in play.
The result of this is that issues that matter to many of these voters will not be addressed by the candidates. The candidates will not be spending much time or money in these states (except for fundraisers; candidates from both parties love to come to New York for fundraisers, and not much else), rightfully focusing their strategies on the swing states. In addition, because electoral votes are parsed out to the states based on the amount of representation in Congress each state has, smaller states’ electors represent a smaller slice of the population than electors from states with large populations, skewing the power of their votes. This is not democracy.
I have lived in New York City for the past thirteen years. This will be my fourth presidential election in the state, and it will be the fourth in which I could stay home and not affect the outcome at all. I moved here from Ohio, the swingiest of swing states. Anyone who stays home on election day in that state is determined not to participate in our national politics. I want my vote to matter again like it did when I lived in Ohio.
It’s an absolute farce that the President of the United States is not chosen based on popular vote. The farce becomes even more outrageous when one considers it is possible for a candidate to win only twenty-two percent of the popular vote, yet win the Electoral College. This is real.
Elections are not a complicated set of concepts. Whoever has the most votes wins. Only politicians could fuck up something so simple. Doing away with the Electoral College would force candidates to consider the wants and needs of the entire electorate, not just those in swing states. The winning candidate will probably still prevail by millions of votes, meaning an individual could stay home and not affect the outcome. But the crucial difference is that all of the voters in the entire country will be residing in a place where the outcome of the election is unknown. This increased uncertainty increases the incentive to vote. And never again will there be a winner of the presidential election that did not actually win the election. That is democracy.