Voting Confusion

It’s hard to understand polls. Where do they get their numbers from and why are they so different? They often vary drastically from one polling company to the next, with one having Obama ahead by 4 percent and another having Romney up 9 percent, all within the same state. Some polling companies are noticeably biased, others claim objectivity, and still others are simply clandestinely biased. The numbers swing so frequently that anybody paying attention is sure to develop a case of the spins.

The polls take on different formats to try to glean likely outcomes for the election. Popular methods include randomized phone calls, generally to landlines but increasingly to cell phones, with calls at different times of day. But whom it is they are polling and when they are polling them provide different results, and even the littlest difference in detail could swing the results drastically. Think Dr. Malcolm’s explanation of the butterfly effect in Jurassic Park:

“A butterfly could flap its wings in Peking and in Central Park you get rain instead of sunshine.”

At the moment, it looks like Obama has the slightest lead in a number of crucial states, and it appears he might be able to gather the 270 Electoral votes he needs to retain office. But what happens if he doesn’t reach the 270 mark? What happens if neither candidate automatically wins?

Welcome to another bizarre caveat brought to you by the Electoral College. According to the 12th Amendment, if no candidate receives a majority of the Electoral vote, the case goes in front of the House of Representatives. Each state delegation receives a single vote, meaning that although California has 53 representatives and North Dakota has 1, both states would effectively have a single vote to cast. If each state was a person, this could be considered straightforward democracy. But since each state has wildly disproportionate numbers of people living in them, it boils down to less individual representation than already given to us by the Electoral College.

But wait, there’s more. This is where it gets even weirder. Not to be left out, the Senate is responsible for choosing the Vice President, with each Senator receiving a single vote to throw into the pot. Since there is an even number of states, it’s possible that the House could wind up deadlocked at 25-25, so if no president is elected by Inauguration Day, then the Senate-elected vice president acts as president until the issue is resolved.

Now, it isn’t clear if this could create a situation where the House of Representatives could elect a president from one party and a vice president from another one, but constitutionally there’s no reason why this couldn’t be the case. How strange it would be to have a majority Republican House vote for Mitt Romney and a majority Democratic Senate vote for Joe Biden? I imagine the stock market might be a bit rattled by the concept of a Romney-Biden ticket.

Our voting system is filled with strange traditions that simply don’t make sense in this day of age. Take voting on Tuesday for instance. Why don’t we just vote on Saturday when more people have the day off?

Back in the mid-19th century, when we were a mostly agrarian based society, getting to a place to cast your ballot generally involved travelling by horse and buggy into town, many of which were a distance away from the farm. Saturday was seen as a workday and Sunday was off limits, as God wouldn’t want us doing our civic duty while we were supposed to be worshipping Him, and since it could take days of travel, Tuesday was selected as the most convenient day for voters. It’s very practical, but practical for the mid-19th century.

It’s all very strange. As if that wasn’t annoying enough, the Electoral College has produced presidential winners who didn’t win the overall popular vote three times. Remember when more people voted for Al Gore than they did George W. Bush, but how it really all came down to lawsuits over hanging chads in Florida? That was weird. The United States is the only country that elects a president via the Electoral College and the only one where you can win the popular vote and still lose. Despite the fact that it was never explicitly laid by our Founding Fathers, the Electoral College was part of the original design in the Constitution, so changing it would require an amendment. This shouldn’t be a problem, seeing as the 12th Amendment expanded voting rights, but for some unknown reason, no amendment advocating something other than the Electoral College has been successful. Thus we’re stuck with some bizarre, contradictory format that adds to voter discouragement. Somebody must be making a lot of money off that.

This brings up the obvious question: why wouldn’t they update the system to reflect the modern world? One could make the claim that the entire Electoral College system itself is antiquated, and that we would be better off with a voting process that saw every individual person’s vote count, not lumped into a sum overwhelmed by the majority of our state. Maybe we could vote on a day that was convenient for a mostly urbanized population in the 21st century. Is that too much to ask? When does practicality finally trump tradition?

When America demands tribal communities provide access to education to women regardless of the male-dominated traditions of those tribes, we’re asking them to turn aside convention and modernize for the good of their people. But when it comes to our own form of democracy, we drag our feet at best. A true democracy would mean every single person’s vote counts, and that’s what we should be going for. The fact that our politicians do not appear to be concerned with this should raise more than a few eyebrows.

So when you watch all the troubles at the polls on Tuesday, the long lines, the people being turned away, the Rick Scott’s of the system refusing to budge on helping voter’s cast their ballots, don’t be surprised. It’s the American way.

@countslackula

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