An old man from Jersey explains: the electoral college

So I was sitting on my front porch the other day watching the people walk by when this kid comes up to me and says, “Hey Mister.”

“What do you want this time, kid?” I say.

He says, “Last night my mom was watching this boring thing on TV where two guys were arguing about which one should be president.”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“Well, how do we pick which one gets to be president?”

“Uh huh. Well, it goes a little like this. Everyone in the country…well, almost everyone, gets to vote on who they want to be the president. Now, we don’t actually just count up all those votes and the person with the most votes wins. The votes get counted up for each state, and then everybody who voted for the loser in their state gets their vote thrown in the trash. Now, we don’t just add up who won in the most state elections and make that person the winner either. You see, each state gets a certain number of electors based on how many people there are in that state. We tell the electors who won, and they’re supposed to vote for who the most people in their state wants to be president. And that’s how the president gets picked.”

“So what do you mean, they’re supposed to pick who the most people wanted?”

“Technically they can vote for whoever they want.”

“But they always vote for the guy who won in their state though, right?”

“Have some respect, kid. Girls can be president too.”

“We’ve had a girl president?”

“Well, not yet, but eh…you know. Anyway, no, they don’t, and they don’t get in trouble for it either.”

“Ok. So let me see if I got this right. The people who voted for the loser in their state get their votes thrown in the trash, and the electors can throw whoever’s votes they want in the trash too?”

“Yeah, you got this right.”

“Uh, what’s up with that, mister? Why don’t we just count up everybody’s vote and let make that guy…or girl…the president?”

“Well, the folks who made the rules figured the people were too stupid to pick the right president. So they put in a way to make sure that the people in power could have the final say.”

“And everybody’s cool with this?”

“No, but most people don’t know that’s how it works. Hell, even when you tell ’em they still don’t believe it a lotta the time. Maybe the folks in power were right about us being stupid.”

“What about the people who do know? Why don’t they get it fixed?”

“Some people are trying, but at the end of the day, the person with the most power gets their way, and as we’ve already established, the system is designed so that if you’re not in power you don’t got no power.”

“That sucks. That’s…nah, that can’t be right. I’m gonna ask my mom about that tonight.”

“Well, you can lead a horse to water, yada yada yada. Any other questions before you go?”

“So what are you doing about it?”

“Kid, even the people did elect the president fairly, the president would still just be a figure head for the party and the people who bankrolled his career.”

“Wow, you’re just not positive about anything.”

“I’m just stating the facts. Don’t blame me if the sun ain’t out at night.”

“Oh that reminds me. It’s getting late. I need to get home or my mom’ll be mad. Just two more questions, and can you make the answer short?”

“I ain’t promising nothing, but give it a shot.”

“If what you said about the president is true, what would fix it so the president wasn’t just a muppet for his friends?”

“Well, the only people with a real shot at winning the presidency are the people picked by the Republican and the Democrat parties. Get rid of them and  find a way to make it so you don’t have to be a millionaire or have millionaire friends in order to campaign and then anyone could run for president and have a decent chance of winning.

Was that short enough? Now what’s you’re last question?”

“So what are you doing to fix that?”

“…preaching to people who won’t listen mostly. Now run along, kid.”

“One more question?”

“Sure, what is it?”

“You think it’ll ever get fixed?”

“About that…let’s just hope your generation isn’t as dumb as mine.”

“Huh. Right. Well, I’ll see ya later, mister.”

“Oh, hey, kid.”


“Good luck.”

One response to “An old man from Jersey explains: the electoral college

  • kohler

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

    In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives already agree that only 14 states and their voters will matter under the current winner-take-all laws (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) used by 48 of the 50 states. Candidates will not care about 72% of the voters– voters in 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and big states like California, Georgia, New York, and Texas. 2012 campaigning would be even more obscenely exclusive than 2008 and 2004. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes–that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Without the guarantee of the bill of electors voting for the candidate who receives the most popular votes, there have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector’s own political party. The electors are dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: CO– 68%, IA –75%, MI– 73%, MO– 70%, NH– 69%, NV– 72%, NM– 76%, NC– 74%, OH– 70%, PA — 78%, VA — 74%, and WI — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE –75%, ME — 77%, NE — 74%, NH –69%, NV — 72%, NM — 76%, RI — 74%, VT — 75%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and border states: AR –80%, KY — 80%, MS –77%, MO — 70%, NC — 74%, and VA — 74%; and in other states polled: CA — 70%, CT — 74% , MA — 73%, MN – 75%, NY — 79%, WA — 77%, and WV- 81%.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA ,RI, VT, and WA . The bill has been enacted by DC, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, and WA. These 7 states possess 74 electoral votes — 27% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


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