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I’m Popular: The Electoral College

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I’m Popular: The Electoral College

I’m in desperate need of a civics lesson.

I live in a blue state. Deep blue. Even our stop signs are blue. I haven’t seen red since I left Indiana. Since I only lived in Ohio very briefly during a non-election year, I have no idea what it means to live in a battleground state, to be bombarded with ads from both candidates until my eyes and ears bleed purple. It seems like a drag. I’ve only felt the nervous anticipation of election results via proxy; I’ve always known what color Wolf Blitzer or some other cable news anchor was going to assign my state: blue. There is never a question, no constant checking on the percentage of poles that had reported. Illinois democrats vote, and vote often. Even the dead ones. This reality is part of what contributed to the decision I made about exercising the franchise, a choice I may or may not discuss in an upcoming blog. What I will say is that, like election season clockwork, I’ve once again returned a question I really want answered:

Why do we still have the Electoral College?

I very much want an answer. A thoughtful and convincing one would be preferred, but I ain’t greedy.

Look, I know what the Electoral College is, even without CNN’s election night crash course. I understand the process; I “get” it. 538 electors. The people vote. If the candidate receives the most votes in a state, he or she receives all that state’s electoral votes. Each state has 2 per senator plus a number of electors based upon population. The more people in your state, the more electoral votes you get. The magic number? 270. That’s how many electoral votes a candidate needs to be elected president.

But I don’t “get” it. Why is this process still in place? Why do we need electors? Why can’t the popular vote win?

Illinois’ 20 or so electoral votes will go to Barack Obama. This is not news. No one will waste time discussing the matter. The state will be blue on those fancy, techy maps before election coverage begins. Because I know this, however, I am even that much less inclined to vote. I understand that the Electoral College helps build tension during election night, but I’m wondering if it does so at the expense of a more democratic process. If I knew that a vote for a third or fourth or fifth party candidate would unite with ballots cast for the same candidate in different states, I think I would feel more like my voice was being symbolically heard. Moreover, I think I might feel like the American public weren’t the ping pong ball between the paddles of two lesser evils vying for power more than they were vying to create positive, systemic change.

It seems like the Electoral College silences voices of dissent in exchange for maintaining a two party stranglehold on the process. What is more, from what I understand, an elector isn’t even bound by law to vote by the will of the state’s people. In other words, if the majority of a state’s popular vote turns out red, the elector can vote blue–and do so legally. It seems that the Electoral College siphons symbolic nuance and diversity into channels of red or blue. No wonder third party candidates aren’t invited to participate in national debates.

This electoral ritual, unless someone helps me understand the process differently, feels absolutely absurd. The democratic process shouldn’t be conducted via proxy. The popular vote should be sufficient. Furthermore, it seems that enough votes–or at least a percentage of them–for a third party candidate during any given national election should be enough for that party to have a national presence at debates and such. I understand all of the ramifications of this, but it seems like a much better alternative to being treated like a child during a fierce custody battle every four years. Maybe if there were an established presence from the actual left, then some of the old heads would be forced to stop pretending. Just a thought.

And so again I ask regarding the Electoral College: What am I missing? Please advise.