A Brief Civics Lesson to Help You Understand How Elections Work. From Berlin on June 12th, 1987, President Reagan spoke these historic words: «General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!».
A new Republican president will be sworn in Friday, January 20, 2017 with a surprisingly strong mandate about another wall. President Elect Trump chose as a winning slogan, Build the wall. This refers to the wall Trump has promised to erect between the US and Mexico.
The judgment of history will have to wait. Presently, America is still stumbling out of bed as if from a hangover. The majority of people who cast their vote on Nov. 8 are rightfully certain they didn’t cast it for Trump. Yet without a single accusation or hint of a misconduct or voter fraud, the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, gave her concession speech signaling that the results are legit.
To understand how this happened, a brief civics lesson is in order.
A College Education
To understand how elections work we have to go back to college, the electoral college, that is. Let’s not mince words. The Electoral College exists because of racism and slavery. It gave slave states a voting advantage for presidential elections that did not exist in gubernatorial elections.
Some will argue that it started with nobler goals. But in the end, that is what it devolved into. The machinations of clever politicians ensured that the Electoral College would stand as a constitutionally enshrined advantage to smaller states with unpopular views.
Collectors will care about obtaining and preserving documents with historical autographs appointing presidential electors. When it comes to the Electoral College, we can follow a well-preserved paper trail from concept to execution.
Slaves allowed southern states to appear more populous than they were. That added population gave them more electoral votes than the popular vote could account for. In this way, small states can have a big impact on monumental elections.
The Unpopular Vote
It should come as no surprise that many people are very confused about how elections work. The Electoral College is a layer of obscurity that defies the popular notion of one person, one vote. What matters is how many votes your state has. Regardless of the number of votes cast, the state of Alabama gets 9 votes. And all of those 9 votes go to one candidate regardless of how close the election was in that state.
But things don’t even add up in the inscrutable math of the electoral college. California is roughly 8 times bigger than Alabama. But it only has roughly 5 times more votes. You really will have to go back to college if you want to fully understand that.
All you really need to know is that the president is not elected by popular vote. Your vote informs electors on how to vote. Governors are elected by popular vote. That is the highest office where we experience one person, one vote.
Had we been counting popular votes, we would be talking about President Elect Hillary Clinton. President Elect Donald Trump will be sworn in by unpopular vote. And that is perfectly constitutional.
Making a Difference
Does your vote count? If you voted for Clinton in Alabama, the answer is a resounding NO. Your vote never had a chance of making a difference. Alabama was about as red as it could get. But that doesn’t mean voting is futile. It just means that to elect a president, you have to do more than go to the polls.
You have to be willing to campaign in battleground states where the vote is really close, and each vote does make a difference. That is also why it is important to donate to the overall election effort. Your one vote in your state may not make a difference. But your extended effort in the greater campaign most definitely can.