I don’t get too wrapped up in it, but I do keep a partial ear towards the ongoing coverage of this year’s election. I feel like I’m going to repeatedly deliver a reminder to everyone that despite what they may think they learned in their freshman civics class, we don’t have a national election for president in this country.
We have fifty state elections for president – or more technically we have 50 state elections to select the electors who will, in turn, vote for president.
This is why I grit my teeth every time I see some news prognosticator talking about who’s up or down in national polls. How a candidate is playing across the vast sweep of the American continent is interesting to know, but mostly irrelevant to telling us who’s most likely to win election as president.
The fact that election to the highest office in the land currently requires winning the majority of electors and not the majority of votes on election day is the crux of the argument for those who want to abolish the Electoral College in favor of a direct national vote for president. Those have been the “rules of the game” the dawn of the republic. While the average citizen may not be clear on that point, no one who seriously follows politics has any confusion about how the system works.
The Democratic Party managed to dominate elections through large swaths of the 20th century – while playing by those long-established rules of the game. In the 21st century their party platform has been structured in such a way as to consolidate strong support in costal and urban areas – while largely doing nothing to speak to their historic rural and rust belt bases of support. That runs the total number of votes up in these stronghold areas without broadening the base of support in any meaningful way. The Republican machine, not being operated by political idiots, crafted their message to pick up as many of those formerly Democratically leaning voters as possible. Republicans have had a decade or more of running the table in areas that would have been a no contest win for the average Democratic candidate of yore.
So, here’s the thing. Instead of pitching a hissy fit that the same rules everyone has played under for more than 200 years are suddenly no longer fair, maybe take a look at the party platform and figure out why you’re mostly attracting voters along the coasts and in the big cities while finding little support in the other parts of the country. The problem isn’t the rules – it’s a failure to connect with voters “out there” in flyover country and to gather up some of the electors that go with them.
If the goal isn’t to win elections by appealing to a broad subset of voters then the crusade to abolish the Electoral College is far more about gaining power than it is about the sanctity of the electoral process. At least have the stones to admit it.
The push is on by all the parties to get out the vote. In the swing states it’s wall too wall advertising, phone calls, and door knocking. It’s one of the very few moments when living in a deeply blue state is a blessing. My vote for president may be worthless, but at least I’m not being bludgeoned by adds like the poor bastards in Ohio or Pennsylvania.
Getting out the vote is a fine thing in theory. or it is until I remember that the people these efforts are designed to bring to the polls aren’t the ones who have spent months studying the candidates and issues. The last minute crush is designed to bring on the ones who haven’t made a lick of effort to education themselves. In all likelihood they’re the ones who stand in front of the menu board at your local fast food shop and look completely perplexed by their options. They’re the ones who get distracted by their radio and drive on the interstate exit ramp. If they’re not making up their minds until 36 hours before the polls open, they’re likely not the kind of informed electorate we want to believe we have here in our American republic.
In the last couple of decades we’ve made massive efforts to chase something close to universal voter registration. It’s probably a fine idea in concept. We’ve made such an effort to register everyone who can vote that we’ve never paused to consider if we should really want them to. It won’t make me the most popular kid in class to say so, but I’d rather see us spend some time making sure those eligible to vote have a little education first, maybe a few critical thinking skills, and then send them off to the voting booth. Personally, I’d be curious to see what kind of results we’d have if the electorate was educated, had a vested interests in ensuring the government was effective and efficient, and didn’t have a large percentage of participants whose only expectation was getting more free stuff while other people pay the bills. I’m just an idealist like that.
As of about 7:25 this morning, I am no longer a member of the Republican Party. The brand of Republicanism I grew up with – of small but effective government, of sound fiscal policy, of a strong national defense – has been shouted down by a wing of the party that seems bent on no government, fiscal policy based on brinksmanship, and treating the defense of the nation as a “nice to have” option. Add those failings to the social conservative faction that wants to know who I’m sleeping with and treats privacy in general like an inconvenience along the road to a quasi-police state and I feel that I have no choice but to withdraw my support and my small voice in this nation’s political discourse.
Maryland doesn’t have an “Independent” option, so effective immediately I am registered as Unaffiliated according to the voter rolls of Cecil County. I’m not holding my breath that a party will come along that is moderate in its social views, sound in it’s fiscal policy, and strong in it’s support of the national defense. That use to be the Republicans, but there doesn’t seem to be any party or group that speaks to the issues that are important to me anymore. Both parties are too polarized to have room for someone whose views and opinions deviate that far from the extreme.
I’ve always crossed party lines to vote for whoever I believed was the best candidate. That we can’t expect the same approach from our elected “leaders” in both parties is damned near criminal.
I did something today that I’ve never even given more than a passing thught to doing in the past. I exercised my right to call out, or rather call on, my elected representative to Congress. The nice staffer at Congressman Blackburn’s office was very polite when i explained that I was a registered voter in the Tennessee 7th, a federal employee, and that I’d very much like to go to work on Monday. She assured me that my message would make it to the congressman straight away. Yeah, I’m not sure I bought that part, but someone less jaded would have probably appreciated it as a helpful throwaway statement.
I have no idea what made me think of doing that. It just struck me that some effort needs to be made to keep the scale from being completely filled with the voices of the radicals who want to believe that Jesus hates compromise. We need serious structural changes to how the government does business. What we don’t need is 800,000 more people unemployed on Monday morning because the elected leaders of the United States of America can’t find their honorable asses with both hands and a flashlight.