Knowledge About The College: Why Some Votes Are More Important Than Others
For all of you who are excited about the voting in the presidential election just remember one thing, electing a president is different than any other type of voting held in this country or elsewhere.
Here’s the difference: An American presidential election is really 50 different statewide elections rather than one national vote count.
That is because of the the sometimes maligned and often misunderstood Electoral College. This country was created by the then existing states, rather than the states having been created by the country. States existed as separate independent entities but eventually folks saw the strength of uniting the states as a nation. Then the question became, what should we call this country? Mmmmm, someone suggested, how about the “United States.” The name is totally utilitarian and not at all poetic, but it works in defining what this nation is—a union of states.
So, when the presidency was created the question was raised, how do we elect this person? Back then the answer seemed obvious, have the position elected by the states. To do that each state was allotted a certain number of electoral votes based on population differences. One day in December of election year the states would cast their electoral votes (which in the early days were most often determined by state legislatures and not a public vote) and the candidate with the majority would win.
As the population grew and new states were added the number of electoral votes needed to be elected expanded to the present 270 out of a total of 538. Louisiana has eight electoral votes; down from ten a few decades earlier. Electoral votes are allotted on a winner take all basis. So, in Louisiana, if a candidate wins by a million votes or by one, he gets all eight.
Your vote will be important in terms of how it effects Louisiana’s total vole, which in turn will determine which way the state’s eight electoral votes go, but it will not be relevant to the popular vote.
A president is not elected by having a majority of the nationwide wide votes but by having a majority of the electoral votes. Most times the person who won with the electoral votes also won with the popular vote, but not always. In 2016 Hillary Clinton had 2.1 percent more popular vote nationwide than Donald Trump but Trump had 74 more of the all-important electoral votes, 306 to 232. Similar circumstances have happened in four other presidential elections.
At this point polls show Louisiana leaning heavily for Trump. That would be consistent with the last few elections. In the 12 presidential elections beginning in 1972 Louisiana has voted Republican nine times. The only exceptions were in 1976, 1992 and 1996. In those years the Democrats’ candidate was a Southern governor, Jimmy Carter in ’76, and then Bill Clinton twice. Other than that, the state has been Republican country, at least in national politics. (Four years ago, Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Louisiana 58.1 percent to 38.5 percent.)
Because of its relative predictability and its comparatively low number of electoral votes, Louisiana is not regarded as being a “battle ground state.” Florida, on the other hand has 29 electoral votes and a population that is more evenly divided ideologically. (As a rule, the state’s northern part, including the panhandle where a lot of us vacation, is more conservative and the Southern tip, including Miami, is more liberal.) So, I hate to say this, but the truth is that votes cast in Louisiana, and other non-swing states, are less important in determining the outcome than votes in Florida, and other battle ground states. For this election, the swing states are believed to be, according to Politico a political newsletter, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin
Now all this doesn’t seem fair I know, but the Electoral College does have some positives. Suppose presidents were elected strictly by the popular vote. California, Illinois and New York could practically control every election. Also, if campaigns had to reach every voter equally rather than targeting key areas, the cost of running for president would multiply many times and that could be corrupting, no doubt playing even more into the hands of the well-endowed special interests. And for those who care about such things, the electoral college does reflect the nation’s evolution.
Curiously state governments are often overshadowed by the power of the federal government, but this year we have been reminded that states matter too as governors and legislatures have had to grapple with COVID. We truly did see examples of a nation of states.
There are other elections on the November 3 ballot; including for judges and constitutional amendments. For those the voting is done the conventional way. There is no “college” of any sort involved in these campaigns, but it is always good to try to make an educated choice.
If all this seems confusing, things could be worse: A paraphrase attributed to Joseph Stalin and other political characters said this about democracy: I don’t mind having elections as long as I can pick who counts the votes.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
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