Let’s talk about voting, since we have Federal elections coming up, especially for President of the United States of America. You always hear people saying that voting for a 3rd party candidate is “Wasting your Vote”. In some sense, your “wasted vote” is no better than not voting at all.
But there is now a common theme popping up by some talking heads on American politics. One of them has to deal with the Electoral College, and more specifically with the Electoral Vote. Let us take a look at this with one test case, which is the state of Maryland. I bet you will find that people wast their vote, like with a 3rd party candidate, either in the popular vote or the electoral college, i.e. wasted vote in electoral college translate into wasted vote in popular election and vice versa.
One of the necessary conditions to become, or be, President of the United States, is that you win the majority of the electoral college. The electoral college currently, as of 2012, has a total of 538 votes. A candidate needs the majority in order to win, which is sometimes stated to be 270 electoral votes.
In the American political system, you have the popular vote for POTUS and have the electoral vote for POTUS. The majority of the popular vote does not necessarily imply the winner of the Presidential election (as previous historical examples provide). However, The majority of the electoral vote does necessarily imply the winner of the Presidential election.
Before I continue I need to make one thing clear: States decide the processes of how electoral voters are decided, as long as it is consistent with the US Constitution, Federal Law, the State Constitution, or State law.
Now 48 states, like Maryland, out of 50 states have a “Winner Take All” system. The winner take all system is basically that the candidate that obtains the majority of popular vote within the state will obtain all of the electoral votes that the state has. In Maryland, each party has their own primary or caucus to decide who the registered party affiliates vote for that they believe represents the view of the majority of registered party members in that state. Once this is done, that political party in that state that had their candidate win the majority of popular votes in the state, will have 10 selected party members, because Maryland has 10 electoral votes, i.e. 2 Senators and 8 Representatives, who cast their votes for President of the United States of America.
(1) Let us just assume we only have two Presidential candidates on the state of Maryland ballot, (even though it is impossible to have a “fair election” with more than two candidates on the ballot). We have Candidate John and Candidate Jane. (2) Let us also assume that John and Jane belong to two different political parties, and (3) also assume that there are a total of 100 popular voters in Maryland and 10 electoral voters in Maryland. (4) Let us also assume that the political party that wins the popular election always votes for the political party candidate on the ballot.
John gets 51 votes from the popular vote, and Jane gets 49 votes from the popular vote. So John won the popular vote and his political party in that state will decide who the 10 electoral voters will be for the state of Maryland in the election for President of the United States. This also means that Jane’s political party will not be able to decide who the 10 electoral voters will be for the state of Maryland. So candidate John wins the state of Maryland and obtains all 10 electoral votes by winning 51% of the popular vote in the state of Maryland and losing 49% of the popular vote in the state of Maryland. Jane loses out on 10 electoral votes because she lost the popular election in the state of Maryland.
Now here is where something interesting happens. John wins the election regardless of what the rest of the voters in Maryland thought. At the end of the day John only needed 51 people to vote for him and it didn’t matter whether the other 49 people did vote or didn’t vote. In other words, those other 49 people do not matter when it comes to electing President of the United States in their state. The 49 people’s popular vote does not translate into 10 electoral votes. The 51 people’s popular vote, however, did translate into those 10 electoral votes. Those 49 people might as well have not voted at all, since their vote did not count for anything, let alone count for who becomes POTUS. Those electoral votes go the way that 51% of the population voted. Those 49 people that voted in the 2 party system, i.e. the loser in the race, wasted their vote just as much as the person who votes for the 3rd party candidate.
Now some people do not like how the Electoral Vote allows for those 49% to have their vote not counted. This is because once one of the two candidates hits 51% of the popular vote, there is no need to keep counting the popular vote. Image, for instance, that we bring in two boxes. Each of the boxes have 100 ballots. We open the first box and find that all 50 of the votes are for John. We now know that we only need to open the box and find one other person voting for John, and than we can stop counting votes. We open the second box and first ballot we open is a vote for John. We now can stop counting the rest of the ballots in the second box. We now know who won the state’s popular vote, and thus now know who won the states 10 electoral votes. We can dump the rest of the popular votes, i.e. those 49 popular votes. Those 49 votes do not count towards their candidate, i.e. Jane, or even towards who the states electoral votes go to.
Some people do not like how this type of winner take all system in the electoral college makes it so that almost half of the people who vote do not have their vote counted. But the problem is that the same problem shows back up if we only do the popular vote and get rid of the electoral vote.
(1) Let us just assume we only have two Presidential candidates on ever person Presidential ballot, no matter what state you live in, (even though it is impossible to have a “fair election” with more than two candidates on the ballot). We have Candidate John and Candidate Jane. (2) Let us also assume that John and Jane belong to two different political parties. (3) Let us assume that one only needs 51% of popular vote to win POTUS. (4) Let us assume that we have 100 people voting.
Out of 100 popular votes cast, 51 of those votes went to John and 49 of those votes went to Jane. This means that John won POTUS. We still find ourselves in a strange situation. We would be going through the same processes with the example of going through the two boxes full of the popular vote ballots. We would still stop counting once we reached the second boxy and found the first vote to be pulled out was for John. Immediately we find that we can ignore the rest of the ballots since they have nothing to do with who becomes POTUS. With the electoral college having a winner take all system, or a popular vote system with a winner take all, 49% of people waste their vote when they vote for POTUS. Those people are no better than someone who wastes their vote on a 3rd party candidate.
The problem becomes it is not the electoral college that is at fault, or even the popular vote that is at fault. What is at vault is the very idea of a “Democracy” where it is based on majority opinion, i.e. 51%. Half of people’s opinions or votes will not matter to the bottom line who becomes POTUS. They might as well have never voted.
But let us explore this idea of the popular vote a little more, and see how it has its own problems as the electoral college, which was set up to give states with small populations to have equal say as states with a big population, i.e. equal say with states with a big population and small population.
(1) Let us just assume we only have two Presidential candidates on every person Presidential ballot, no matter what state you live in, (even though it is impossible to have a “fair election” with more than two candidates on the ballot). We have Candidate John and Candidate Jane. (2) Let us also assume that John and Jane belong to two different political parties. (3) Let us assume that we have total of 100 popular voters. (4) Let us assume that we have only 2 states where the 100 popular voters live. (5) Let us assume that state X has 51 people and state Y has 49 people.
John wins the popular vote by obtaining 51% of the popular vote. But John did not win the state of Y but won the State of X, i.e. everyone in the state of X voted for John in the popular election in that state.. John won POTUS because he won the state of X, which had the largest population. Jane lost the election and only obtained the popular vote in the state of Y. Basically, the people who live in the state of Y should not have voted, since their vote did not count for anything. It was only the people in the state of X who’s vote counted for anything. State of Y might as well voted for a 3rd party candidate, because they would have obtained the same result. In other words, the state with the most people decided the election of POTUS by popular election, while the state with the least people did not decide the election of POTUS. So the people who lived in the state of Y might as well as not vote, since the state with the smallest population had no affect on the outcome of POTUS.
As should have been noticed by now, when we have the idea of “Winner take all”, or “the candidate with the majority of votes is the winner”, leads to almost half of peoples vote being as good as those who do not vote at all. It makes no difference whether this “Winner take all” idea is implemented in the popular vote or the electoral vote. But this “Winner take all” idea is the basis of “Democracy”, which is that the majority of people decided for things to be this way or that way.
Almost half of those who partake in voting for either of the two major candidates end up, whether electoral vote or popular vote, end up doing as well as those who vote for a non-major candidate, i.e. third party. They both end up voting for the loser in the election, whether done by electoral vote alone, popular vote alone, or a mix of electoral vote and popular vote. In each scenario we find out that people wasted their vote, or cast a vote in which it had no affect on the outcome of the election or who becomes POTUS.
This is a fundamental thing in the American voting system. It pops up no matter whether electoral, popular, or a mix of both. Think of this the next time someone talks about wanting to get rid of the electoral vote and make it strictly the popular vote. The same problem shows up no matter how it is done. You don’t like one, then you would have to dislike the other. In the end, with either form of voting, almost half of people end up doing as well if they did not vote. 49% of voters, whether vote for 2 party or 3 party system, end up doing as well as people who don’t vote. 51% of people, or states, votes count and 49% of peoples, or states, votes don’t count. During an election year and hearing about how the voting system works out and all the problems, see if you notice someone bring up this fundamental issue in the American voter system. What are their alternatives to this system? I bet they end up having the same consequences as mentioned about.