Let’s Count 100 Million More Ballots This Year
By Steph Trendell
“My vote doesn’t even count.”
I have heard this quote, word-for-word, so many times. In America, there is an assumption that the vote of the common people doesn’t count because the popular vote does not ultimately decide the results of a presidential election. Here’s the thing: a democracy wouldn’t be a democracy if the vote of the common people didn’t count. But we live in a democracy, right? Yes, we do, and it’s about time we start acting like it.
Why do we think our vote doesn’t count? Easy: the electoral college. The electoral college: also known as a group of white, powerful men in government who really decide who the president is.
It is true that the electoral college does not accurately represent the average American. And ultimately, it is the vote of the electors that determines the outcome of the presidential election. But they actually don’t have as much power as you think.
Let’s take a look at a Supreme Court case that was just ruled on this past July: Chiafalo v. Washington.
According to Oyez, an archive of Supreme Court cases, “Nominees [for the electoral college] must pledge to vote for the candidate of their party, and any nominee who does not vote for their party candidate is subject to a fine of up to $1,000. Washington, as is the case with all but two other states, has a ‘winner-take-all’ electoral system, which means that all of a state’s electoral votes go to the winner of the popular vote in that state.”
In the 2016 presidential election, the electors that represented the state of Washington voted for Colin Powell as president and another individual as VP despite the fact that Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine won the popular vote in Washington. The electors were fined one thousand dollars for breaking their pledge. The dispute was over the constitutionality of this punishment. Chiafalo argued that it was a violation of their first amendment rights, but the Supreme Court ruled unanimously, in favor of the state of Washington. Their punishment was upheld and was not deemed unconstitutional.
At the time that this decision was made, the Supreme Court was split with five conservative justices and four liberal justices, but the decision was unanimous. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on, because, clearly, both parties agree that an elector voting against the consensus of the citizens of their representative state (also known as a “faithless elector”) corrupts fundamental democracy. It doesn’t matter your party, there is nothing political about voting. There is everything American about it.
However, as stated on the website fairvote.org, there are two states that don’t oblige their electors to vote in accordance with the popular vote of their state. Maine and Nebraska. Because Maine and Nebraska don’t have the “winner-take-all” policy, instead they split votes between congressional districts. The winner of each congressional district gets 1 electoral vote and 2 of the state’s electoral votes automatically go to the winner of the popular candidate of the entire state. This method of dividing electoral votes by congressional districts is not used nationwide because it lessens the power of the people.
However, Maine and Nebraska do have laws against faithless electors where electoral college members cannot vote against the popular vote of their congressional district and these two states only make up a total of nine electoral votes combined. A candidate needs at least 270 to win, so in reality, this tactic is not going to make or break a presidential election because it is only used by two out of fifty states. Used by all fifty states, it would obviously have a much more significant impact.
More importantly though, are the swing states (states that do not necessarily have a party affiliation). They could vote Republican or Democratic. Contrary to safe states (states that tend to have the same party win the popular vote in most presidential elections), all of the swing states enforce the “winner-take-all” method. The twelve swing states are: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
This is especially pertinent because, as stated by Allyson Waller of The New York Times, it means that the electors that represent the swing states (states that are going to matter the most in determining the outcome of a presidential election because their outcomes are not easy to predict based on past elections) are required to vote in affiliation with the winning party of their entire state. So, in theory, the common people really are deciding the results of the election. Most of the time.
However, I must present all of the facts as outlined by Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio. And the facts are that only 32 states actually have laws against faithless electors. So, while 48 states are technically committed to voting in accordance with the popular vote, that leaves 18 that have no motivation, other than morality, to follow this law. And sadly, morality isn’t enough for some people.
So how do we really know if our vote counts? We must have faith in the system, which might be hard to do these days. And rightfully so. Despite that, we must have faith in our government. The fact of the matter is that, in 2016, 100 million chose not to vote, according to Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post. America was founded on a lot of things that we aren’t proud of, but the right to vote is something we should be proud of.
It is a privilege.
It is not something you get to do in every other country across the globe. Say what you want about your vote not counting because of the corrupt government or what have you, but the case of Chiafalo v. Washington shows us that, Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal, our government does understand the value of your opinion as an average citizen. So, let’s trust the process.
Do I wish it were different? Of course, I do. But the election is less than a month away. There’s no time for change. You can skepticize all you want about your vote not counting, but your vote definitely won’t count if you don’t show up at the polls (or do a mail-in ballot!). In a choice between the small possibility of having your voice be hindered, or having no voice at all, I urge you to choose to have a voice.
Go to iwillvote.com to register to vote, check the status of your registration, and/or find out your polling place or mail-in ballot drop off location. If you click “Check if I’m registered to vote” you can also see the 2020 ballot questions! The last day to register is October 24th!