Tuesday, November 15, 2016

"'The Popular Vote' - A Second Look"

It’s hard to write when you’ve been punched in the stomach.  Not hard to write – you just put your fingers on the keys – but it’s hard to think about what to write.  A noxious Macy’s Day Parade balloon has been elected President of the United States.  It’s the O.J. Simpson verdict every day for the next four and possibly eight years –  reason once again kayoed by unmitigated emotion. 

I hate it when the bad guys win.

I know.  Not all the Trump supporters are bad guys.  But – and correct me if I’m wrong – all the bad guys are Trump supporters.   Did you notice many “White Supremacists For Hillary” “Tweets” coursing through the Internet?

I thought about announcing a break till I can breathe normally again but who knows how long that will take?  It’s not just “My candidate lost.”  Kerry lost.  But I figured, “He’s still got ketchup.”  The issue here is, look who won.  And, more significantly, look how many millions of my fellow Americans wanted him to.

There are inevitably optimists; I don’t know why but there are.  Inveterate “ray of sunshiners.”  “Silver lining” enthusiasts.  I encounter bleats of hopefulness in last Sunday’s New York Times “Week In Review.”  Buried into their raiment-rending post mortems, no fewer than three articles include the fact that Hillary Clinton won the “popular vote”, by what may turn out, after all the votes are counted, to be a considerable margin. 

For those familiar with democracy but not American democracy, you can, as occurred in 2016, get more accumulated votes for president than your opponent and still lose the election.  That’s because of the “Electoral College”, whose votes are the determining factor in the race.    

In America, every state, in effect, holds its own presidential election.  The candidate who wins the tabulated “popular vote” receives (with two exceptions) all of that state’s “electoral votes.”  The candidate who amasses the most “electoral votes” nationally becomes the president.

Are you bored yet?  One more thing.  Maybe two.  The “Electoral College” was established in case the populace loses its mind and elects a maniac, in which case the electors, as a “safety valve”, are empowered to step in, overruling the “popular vote” and voting their country-salvaging conscience instead. 

As they say in show business as a polite euphemism for “I hate it”, I have never been a fan of the “Electoral College.”  It seemed elitist to me.

“Thanks for your votes.  We’ll take it from here.”

More than that, it seems intrinsically counter-intuitive to the electoral ideal.  Imagine a team capturing the World Series, winning the requisite four games, but the umpires, in their superior wisdom, handing the championship trophy to their opponents. 

It’s like,

“The electorate has spoken!”

(PARAPHRASING “FIORELLO!”)  “People can do what they want to but we’re telling you that it’s not democratic.”

How is the number of a state’s electors decided upon?  You add together the number of a state’s Senators – which is always two – with the number of the state’s members in the House of Representatives, which is determined by the population of that state.  Throw in three for the District of Columbia, you get 538 “electoral votes.”  You win 270 and you’re president.

Even if you’re a putrefied manhole cover.

Okay, enough with the (hopefully accurate) tutorial.  Hillary Clinton received (possibly substantially) more “popular votes” than her opponent, leading her backers, in three articles in a single section of the newspaper to insinuate a miscarriage of justice.    

I, who have always disliked the “Electoral College” idea – although I am fine with all states having the same number of allotted senators; I think it’s cute.  And also wise.  And also essentially “just” that states large and small should be equally represented.  

RHODE ISLAND:  If we didn’t get that, we would never have joined up.  Right?

WYOMING:  You’re darn tootin’.  And I am speakin’ for all the other states that have very few people livin’ in ‘em. 

SOUTH CAROLINA:  Which would have most certainly included us, had we not insisted they enumerate the slave as three-fifths of a person.

A SLAVE:  First time they ever counted us.  Except to find out if one of us had run away.

Hillary Clinton received more “popular votes” than Donald Trump.  That does not – have you noticed? – mean she’s the president.  But it does mean to her heartbroken supporters, that maybe she should be.

Count on me to question my own side.  And my own previous beliefs as well.

What does it mean that Hillary Clinton got more “popular votes” than her victorious opponent?

It means that in the states she won, there was a denser population.  (Hence, a larger “per state” number of  “electoral votes”, versus her opponent, who won more states with considerably less dense populations but won so many of them it put him “electorally” over the top.)

I start thinking about this, and for the first time it occurs to me that…

Maybe that’s actually okay.

Why “Maybe that’s actually okay”? 

Because of the less felicitous alternative. 

Do we really want our elections determined primarily by voters in  (heavily populated) New York and California?  Is that legitimately a national election?  Or is it merely a bi-coastal election?

Seems to me, if you want to win the presidency, you need to attract voters from everywhere.  And if you don’t attract voters from everywhere…

You lose.

(I do not feel terrific about this.  Gasping “Hillary” campaigners search for a flicker of encouragement and I douse it with an unwelcome concern – national inclusiveness.  Apart from being irrelevant to, as Jimmy Durante used to call it, “the conditions that prevail”, winning the “popular vote” is, I reluctantly conclude, a meaningless accident of demographic distribution.  Should a person get special credit for their inordinate tallness?  Then why make a “positive” out of “more people living in the same place”?)

Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.”

I re-think.

Therefore I really, really am.    

I could easily be wrong about that.

I am not entirely at my best.


Stephen Marks said...

So Earl, you explained it wonderfully and humorously and I'm still confused, but that's my problem. Why don't they just amend it so the loser automatically becomes vice-president. Checks and balances. Get rid of that old oak desk in the Oval Office where Lincoln, Roosevelt and JFK use to sit, too intimidating so nothing gets done. Put in cubicles. Turn it into a real working office. Make LBJ's personal bathroom off to the side, where he gave orders to escalate the Vietnam War, into a lunch room. Put in a fridge with brown paper lunch bags marked POTUS, VP, Chief of Staff and Stu. Have casual Friday's where everybody wears jeans and cuts out early. Put a Tim Horton's in the lobby and have the CIA director and Secretary of State roll up the rim to win. The whole thing needs to be changed into a real, efficient, professional place of business. Like Enron was.

YEKIMI said...

Hey, at least you can flee back to Canada with minimal problems. I actually checked into emigrating there and the issues are insurmountable. It's like "Hey, you can come drop your converted American currency at our casinos but at some point we'd like you to go away."

JED said...

The problem I see with the Electoral College is that if you win big in some states but lose narrowly in a larger number of states that total more electoral votes, you lose. That isn't necessarily wider support. It just means the two distributions of votes are different and the winner fortunately had a distribution that got them over 270 electoral votes. The stupidity of the electoral system is that people who vote for the candidate who loses a State have, essentially, lost their vote. So, people here in Massachusetts who voted for Mr. Trump didn't help him. And people who voted for Ms. Clinton in Ohio didn't help her. That is the worst part of the Electoral College. It removes votes from the final result. It's kind of like a weird game show where the points double at the end to make it more interesting. We don't need interesting, we need a straight-forward vote to pick the candidate that the majority vote for.

Now, both sides knew the rules before this all started and there can be no re-do of this election. But it should be possible to get rid of this stupid system for some future election. Why should ONLY the President be elected this way?