We live in a country that finds pride in it’s ability to allow each and every citizen to vote. I guess I’m lucky for that, though I take it for granted. I’ve never lived anywhere else, never had anything less. I’ve never known nor loved anyone who died for that right, so to be honest, it’s not something I thought too deeply on before this essay.
Just last week I finally registered to vote in Amherst, signing up at a booth manned by a pair of old ladies quietly vying to see how many people they could each enlist. The competition between them was palpable. I went with the one who looked like she cared less.
It was a gorgeous Saturday morning, and I was out getting the rest of my textbooks, still slightly drunk from the night before when they found me and persuaded me to fill out their forms with the allusion of candy and free pens. I filled out the paperwork. Name. Current Address. Social Security. Shoe size. Preferred political party. I wondered if they noticed my slight intoxication, then found some kind of humor in the situation, probably due to the slight intoxication. As I gave her the slip and listened to her canned yet enthusiastic speech about where to go and what to bring when I vote, I wondered briefly how much my one vote really mattered. I also wondered if I was okay to drive home. Oh, and I never got a piece of candy or free pen.
We don’t live in a democracy, something a lot of people seem not to understand. We live in a constitutional federal republic, which means we’re built up of fifty separate states and a federal district into one country, all of which have opinions and votes casted to represent their residents. So if you gain nothing else from this essay, you now have a witty retort next time some annoying teenager says uses choice words and informs you that America is in fact, a democracy.
A true democracy would be run solely by the people with a fair vote on everything. True democracies rarely get anything done for this reason.
In a true democracy, every vote does count. In Plato’s The Trial and Death Of Socrates, a true democratic court is shown. The year is 399 B.C. and Socrates, an Athenian philosopher, has been accused of corrupting the youth and impiety by a fellow Athenian Meletus. Tried by a jury of 501 men who serve as both the jury and the judge, this is representative of a true democratic case. Out of the 501 men, each man has a vote that counts as 1. No more, no less. There is no electoral college or parties to consider or some kind of backwards voting law, just simple majority versus minority. In this true democratic setting, if the situation was on the verge of being split 50-50, one vote would mean all the difference. In Socrate’s case, this didn’t work out, and he was probably a little upset with democracy, even though Plato doesn’t paint him as such.
Why was this bad for Socrates? The democracy worked against him, even though it was absurd. Instead of having a well educated and seasoned judge realize the charges of “corrupting the youth” (which is an ancient Greek way of saying he spoke in questions) against him were completely and utterly ridiculous, he was sentenced to death because the man accusing him had more friends than him and persuaded the jury. In a true democracy, you had better get your swag on.
So a true democracy is run by the people, each with an equal vote. As I said before, the US is not a true democracy. If it was, not a whole lot would get done, as people would have the right to vote on literally everything from the next president to the official colors of the wallpaper in the president’s bathroom. Instead, we elect people to vote for us, alongside our own votes, in the electoral college.
I’ll admit, I’m focusing on the presidential elections here, but when I think of voting, that’s my main concern. I don’t particularly care about more local government, and won’t waste my time going to vote on minor issues so my pot smoking friends can get stoned legally. I’m not much of a political savvy student, nor do I care to be, because I think all politicians are pretty much the same spineless sack of ivy league education in a different expensive suit. Regardless, I’m using the presidential elections as a guide.
Once election time comes around, you can’t have 20 seconds of peace in public without someone yelling at you how much your vote counts, or trying to convince you to vote for their favorite politician by screaming in your face and threatening to hit you with red white and blue signs. Election time is the closest this country gets to civil war since 1865. Families and friends are torn apart by the choices of their votes. Friends fight friends over their political party. I once saw a two men, one dressed as a donkey and the other as an elephant, duke it out MMA style in a pool of red white and blue jello at a political rally to show the dedication and ferocity of their party (it’s cool, I had Jim Fingal fact check that for me). Politicians give speeches and kiss babies, all in the hope to get people riled up and in voting-terminator mode in time for elections. In fact, the idea of not voting once your 18 is near blasphemous in some areas. It’s regarded as one of the perks of turning 18, alongside being able to buy porn and cigarettes in and being tried as an adult for the crimes you commit.
But it’s not your particular vote that choses the president, it’s up to the electoral college, a system which has been getting unfavored presidents into office since 1824. What this bullshit means is even though a president can have a larger number of popular votes (the votes directly from the people), the true vote goes towards the electoral college, a group of electors chosen by the state and numbered varied on how many senators and representatives the state has. This has happened four times, starting in 1824 with Andrew Jackson having 38,000 more votes than John Quincy Adams, but having not won the electoral college, losing the campaign. It has also occurred as recently as the Bush-Gore election, getting George W. Bush into office over Al Gore due to the electoral college. Just think, had Gore won, we never would have had “An Inconvenient Truth” inconveniently shown in our classrooms.
Today, presidential candidates need to win the electoral college with at least 270 votes, which is just over half of the 538 electoral votes in the country. In the case of George W. Bush v.s. Al Gore, Bush had 271 votes. He literally won by 1.
Some states have a “win-all take all” attitude towards voting, which means that whichever candidate gets the popular vote gets all the electoral votes. This itself still isn’t fair, as those votes for the other party are then completely discarded like copies of “An Inconvenient Truth” or that film about Joseph Kony.
For anyone who saw Kevin Costner’s performance in the Hollywood lackluster Swing Vote, that would just never happen. Presidential voting is not going to come down to one person, and if it did, we sure as hell wouldn’t make a family movie out of it due to the death threats and bribery such a person would endure.
With the November elections in the near future, we have a tsunami of voting propaganda to look forward to, and being on a college campus will only intensify this series of events.
So do I think my one vote counts? No, I don’t actually. So long as we still use the electoral college, I know that one single vote will not change anything. However, 38,000 will. Oh wait, never mind, it didn’t for Andrew Jackson.