Tag Archives: election

Electoral Ties & Upside Down Victories

With the election just days away I’m getting lost in the many fascinating layers of presidential politics. Two are especially fun: the possibility of a tie and the way the electoral college works.

It’s a Tie!
First up, the New York Times has a neat little map showing the 512 possible outcomes in the presidential election based on nine battleground states (don’t you just love how the other 41 states are a foregone conclusion?). Of those potential paths, 421 lead to an Obama victory, 76 to a Romney victory and five to a tie.

That’s right, all this campaigning and we could end up with a tie.

But don’t worry, the 12th amendment addresses such a possibility. The House of Representatives gets to pick the president (but with an odd, one vote per state delegation rule) and the Senate picks the vice president. Based on which parties control which chambers, we’d most likely end up with President Mitt Romney and Vice President Joe Biden. Now there’s a wacky pair.

But the 12th amendment isn’t actually that simple. It not only speaks to a tie, but a case where no one gets a majority of the electoral votes. This scenario happens when there are more than two parties winning electoral votes. It’s only happened once in history, 1824, when Andrew Jackson received 99 electoral votes, John Quincy Adams got 84, William H. Crawford got 41 and Henry Clay got 37, all shy of the 131 needed at the time. Based on the complex rules of the 12th amendment, the top three electoral vote getters can be considered by the House, so Clay was out. He threw his support to Adams, and the House eventually elected Adams as president.

Boy was Andrew Jackson pissed.

For more fun, here’s a video showing how a third party could take advantage of this quirk. Such a strategy was attempted in 1836, 1948 and 1968 but failed all three times.

Upside Down Victory
Which brings us to the other wacky issue with our presidential election system: the details of the electoral college. As you probably remember only vaguely, the president is not chosen by a simple majority of citizens, but by the electoral college, a bizarre quirk of representational democracy where we don’t vote for a candidate but for people who will vote for a candidate. It’s left over from the days when we didn’t trust the common citizen. Hmm…

Each state has a certain number of electors and the winner of a state gets all the electoral votes for that state. It’s all or nothing. Which means the popular vote is practically meaningless. This is where it gets crazy.

A fun little video details how the electoral college works and showcases that someone could win the presidency with only 22% of the popular vote. All it takes is winning in a bunch of small states by a single vote. That’s right, more than three-fourths of the nation could vote against someone and they could still win the presidency. Watch it for yourself:

But surely that won’t happen, right? As the election of 2000 has shown us, anything can happen. Thankfully, we’ve been through it in recent history and the country didn’t come apart at the seams.

What About Popular Vote?
Oddly enough, we also weren’t motivated to change our system. Frankly, it seems like a straight popular vote might be simpler. It sure would have made social studies class a lot easier. It also might result in more equitable campaigning with candidates visiting all states and not just the swing states. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is one attempt to do away with the popular vote over the electoral system and the Wikipedia article includes plenty of pros and cons. The method they use is even more complicated though, relying on the fact that state legislatures decide how their electoral votes are cast, so the compact says that when a majority of states sign on, they will assign their electoral votes based on the popular vote, regardless of the result in their own state. Seems like it’d be easier to just pass a Constitutional amendment, like the Every Vote Counts Amendment, though it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Sheesh. Presidential elections are way too complicated. Is it Tuesday yet?

Vote No on the Marriage Amendment in Minnesota

I’ve tried (at length) to write about the marriage amendment in Minnesota without success. I did manage to write about how their language offends me (since then I’ve seen ads touting “real” marriage?!), but I haven’t written directly about the amendment. I’ll try now (and it’s my last “here’s where I stand” post of the election cycle, I swear).

For all the articles I’ve read and back and forth arguments I’ve considered (enough to make your head spin), I think this is the strongest issue for me (and it stands regardless of your views on homosexuality).

This excerpt of an article by two Bethel professors sums it up:

“This is not an amendment to Christianity. It is an amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution. We live in a pluralist society, not a theocracy. So while it may be important for Christians to debate Christian perspectives on marriage, it is not fair to force all Minnesotans to have the same ideals. Whether we like it or not, not all Minnesotans are Christians. Forcing religious ideals on non-believers is a violation of the separation of church and state. And, to use Alexis de Tocqueville’s words, it is a tyranny of the majority. What happens when the majority of Minnesotans are no longer Christian? Are we willing to accept the precedent this amendment sets – that the dominant religion can force their beliefs into law? If not, we suggest voting NO.”

Thank you for putting words to the argument I’ve been having in my head for the last decade.

I think it’s sad that this whole issue is about protecting the sanctity marriage from people who want to get married. Meanwhile few are protecting the sanctity of marriage from the ones already married and getting divorced. If you want to be pro marriage, put your effort into helping marriages, not passing laws.

Vote No on Voter ID in Minnesota

I’ve been so leery of discussing politics this year that I’ve hardly said anything. That’s probably a little extreme as well. We need to learn how to discuss politics in a way that doesn’t resort to Facebook jackassery. I’m trying to learn how to communicate about these touchy issues in a way that’s actually useful. I hope you can cut me some slack.

Minnesota has two amendments on the ballot this year: anti-gay marriage and voter ID. I’ve said my piece (sort of: no!) on the marriage amendment. Now let’s talk voter ID.

In general, I’m not a fan of voter restrictions. I think it should be easy to vote. I’m proud of the incredible voter turnout in Minnesota (77.8% in 2008, best in the nation by far). Restrictions on voting smack of poll taxes and all the sleazy efforts to suppress the vote during the civil rights era.

However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask people to verify who they are when they vote. Showing some sort of ID, provided we make accommodations, doesn’t seem like a ridiculous restriction.

So I’m willing to consider voter ID.

Unfortunately, the amendment being considered in Minnesota doesn’t do a good job. It doesn’t really do anything. It doesn’t answer any questions or spell out how our new voter ID system will work. The amendment leaves that job to the legislature.

So when both sides argue about what the voter ID amendment will or won’t do, they’re wrong (unless they tell you we don’t know). The pro-voter ID folks give all kinds of lovely answers about how issues will be addressed. The problem is they’re basing their answers on legislation that was vetoed. We don’t really know how voter ID will be implemented or what kind of reasonable accommodations will be made.

All we’re doing is voting whether or not somebody else should decide. Since we don’t know what they’ll decide, I’d rather have no voter ID than bad voter ID.

Here’s a video from MPR explaining exactly that. It struck me as incredibly biased toward anti-voter ID until I realized they didn’t say a word pro or con about voter ID itself. They’re merely explaining exactly what the amendment does and doesn’t do. That’s more than the campaign sites have done, so hats off to MPR.

So I say vote no on voter ID. If we’re going to have voter ID, let’s make sure we do it right. Let’s not force ourselves into it and possibly muck it up.

What do you think about voter ID? Have you ever had problems voting?

What Do Political Yard Signs Accomplish?

Are pint-size political billboards worth the paper they’re printed on? I’m thinking no.

“I love watching people waste their money on signs. It’s great. Keep spending your money that way. What do you learn from a sign? What does a sign tell you?” Democratic consultant Judy Stern says in a Sun Sentinel story. “Signs don’t vote.”

But popular wisdom says that name recognition, especially in local races, is valuable. When you’re voting for a bunch of folks you’ve never heard of for city council, it helps if you’ve seen one candidate’s name around town.

“You don’t even really think about it,” says Marietta College psychology professor Mark Sibicky in The Plain Dealer. “It’s a classically conditioned response. All things being equal, we like the familiar name.”

Another report backs up the name recognition theory and suggests it also has more to do with the person putting up the sign. They say each sign is worth 6-10 votes, not because of the sign, but because the person putting up the sign is likely to encourage votes in other ways.

But knowing who’s running doesn’t help you make an informed decision. In national elections that name recognition is kind of useless. No one puts a Romney sign in their yard to make sure their neighbors have heard of him.

It seems like the problem is that political yard signs generally don’t communicate a message. It’s simply a name. All they’re getting is awareness. It doesn’t communicate your reasons for voting. It doesn’t contain any message that could persuade other voters. It’s merely a badge of pride, a flag of identification, letting people know where you stand. At best, it gives people the illusion of popularity (“There are bunch of Joe Jones sign in my neighborhood, I bet he’s going to win!”).

That works for U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich: “This is better than a paid billboard, because it’s a personal endorsement. It shows that I have support at the neighborhood level.”

I wonder why candidates don’t put any slogans or messages on their yard signs? I’ll admit you couldn’t fit much of a message on any yard sign and it’d come down to bumper sticker slogans, which might not be any better (why don’t campaign bumper stickers have, um, bumper sticker slogans?). But wouldn’t that at least communicate something? According to the experts, that’s a rookie mistake. According to sign printer Dale Fellows in The Plain Dealer, political signs should feature the candidate’s name as big as possible. The fewer words the better.

Bah. I wish signs actually communicated something.

On the plus side, it’s likely they’re not a decisive factor: “Well, I think that it would be very unusual if any of these tactics actually were decisive in elections,” says Costas Panagopoulos, professor of political science at Fordham University in an NPR story. Well, not usually: “But at the margins, mobilizing voters can be very important. And particularly in close, competitive races, they can make a difference in determining the outcome of an election.”

I guess election marketing just sucks.

Political Communication that Works

On election day, amid the frenzy of last minute plugs and flurry of civic-minded joy, I came across a simple little website that I just love. Before linking I want to qualify this for two reasons: 1) It’s full of the f-word, which might put some people off. So fair warning. 2) It’s all pro Obama, which might put some more people off. More fair warning.

But in spite of both of those things, I think the site is really cool. I share it regardless of politics and profanity because I think it’s an interesting idea. I actually waited until after the election to let the partisan nature wear off a bit. It’s still there, but it feels easier to look past today than it would have been on election day.

The site is called What The F*ck Has Obama Done So Far? and it’s just a slide show of one-sentence accomplishments. Each accomplishment has a source link and then a button to see the next accomplishment. It’s an ingenious little way to tell a story of simple achievements. Instead of drowning people in paragraphs of text on every issue, it’s just one little snippet of factual text.

Now I realize some folks will likely take issue with each bit of “factual” text, because that’s what we do, nit-picking every statement as spin and adding our own counter-spin. But I think the basic idea does what it needs to. Some sort of way to engage those nit-pickers and add a little more explanation or context might be helpful (but that might also ruin the simplicity of the whole thing). It’s not a perfect idea, but it’s a lot more effective than any political website I’ve ever seen.

Bottom line: I love the idea of taking something as complex and off-putting as politics and phrasing it in simple one-liners of actual accomplishment that anyone can understand. That’s powerful communication.

A New Day in America

President Elect Barack Obama and his family at Grant Park in Chicago

I stayed up last night to watch history. I couldn’t stand watching the pundit chatter, so I kept checking in and out. We watched the Clinton/Dole-Kang/Kodos episode of the Simpsons, watched some more returns, and then watched an episode of the Office. Then when I clicked back to check the results I heard a commentator say “President Elect Barack Obama.” It took a minute to confirm it, to see the map and the huge electoral lead. But it was over.

America had just elected its first black president.

From there we stayed up to watch history, seeing McCain’s gracious acceptance speech and then watching the crowds in Grant Park as a visibly tired and emotional Barack Obama came out to address the crowd. The images of the first black president are powerful and moving. No matter your politics, this is an intense moment for our country, our world, our generation and our children.

There is a palpable excitement in the air like I’ve never seen before. Granted that has a lot to do with the fact that my guy won, but I think this is categorically different, both because I actually like this candidate (I can’t imagine dancing in the streets for any previous presidential wins in recent memory) and because of the historic nature of this win. And I’m clearly not alone in that first point.

But for all the jubilation, there is a lot of work to do. There are enormous expectations on Obama and it would be hard for anyone to live up to all of them. I’m eager to see how he proves himself and if he can live up to his promises to bring change to our caustic political climate. I’m eager to see if he can prove his detractors wrong, if at the very least he can gain their respect if not their support. In short, I’m eager to see if he can live up to the hype.

In the end Barack Obama is just a man. He needs prayer and support, counsel and wisdom.

And in the end this is just one moment in history. It is preceded by innumerable moments that won’t make it in the history books, but without which this moment could not have happened. It is only by concentrating on those many small steps, persevering in each day, that we can ever hope to bring about the change we seek.

Election Marketing Sucks

I’ve complained before about crappy campaign web sites, but this year I think election marketing in general sucks, from robocalls to direct mail to those darned web sites. And I’m not the only one: Marketing guru Seth Godin offers marketing lessons from the U.S. elections. Today’s election day, so it’s all over. Let’s take a look at what works and what doesn’t.

Election Calls
In Minnesota robo-calls are illegal. Yet that hasn’t stopped two robo-calls from coming through, one from the Campaign for Change-DFL and one from Minnesotan Citizens Concerned for Life. I guess that’s one from each side of the political spectrum, so at least they’re fairly breaking the law.

In response to that anti-robo-call law in Minnesota, the McCain campaign has had real people making those calls and just reading the robo-call script. That’s perfectly legal, but it’s also perfectly insane.

Continue reading Election Marketing Sucks

Why I’m Voting for Barack Obama

Barack ObamaIn the 2008 presidential election I’m going to be voting for Barack Obama. That’s probably not a surprise to people who know me, but I feel the need to explain that position.

I’ve been contemplating this post for some time. Should I even write it? As a person who makes a living writing for a faith-based market (for the most part), it’s some what dangerous to talk about politics. There’s a very real possibility that people won’t hire me because of my political views. It’s happened for much lesser reasons.

But I guess because of that rationale I feel compelled to give a defense for why I’m voting for Barack Obama. I’d rather someone understand my reasoning and still reject me than reject me based on an assumption from something random like a Twitter post.

I think this will be the first time I’ve ever publicly blogged about who I’m voting for. The above rationale is part of the reason, but I’ve also never cared that much about politics. Part of the reason why I’m doing it this year is because of how important the times are. That’s said every year (I said it last election), but this election is historic on several fronts.

Ground Rules
I’m not going to load this post up with links and sources. Perhaps I should, but writing this is going to be grueling enough. I don’t have time to track down all the links. My arguments have come from watching the debates, listening to the candidates, following the campaigns and reading fact check sites. That said, feel free to call me on facts that I get wrong.

I’d also like to remind people of the importance of disagreeing well. How we disagree perhaps says more about our character than what we agree on.
Continue reading Why I’m Voting for Barack Obama

Is Barack Obama a Muslim? Who Cares?

The New Yorker Obama CoverThe question of Barack Obama’s faith and background keeps coming up. Despite his long-held Christian faith, the rumors that he is a Muslim persist. An April poll showed that 1 in 10 Americans thought Obama was a Muslim (one would hope that number would have dropped in the months since).

Is Barack Obama a Muslim? No. (Visit IsBarackObamaAMuslim.com for the short answer.)

But what if he was? Who cares?

Is Barack Obama an Arab, as McCain crowds in Minnesota seem to think (yes, I’m embarrassed for my state)? No. His father is from Kenya, his mother is from Kansas (hey, my mom’s from Kansas!) and he was born in Hawaii.

Again, but what if he was an Arab? Who cares? Continue reading Is Barack Obama a Muslim? Who Cares?

The Presidential Debates are Broken

Tonight is the second presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. I’m not sure if I want to watch. Having watched the first presidential debate and the only vice presidential debate I came away with the conclusion that debates are broken.

  • “Facts” are tossed around by both candidates and then challenged and defended with no regard for what’s factual. Even when multiple sites and news organizations fact check the candidates, those misleading, deceptive or blatantly false claims still come up. Both Joe Biden and Sarah Palin used “facts” in the VP debate that had already been fact-checked and swatted down after the presidential debate.
  • The follow-up questions are limited so there’s no actual resolution for any issue. A candidate can make an outrageous claim and it just sits there unchallenged. This happened multiple times in both debates.
  • Finally, the underlying issues that inform policies are never actually debated. For example, we go round and round on who’s tax policy does what (here’s a good breakdown of their respective tax policies), but we never get to the issues behind the opposing policies: What will improve the economy more, giving more money to the middle class or more money to the wealthy? That’s the real debate, with real historical examples (Reagan vs. Clinton), but we never actually get there.

Continue reading The Presidential Debates are Broken