Presidential election night is such a nervous, glorious mishmash of emotions. I can think of no other event when something so big is decided so quickly. Sure, the election drags on forever, but despite the polls you never know for sure who’s going to win. Then everybody votes, we tally ’em up while some talking heads blather on, and it’s decided (usually: thank goodness for not repeating 2000). Done. The next four years are in place. History is written.
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.
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?
My usual disclaimer: I’ve been leery to discuss politics this year, mainly because I’ve seen a lot of people I once respected making fools of themselves on Facebook. I don’t want to be that person. So I’m trying to talk politics without being a jackass. Hopefully I’m getting there.
In 2008 I explained why I was voting for Barack Obama. I wish I’d written similar posts in 2004 and 2000. Though it’s entirely possible I was so unexcited about candidates in those elections that I wouldn’t have bothered.
Before going any further, it’s worth pointing to my 2008 post, Here’s Where I Stand: Let’s Disagree Well. Part of why politics is so caustic is that we fail to recognize where we stand on issues. If you’re socially conservative and I’m socially liberal, of course we’re going to disagree on a lot of social issues. Instead of getting mad over statements about specific policy stances, sometimes it’s easier to recognize those underlying positions and just agree to disagree.
Which is why these discussions are hard and tend to turn people off. In some cases there’s not a lot to discuss. But I do think it’s important to talk about where we stand and why. To explain our position. To exercise our democracy. And to hopefully do so in a humble and respectful way. That’s the foundation of everything we hold dear.
A story broke last week that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (where I worked about a decade ago) had removed mentions of Mormonism as a cult from its website following a meeting between the 93-year-old Billy Graham and Republican presidential candidate (and Mormon) Mitt Romney. Then a spokesman said they did it because “we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign.” Uh, I think you just politicized it.
If you’re a Christian and you want to vote for Mitt Romney, go for it. But don’t suddenly change your views on Mormonism and say it’s not political. Not three weeks before the election. Can we at least be honest enough to admit this is politically motivated? And for what? Who’s going to change their vote over this? (Maybe people will vote the other way!)
Let me be clear: I don’t think Mormonism is a cult. It’s probably a good change the BGEA made. But the timing is just horrible. And the explanation is ridiculous. It seems unfair to call a religion of 14 million people a cult. That’s a loaded term and it has no place in the kind of loving outreach that’s defined Billy Graham’s ministry. Though we should also be clear that Mormonism is not Christianity.
Let me also say: I don’t think it should matter. The fact that we have to ask whether or not a Christian can vote for a Mormon is kind of disturbing. As Franklin Graham says, “Americans must remember that while our nation was founded upon godly principles, we do not have a state religion.” Of course then he goes on to say, “We need something like what Jerry Falwell did in the 1980s. We need a ‘moral majority'” Sigh.
Apparently evangelicals like Graham (Which one? Good question: Christianity Today explores Billy Graham’s recent politicism and Steve Knight wonders if Franklin is speaking for his father) will choose politics over theology when it works for them. All so they can somehow wiggle around the language and support a candidate who supports “God’s principles.” Never mind that it’s a rather different view of God. But not too different… we’re not supporting Muslims. Or atheists. Egads, no!
Meanwhile my generation has grown tired of religion constantly warring with politics. We’ve recognized that in the pluralistic society we’ve grown up in, it’s OK to work with, befriend, even vote for somebody who is different than you. And most of us don’t need to scrub our websites or write editorials to do so.
A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.