“How is this fair?” or Why the Electoral College Exists and Why You Need to Vote In Midterms

What follows is my very basic understanding of why the Electoral College exists. If you have more information, I invite you to include your thoughtful and respectful comments at the bottom of this post.

I saw a meme circulating a couple weeks ago pointing out the difference in electoral college representation between population centers and rural areas. The question was something like, “This whole area [indicating the center of the US] has more electoral college votes than these tiny areas [indicating major cities], but these tiny areas have many more people. How is that fair?”

When the electoral college was created, it was intended to balance power across a diverse set of people, none of whom have a lot in common. The city folk didn’t understand the needs of the farmers, and the farmers didn’t understand the needs of the industrialists. Neither could be trusted to hold the interests of the others in mind.

They regarded each other with justified suspicion.

When the US government was first set up, it was created to avoid one party getting too much power. The three bodies of government (The Executive, Judicial, and Legislative) were only the beginning of checks and balances.

In order for the checks and balances to work, there also had to be voting checks and balances in place. Hence, the electoral college.

The electoral college was expressly created to make sure that the city folk couldn’t elect a president that didn’t meet the needs of the rural folk.

And really, that’s the only purpose of the electoral college.

In this case, as much as I fear for the fate of our country (and the world) with the results of the recent presidential election, the electoral college worked as it was supposed to.

Other Branches

Unfortunately, because of some political fancy footwork (which I believe was unethical and against the intention of the founding fathers), the president was able to name two Supreme Court justices (that’s the Judicial branch).

Where the population density-rich cities and states can create an impact is in the House of Representatives (Congress and Senate). I believe (and internet, correct me if I’m wrong… I’m writing this on an airplane without wifi), that every state has a set number of Senators (2?), and a variable number of Congresspeople, depending on their population.

The checks and balances only work if there’s a diversity of beliefs represented across all three branches. Right now, all three of the branches are dominated by one party.

In looking at the percentages of people voting, it looks like most people don’t understand how important these other branches are. They’re the only representation that is governed by population size. So if you’re looking at that and asking, “How is that fair?” but you’re not voting for Congresspeople and Senators, you’re missing a critical opportunity to influence the balance of power in the government.

Because of what I believe is a human tendency toward monarchy, many of us only think the Executive branch matters (the president), but really, the electoral college, not individual citizens, elects the Executive branch. It was never intended to be the be-all-end-all “leader of the free world” godhead it is today.

Local Elections

I live in California, which is a holdout in the attack on social values and environmental responsibility. I have been very impressed with Jerry Brown’s ownership of the role as Governor, and am hopeful that Gavin Newsom will win the Governor’s seat in this coming election.

Before the current administration, I took for granted that the local governments would mostly run themselves, but now I feel compelled to participate in local elections. For example, I’ve never been more motivated to vote for my Attorney General. What’s an Attorney General? John Oliver did a nice piece on the office, and even rounded it out with some suggestions on how to get more information.

Vote with your conscience

Recently, Oprah was on stage at a rally, and she said she refuses to align herself with any one party, because she doesn’t want anyone to tell her what to do, because she earned it. Well, I think we’ve all earned it, just by virtue of the fact that we can vote. Lucky us!

I found that in local elections, I’d rather have more hands-off leadership (which tend to be traditionally Libertarian, with a fiscally liberal bend). At the local level, I want people to be the captains of their fate, and the masters of their soul. I’ve earned it.

And so have you. You’ve earned the right to vote, just by being born or naturalized in the US. Please go exercise it.

International Travel While Trump Is In Office

I’m sitting in the basement of our hotel in London a block from Paddington Station, since that’s where we leave from tomorrow. Teresa had scheduled us to arrive back here and have a full day between adventures before we had to get back on the airplane for the long flights home. I appreciate the break, and as much as I’d like to spend all day working, I feel like it’s best if I just do nothing. I might venture out in search of fresh vegetables, since those have been pretty lacking in this trip (mostly because of my own choosing).

One thing I’ve been worried about (not worried enough not to travel, but still…) was how people will react to us as Americans now that we have a hateful jerk as the most prominent political figure in our country.

Our encounter with an angry British man

We haven’t had much interaction with people on a social level, but as I purchased Noam Chomsky’s Optimism Over Despair from a lovely little bookstore on a canal here in London, a very drunk man wearing ski goggles and braids came over and started excitedly talking with us about how he doesn’t understand the political system of the United States, but our president is truly awful.

Except he didn’t say it in an angry way. He said it in an outstandingly British, angular way about how we might not like him, but after all, we did elect him, and [here’s where I tried to interject and explain our electoral system and that he didn’t win the popular vote, just the blah blah blah, but the guy wasn’t listening at all]. He also said he was sure that our system had “checks and balances and all that,” and when I started trying to explain the Supreme Court and Congress also being Republicans, he went back to talking about how he wasn’t quite sure how we could have elected Trump after our previous president was so great (that’d be Obama [chorus of angels]). So then I got onto yet a third tangent about how Obama didn’t really represent a lot of the rural Southern voters, and that Trump promised to represent them better, so they rallied and now…

But I could tell he wasn’t listening.

He just wanted to poke at us about our elected official.

And also, he was very, very drunk.

We eventually extricated ourselves from that conversation (with some effort)

“I think most people around the world are familiar with the feeling of not being represented by their government,” my mom said when I asked her if she was worried about traveling to Kenya last year.

And yes, that’s probably true in developing countries, but in democratic countries like the UK and France, I wonder if maybe people assume we support our democratically elected president, without understanding the nuances of the electoral college and how a president has won the popular vote but lost the election not once, but twice, and how this didn’t immediately spark a revolution.

I wonder, too.

But revolutions are complicated things, and most of us still have faith – however misplaced – in our democratic processes.

As we discussed the drunk man and his ideas about Trump, Teresa and I came to the conclusion that the best we could do is keep traveling and keep talking to people, and let our friendliness and personalities open the door for a better international understanding of what’s happening in the US.