English: Electoral college map for the 2012, 2016 and 2020 United States presidential elections, using apportionment data released by the US Census Bureau. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For this edition of USA Q & A, I’m going to delve into elections in the US. I will try not be too partisan, but the disclaimer from earlier applies. In the interest of full disclosure, however, I am a registered Democrat and a member of the DSA and Democrats Abroad. If this topic really intrigues you, I would also suggest going to the US Consulate in Melbourne’s website as well, which will give a wholly non-partisan view.
Q: Why do US elections take so long?
A: Technically, they don’t. After all parties have their respective conventions, it’s about a 2-3 month long process where all the candidates campaign. What turns it into a 2 year process is the selection of the candidate. Because there are term limits, at least every 8 years, both parties select someone new. Generally, there always has been a touch of the old with the new, with the incumbent Vice President stumping for the top job, but in 2008, Vice President Cheney opted not to run, and it was the first totally new election I can recall ever happening.
How candidates are selected differs from state to state, and it’s staggered. In my home state (and I’ll be elaborating on that shortly), it is an open primary which means anyone regardless of which party they belong to can vote for whichever candidate they want to represent whichever party, even if it’s one that they don’t care for. You can only vote in one party’s primary, but every election you’ll find party loyalists voting in rival parties’ primaries to better the chances for their party. The crossing over, however, never really amounts to much in the end, so ultimately it’s party members and independents that decide.
The first primary/caucuses occur in January, and there’s a good indication of who the presumptive nominee is by April. It was not always this way, and not too long ago, you wouldn’t have any idea who the nominee would be until voting started at the convention. Personally, I miss those conventions as it made for interesting viewing (and it must be said that no matter how contentious the selection was, after the nominee is decided, everyone does unite). The Democratic & Republican National Conventions are always broadcast by all the main networks in East Coast & Central prime time.
Q: Do certain states have more influence than others?
A: Yes. At the convention and later on at the election, each state’s vote is weighted according to its population. New York & California, two states with a very high population are very influential. Even though both are traditionally Democrat states, Republicans would campaign there during their primaries in order to get as many votes at the convention. A fair amount of states swing either way, Wisconsin, is one of them. Even though, Wisconsin has gone Democrat recently, it’s been by a knife’s edge, and at 6 million residents, it can help a candidate’s chances at becoming a nominee and/or president.
Q: What’s the Electoral College?
A: The electoral college is a really odd thing. Some advocate scraping it altogether as it’s archaic and keeps the US from being a true democracy, but some also say it counteracts the influence of bigger states. Basically, when any American votes in a Presidential election, they are not really voting for President–despite what the ballot says–they are voting for electors who then go on to vote for the president. These electors are not bound to vote according to the votes of the state they represent (it must be said that there really aren’t national elections in the US, just state elections with national ramifications) , but by practice, they do.
November 2: George W. Bush re-elected President (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Remember the debacle over Florida’s electoral votes in 2000? Even though Al Gore had won more votes nationally, because he hadn’t won a majority of states, the presidency went to George W. Bush who won a majority of the states. If the population was evenly distributed over the country, then this would not have occurred as he would’ve won in both areas.
A core belief of the US system of government is to have checks and balances, and this one way of keeping the power of more populous states in check.
Q: If states matter so much, how is the vote of Americans who live and reside overseas counted?
A: Remember what I said about US national elections being essentially state elections with national ramifications? This is it in play. When I left the US, I was, legally, a resident of the state of Wisconsin. This means no matter where I move in the world, my vote will always be counted in Wisconsin’s tally and nowhere else. My children will be able to vote in Wisconsin’s elections. If I had become a legal resident of New York, my vote would count in New York’s, and so on. The state you are legally resident of matters very much. I am, for all intents and purposes, a Wisconsinite inasmuch as I am an American.