The United States is far less than the shining example of democratic governance it claims to be. Roughly fifty percent of the eligible population simply doesn’t bother to vote in a presidential election. Furthermore, most people, including most Americans, think that the candidate with the highest popular vote wins the election.
Ask Al Gore if this is true. In the 2000 election, running against George Bush, the Democrat had nearly three-quarters of a million more votes than did his opponent, yet Bush won the election. How did that happen? The short answer is the unique institution known as the Electoral College.
Most Americans are clueless as to how this anachronistic and fundamentally undemocratic institution actually works. Eight years ago they – and much of the rest of the world – waited for more than a month before a determination was made as to which candidate won Florida’s disputed twenty-seven electoral votes. As it turned out, George Bush was alleged to have defeated Gore in Florida by fewer that 1,000 votes. Yet, the Republican was awarded all twenty-seven of Florida’s votes, allowing him to eke out a narrow five vote victory in the Electoral College and, consequently, the American presidency. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Florida’s governor in those days was Jeb Bush, George’s younger brother.
That’s Florida. With two exceptions – Maine and Nebraska – all American states award their allocated electoral votes to the candidate who has the most votes. If Bush would have beaten Gore by a single vote, he still would have gotten all twenty-seven of Florida’s electoral votes. Nebraska and Maine allocate them according to congressional district, but even there it’s winner-take-all. These are the curiosities and anomalies of the American system of federalism
Those of you following the current election closely might have noticed that neither Obama nor McCain nor Biden nor Palin have done any campaigning whatsoever – not a speech, not an appearance and, most importantly, no TV advertising money - in California, Texas or New York. Why not? Good question!
These three states are the most populous in the United States. Among the three of them they have a population of more than eighty million; about one-quarter of the US total. More importantly, they have a total of 120 electoral votes. So why aren’t McCain and Obama scrambling all over each other in search of votes in these three states?
It’s simple. The answer again is the Electoral College and the fact that states award their electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis. California and New York are safe Democratic states and Texas is equally safe Republican. Obama knows he has no chance in Texas and McCain knows the same about California and New York. If McCain knows he’s going to lose California anyway, it doesn’t make any difference whether he gets three million or five million votes there. He still loses 55 those electoral votes, so why bother? Why spend time and money on a lost cause? Obama thinks the same way regarding Texas. If McCain wins Texas, as he will, it makes no difference whether Obama gets three million votes or zero votes there.