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Voting is flawed but still important

Your high school American civics teacher lied to you.

We were all pretty young and gullible back then, so you shouldn’t feel bad. We all took the patriotic Kool-aid.

Sometime in that class — if not before — you learned a simple set of clichés involving the American political system.

See if any of these phrases sound familiar:

“One man; one vote.”

“Every vote is precious.”

“Every vote counts.”

In a very real way, none of that is true, at least not when presidential choices are on the ballot.

Yes, yes, I know.

Each man does, in fact, get one vote — at least one legal vote.

The 15th amendment allowed that man to be of any race or color, correcting a long-standing wrong in the country. The 19th amendment put a “wo” on front of the “man,” giving the right to vote to all men and women.

So for the most part, most Americans do have one vote, but what about the “every vote is precious” line?

In our most patriotic of moments, the process of voting can stir deep American emotions. Our chests can puff with pride.

But the harsh realities of modern, calculated political campaigning tactics can quickly deflate that puffed-up chest.

Somehow the billions of dollars spent to woo a few undecided voters in a handful of so-called swing states seem to cheapen the process a bit.

The implication is clear — particularly to those of us living in non-swing states. Our votes don’t matter much, and they’re certainly not all that precious.

They’re taken for granted by candidates.

But “every vote counts,” right?

Sort of.

It’s true that every vote is counted, but does every vote really count the same?

Logic tells you that every vote weighs equally into the total votes cast to decide the race. But in presidential politics, that’s not exactly correct.

The pesky little thing called the Electoral College enters the picture. The system was created as sort of a buffer to prevent the highly populated areas from having too much power and letting the masses elect a kook.

Once your vote is cast, a strange thing happens.

Despite the button you pushed, you did not, in fact, vote for a candidate. Instead you voted for a state elector.

The number of electors relates to the number of seats in Congress a state possesses.

With 538 electors — 435 members of the House, 100 in the Senate and three for the District of Columbia — presidents simply need a majority to win.

That’s 270 to be exact.

The chase for those electors is what leads candidates to virtually ignore states they either feel they have no chance of winning or a slim chance of losing.

It’s the same thing that leads to hundreds of millions of dollars spent on campaigning in the few key states.

To further complicate matters, all states except two have a “winner take all” approach to electors. So if a candidate wins the majority of a state, that candidate hauls in all the electors, even if the race was close.

So it’s quite possible that the candidate who wins the most number of popular votes won’t win the election. That just seems wrong doesn’t it?

But it’s happened four times in our nation’s history, most recently in 2000.

Despite all the little fibs you may have been told years ago, the truth is that voting is important. As flawed as our system may be, it’s still the law and the best system we have. Remind yourself of that this Tuesday.

 

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.

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