IT’s a bit strange that while our elites, especially the intelligentsia, has worshiped the US as the epitome of democracy that we should emulate, its system for choosing its two most powerful leaders — the president and vice president — isn’t really the democratic system we know, and which many really don’t know much of.
In Philippine democracy, it is simply the majority of votes for a candidate that determines who will be our president or vice president. In the US, it is this bizarre entity called the “electoral college” that determines whether in the following days it will still be a President Trump or a President Biden together with their choice of vice president. Here’s how it works:
The current electoral college has 538 members. It is just a group of “electors” and is nothing like a college with its connotation of intellectual abilities.
In fact, the electors merely acknowledge which of the candidates got the most votes in a particular state, and then consequently register their votes — technically the official vote — for that candidate. The Congress meets in a joint session in January to read the “votes” of these electors, and the candidate who gets the simple majority of these 538 votes officially wins. (Because the results of the voting are known way ahead of the January formality, the winner is termed president-elect.) There is no separate process for the vice presidential candidate — he or she is just “attached” as it were to the presidential candidate in a kind of package deal.
The 538 electors — or just to simplify it, votes — are allocated among the US’ 50 states, plus Washington D.C., depending on how many senators and House representatives they have. Each state has two senators, regardless of its population. On the other hand, the number of a state’s House representatives depends on its population, the census for which is undertaken every 10 years,
Thus, states with the smallest populations have at least three electors — two senators and one House representative. The most populous state, California, has 55 electors, since it has two senators and 53 House members. The electoral college system is said to be a vestige of the US’ origins, when the once independent states demanded equal representation in choosing who would head the new nation of united states.
The 270 number always referred to by US media as the magic number refers to the minimum simple majority of 538 — one-half of it plus 1. If Biden gets just 270 of the electors’ votes, and Trump gets 268, the former becomes the head of the most powerful nation on earth.
Now here’s how the system in effect junks democracy’s fundamental dogma of “one person, one vote.”
In all 48 states plus Washington D.C. — that is, except for Nebraska and Maine, which together have just 9 electors — it is a “winner-take-all” method: all of the electors are required to vote as the winner in their states the presidential candidate who gets the most popular votes.
However, the electoral impact of a voter actually depends on the number of electors in his state. If for instance, Trump wins by only 1,000 popular votes in the “red” — meaning Republican — state of Texas, all of its 38 electors’ votes are registered for him.
This means it doesn’t matter which candidate gets the majority of the popular vote nationwide. What determines who wins is which candidate gets the greatest number of votes of the 538 electors.
Red or blue
Most US states have been perceived as red (Republican, mostly in the Midwestern) states or blue (Democratic, mostly in the coastal) states as their voters in past elections predominantly chose either party. Only the margins in these states have changed, which is unimportant because of the electoral-college system’s winner-take-all process.
However, there are the so-called “swing” or battleground states, about 13 of them, which have had close contests or changed “color” in the last few presidential campaigns, such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and Arizona. Thus candidates naturally would focus their resources, and their physical presence, in such states.
In 2000, half a million more Americans voted for Al Gore than George W. Bush nationwide. But Bush became president since he got 271 of the electors’ votes, more than Gore’s 266. What tipped the race for Bush was that while he won Florida by a mere 539 votes, all of its 29 electoral votes, going by the winner-take-all method, were registered for him.
Thus this absurd electoral-college system made president the warlike Bush, who invaded Iraq on the pretext that it had weapons of mass destruction, and thus in effect implemented Osama bin Laden’s dream of an Islamic world hating the West and sending its youth to undertake numerous suicide bombing and killings in the US and Europe.
Instead of the most powerful nation on earth throwing its resources to mitigate climate change, the US threw its military might against Afghanistan, Iraq and even Libya, putting that part of the world into an almost continuous state of conflict, with US interventions churning out more and more Islamic jihadists.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton got 3 million more votes than Trump. However she lost in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, each by a less than 1 percentage point margin in the popular vote, but 8 percent of its electoral votes, so she lost the presidency with her 227 electors’ votes against Trump’s 304.
I don’t really like Clinton as she is close to the Yellow Cult here and embraces the Democrats’ dogma that they are the moral policemen of the world. If she had won as president, she would have interfered with our domestic affairs, much more than the inward-looking Trump who doesn’t care about the world, as long as he could build Trump towers in their capitals.
But I think Clinton and the Democrats would have handled the US Covid-19 pandemic much better than Trump, whose mind was so focused on his re-election, that he deluded himself into thinking that the pandemic wasn’t a crucial issue.
Again, it would have been a different world, if the US wasn’t the worst hit by the pandemic — with 9.6 million of its citizens infected — and therefore could have used its vast resources in a worldwide effort to stop it. Now the US has even left the global institution that could have led and coordinated the planet’s war against the pandemic.
Many US analysts are saying if Trump pulls a surprise and wins in the elections today, it will be because of the “magic” of the electoral-college system. An absurd mechanism for an absurd president.
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