The Cartoonist’s Guide to the Electoral College

Today’s boring civics lesson is brought to you by everyone crying, “Why can’t we have a third party?!?” Please use your whiniest six-year-old voice to say that quoted part. Nobody born prior to 1975 should be asking the question. If you were born later, got to attend our stellar public school civics courses, and wonder the same thing: good on you! Intellectual curiosity will always be rewarded at Tempest in a Teardrop.

You may be wondering about my qualifications to write this post. I am a cartoonist. May I ask what qualifications you have as a reader?

Many of you come from outside the United States, have little interest in the political process, know just enough to make you dangerous, or were trying to google “Elections + Tempest + Idiocy” and found us by mistake. Welcome! My own understanding of, say, British elections, is somewhat spotty. I believe they hold some kind of election, but don’t understand the nuance that led to London becoming the latest caliphate. I thought your knowledge of the American election process might be in the same state.

In the USA we have two major political parties: Democrats and Republicans. The difference between them is straightforward. Democrat candidates have a (D) after their name on the ballot, and Republican candidates have a (R). We also have a handful of very minor parties who usually garner very few votes in comparison. You can identify these candidates because they do not have a (D) or (R) next to their name, and you can smell the desperation in states with scratch-n-sniff ballots.

We don’t hold one election for President. We hold 51 separate elections. Each state holds an election (50 in total) and a special area housing the bulk of the Federal Government called the District of Columbia (ie Washington DC) joins them. The District of Columbia is very special and precious and always nuked first in alien invasion movies. EVERYBODY cheers this scene, regardless of their politics.

These 51 separate elections are all held on the same day (the first Tuesday in November), every four years. This year Election Day is November 8, 2016. Should Donald Trump win, expect a plethora of news stories about how the Mayans were only 4 years off in their predictions.

Bonus Knowledge! Do you know why elections take place in early November? It’s because it is the furthest date away from April 15, tax day, in either direction. Neat, huh?

Candidates are not directly elected in these elections. Each state is given a number of special representatives, called electors, who will cast their ballots for the candidate who won a plurality (the most) of the vote in their state on Election Day. This body of electors is called the Electoral College. The Electoral College does not physically meet. Rather, electors usually meet within each state to cast their ballots. This takes place on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December. Should Donald Trump win on November 8, look for a flurry of assassinations between Thanksgiving and Pearl Harbor day. Electors may want to take precautions during that time.

States are given electors according to population. California gets 55 Electoral College votes. Texas gets 38. Florida and New York each get 29, and so on. The lowest number of electors any state gets is 3. The District of Columbia also gets 3 electors, despite having a fraction of the population of even our smallest state. Remember, Washington DC is a very special place. There are 540 Electoral College representatives in total.

In theory, the country could deadlock with two candidates each winning 270 Electoral votes. In the unlikely event this were to happen, the House of Representatives would get to elect the President, and the Senate would get to elect the Vice President. In short: it would be utter chaos. Many pundits would die from conniption fits. It is likely that the country would be divided along the Mason-Dixon line, with the North absorbed into Canada; and the South. Mexico. Sorry, Canada.

Just for the record, should a deadlock occur, I would be happy to cast a tie-breaking vote. America deserves to be sporked. It seems like a vaguely poetic ending to our Representative Republic adventurism.

You’ve probably read someplace about our “primary” elections, currently taking place. These elections are beyond the scope of this post, but in a nutshell: each state determines it’s own screwed-up rules for each of our two major political parties. The results are not governed by nor do they have anything to do with the Electoral College. Political parties assign delegates, or special representatives, to each candidate according to the popular vote in each state, and each states’ special rules. In Colorado, for example, everyone votes, those votes are thrown away, and the party apparatchiks select whom they will. This year they gave all the votes to Cruz. Viva, Democracy!

Donald Trump recently secured the Republican nomination, despite the insistence from some that they can stop him at the Republican National Convention, to be held July 18-21, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Good luck with that. It would be a “we must destroy the party in order to save it” kind of move. The Republican Party Slogan is “proving there is no such thing as peak stupidity, one election at a time,” so be sure and watch the convention in July.

Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. She has not officially gotten enough votes for this yet, and her opponent can still beat her, but he won’t. The Democrats have what are called “super delegates.” These delegates are appointed by the Democratic party and can vote for whomever they like. They are not bound by how any given state votes. This amounts to 20% of the total delegates. The Democrats hold their convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 25-28, 2016. Bernie Sanders’ supporters will find out how badly the fix is in. Rioting might take place, but honestly, who could tell? Everyone would think it was an Eagles pre-season football game.

Fun Fact: Republicans are in the planning stages to have super delegates of their own. The peasants will never again be able to pick the wrong candidate, as they did this time around with Trump. Viva, Democracy! Again!

Now, a few paragraphs ago I said that the candidate who wins a plurality of the vote in each state on election night wins all of the Electoral College electors for that state (True, Nebraska and Maine do it a bit differently. It’s a total of 9 delegates, so big whoop.). The winner-take-all nature is what dictates two, and only two, viable national parties. Any third party will merely split votes away from one of these two parties. In 2000, Ralph Nader siphoned just enough votes away from Al Gore to give George W. Bush the Presidency. In fact, Bush received fewer popular votes in that election than Gore, but because of the way the Electoral College works he won the presidency.

Democrats are still bitching about that, by the way.

In 1992 Ross Perot took almost 19% of the popular vote and snuffed George Bush I’s chances of serving a second term (he got 37%). Bill Clinton won with 43% of the popular vote. In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt, ticked off at the ineptitude of William Taft, ran as a third-party candidate. Roosevelt took 27%, Taft got 23%, and Woodrow Wilson won with almost 42% of the popular vote (which translated into 425 Electoral College votes – 82%).

Third parties should be working within the existing parties to bring more votes into the party. Egos are large and voters are stupid, so this just doesn’t happen. Should the NeverTrumpers or the BernieBrigade, dissatisfied with the primary election results, run as a third party, they’ll siphon the votes away from their own parties, almost certainly throwing the election to the opponent they, theoretically, have least in common with. For this reason, we don’t actually vote for a candidate. We vote against a candidate. Almost always. Reagan in 1984, Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, 1940 and 1944, and Teddy Roosevelt in 1908 are the only elections you could argue that a very popular candidate won, according to runaway Electoral College results, in the 20th century.

It is no different this time ’round. This is where the phrase “throwing your vote away on a third party” comes from. Voting third party does absolutely no good at the national level (the state level is an entirely different situation). In fact, not casting any vote, in an attempt to not lend “legitimacy” to the election process, is probably a better move. Not that it is a good move. More Bonus Knowledge! This is because politicians don’t care if you don’t vote. They’ll still be happy to take office and run your lives, even if they win merely 10 to 8 in the popular vote. That’s still winning 56% to 44%, a 12-point landslide and a clear mandate to meddle.

Many voters, non-voters, and third-party voters bemoan this situation. It does suck. Guess what? Grownups have to make do with the best among bad choices all the time. Just because the pundits belittle you for voting a particular way, doesn’t mean they are right. Most of them aren’t smart enough to read Tempest in a Teardrop, and don’t understand how the Electoral College works.

It is not all bad news for those extremely fed up and dissatisfied with our two-party system, who at best could be considered two sides of the same (worthless) nickel. The Tea Party was formed shortly after the 2008 TARP bailout. Instead of running third party, they worked to defeat Republicans in primaries, but would vote for whichever Republican won the primary in the general election. As a result of this strategy, many old-guard lifers were removed and new politicians with better ideas took their places. Did this mean the Republicans lost some seats that they might have won? Yes. But that hardly mattered. Since 2010, when this tactic began to ramp up, Republicans have literally done nothing but rubber stamp President Obama’s agenda.

Why do you think Trump won?

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The Spork Speaks — Tempest in a Teardrop — tempestinateardrop.wordpress.com

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