I don't know about you, but I am really glad that all of this is almost over! If you live in the U.S., you should go and vote today. If you need information please check out the links below, which will help you locate your polling place and double check your registration status:
In honor of election day, I thought that I would address a few questions that I often get from both Germans and Americans. If you consider this post "unintelligent" or stupid, then fell free to stop reading. I, personally, consider it informative.
Reader: So, Claire, how IS the U.S. president elected anyway?
This is a really good question! The most important thing to remember is that U.S. presidents are chosen indirectly.
When the constitution was written over 200 years ago, the founders decided to use an electoral college to select the president. On election day, voters go to the polls and actually for "electors." For example, many, many moons ago the ballots actually would have looked like this:
Joe Plumber (Republican; John McCain)
Susie Conservative (Republican; John McCain)
John Liberal (Democrat; Barack Obama)
Notta Socialist (Democrat; Barack Obama)
You thus choose an individual to represent the person and party that you want to become president. The number of electors per state equals the number of U.S. senators plus the number in the House of Representatives (e.g. North Dakota: 2 Senators + 1 Representative = 3 Electors). The state's electors then meet up and vote. Almost all states have a "winner-take-all system," in which the states electors go to the candidate with the most votes.
The results are sent to Washington, DC. If a candidate receives a majority of votes then he or she is the president. When nobody gets a majority of the votes, then the House of Representatives votes. This, however, has not been done since 1824.
Most of the time the person elected president also wins the popular vote, but not always (i.e. George Bush in 2000).
Reader: This seems so complicated and stupid. Why not change it to make it more direct?
My first response is this: I am sure it made sense over 200 years ago.
When judging the electoral college, one must remember that it was created during a time when the U.S. had a much SMALLER electorate. Also, the U.S. was going through a bit of an identity crisis. How strong the federal government should be was a "Hot Topic." Read the "Federalist Papers" and you can get a feel for how difficult the debate was. Small states felt that they would be lost and be trampled by bigger states. Thus, they threatened to not ratify the Constitution. In order to bring smaller states into the fold, the electoral college was presented as a compromise.
Changing the electoral system would require changing the Constitution, which in turn requires approval from 2/3 of the U.S. states. A lot of small states would loose their power if the electoral college disappeared. Nobody wants to loose power. Nobody.
Reader: I am an overseas voter. Will my vote be counted even if the race is close?
YES!! The ballots of an overseas voter and a domestic voter carry equal weight. One is not more important than the other. A ballot cast must be counted, no matter how close (or not) the election is. If a ballot is not counted, then that is election fraud.
It is, unfortunately, difficult to tell when and how absentee ballots are counted. Some states open them and count them as they come in. Some states allow absentee ballot to come in up until Nov. 17, and then count them all together. Once the absentee ballot total is known, then that is added to the domestic ballot total for the state total.
Each state and county can choose how they want to run their elections. With this wide variance, it is no wonder that problems pop-up.
Ballot, election and campaign finance reform are three passions of mine. I am completely convinced that there has to be "an easier way." I hope that in the months to come that I can share my ideas with you.
Until then . . . GO VOTE!