1:25 a.m. October 17, 2012

Michelle Obama's Wasted Vote: Blame The Electoral College!

“Right now my absentee ballot is on its way to my hometown, Chicago,” Michelle Obama said recently. “That means we are one vote closer to re-electing my husband.”

But does the First Lady’s vote matter? Or is she simply a participant in a meaningless democratic charade? To find out, let’s play America’s faaaavorite political game:

(Audience shouting in unison) "Blame. The. Electoral College!"

(Cheesy game show music)

A quick recap of the rules for those of you just tuning in: candidates don’t need to win people, they just need to win states. Every state has an electoral vote count equal to the number of lawmakers they send to Congress. Plus, Washington, DC gets three extra special votes just to make them feel like they’re part of America.

The first candidate to score at least 270 electoral votes wins! But watch out! If no candidate can get to 270, that’s when the decision goes to the House of Representatives and . . .

(Audience chanting in unison) "Things. Get. Crazy!"

But since that probably won’t happen let’s move on to…

Round One: Why The Electoral College is Bullshit.

Your question for this round: Why is the Electoral College total bullshit?

a) It makes tens of millions of voters irrelevant. b) It awards disproportionate power to states with small populations. c) It allows candidates to win the election while losing the popular vote.

Yes, you are correct! The answer is d), all of the above! Let’s look at the facts:

a) Ever notice how Michelle Obama doesn’t hold many campaign rallies in her hometown? Like 48 other states, Illinois awards electors based on a winner-take-all method (Bonus Question: name the two outliers. Yes, Nebraska and Maine!). If a state is not competitive, there’s no reason to campaign there, since you get the same electoral votes whether you win 65% or 95% of the vote. Only the swing states matter; voters in partisan states like Texas are barely mentioned, let alone messed with. And since Illinois will surely choose Barack Obama by a wide margin, his wife’s vote there is basically meaningless.

Or look at it another way: Your vote only counts if it’s for the candidate that wins your state. Barack Obama got about 69.5 million votes in 2008, but as the organization FairVote points out, only about 40 million of those votes were in states he actually won. The other 29.5 million — over 40 percent of Obama’s total — were basically irrelevant to his Electoral College victory. At least in this context, Michelle’s vote in Illinois actually counted.

b) In 2008, California cast 53 times more votes for president than Wyoming. However, it only got to cast 18 times the number of electoral votes.

(Sad trombone)

c) Anybody remember 2000? Gore got over half a million more votes than Bush. Even if you’re glad you never had to watch President Gore threaten the Taliban with solar-powered lockboxes, you have to admit: losing despite winning is some kind of bullshit. And even if you don’t want to admit that, consider this: If John Kerry had won Ohio in 2004, he would have become president despite winning about three million fewer votes than George W. Bush. The Electoral College: It Can Happen to You!

Round 2: Why Do We Have the Electoral College?

Those of you Googling along at home already have the answer from a National Archives FAQ, with its question helpfully titled “Why do we have the electoral college?".

The founding fathers established the Electoral College in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens.

Choke on that, unwashed masses – you’re lucky to even have a say in this thing at all. And remember, the Constitution allows state legislatures to choose electors however they want – if you start getting sassy, they can turn the whole thing over to the ladies of The View.


Hey, that’s the sound of the final round, where we all throw up our hands and scream:

(Audience throws up hands, screaming)

Round 3: What Are We Gonna Do About It?

You have 10 seconds ... time’s up!

The answer we were looking for, as always, is:


Let’s go back to the Archives for more:

Reference sources indicate that over the past 200 years, over 700 proposals have been introduced in Congress to reform or eliminate the Electoral College. There have been more proposals for Constitutional amendments on changing the Electoral College than on any other subject.

Better luck next 700 times. And what about the states? Well, our last show featured a “hold your breath until the states make Electoral College reforms” game, but all of the contestants wound up dead!

So it looks like once again our political system is incapable of fixing a glaringly obvious flaw. In the words of Steve Greene, an associate professor of political science at NC State University: “If not after 2000, when?”

Well, it’s certainly not going to be now, because we’re out of time. Be sure to tune in after the next disputed election for a special Supreme Court Death Battle edition as we:

(Audience shouting in unison) "Blame. The. Electoral College!"

Back channel chatter

There is a scribble about this dispatch in the backroom, with three contributors.