Counting the Votes

821-ivotedstickerIt’s a sentiment that becomes even more popular during election years: “I’m not going to vote.” Those who make this declaration often follow it with such reasoning as, “My vote doesn’t even count.” Now what could be the cause for such a pessimistic attitude? It is a complex and key component of our country’s presidential election process called the electoral college.

How your vote works:

When you vote for a candidate, you are actually casting a vote for a group of electors. Electors are people chosen by the political parties in each state as people who are either loyal to their party or to their party candidate. Each state gets a certain number of electors (the number of senators plus the number of state representatives). These electors make up the electoral college, and are the actual people who vote for the president. When a candidate wins the popular vote (the vote of non-electors, a.k.a. your vote) for a state, then the group of electors for their political party also win. Those electors then get to meet and vote on who they believe the president should be. The candidate who wins the majority of electoral votes becomes president.

Why your vote counts:

The election process can be quite confusing, and many people believe it to be unfair, or undemocratic. Why should the president be chosen by a small group of people who were not even elected by population, but who were appointed by political parties? Our country’s motto is E pluribus unum, “out of many, one.” At what point do the “many” get to have a say in who their leader should be? The good news is that although the outcome of the popular vote is technically not what decides the President, it does have an important role to play. For starters, many states require electors to vote for the candidate who won that state’s popular vote. This ensures that the wishes of the total voting population are not ignored.

There have only been four occurrences in U.S. history when the winner of a presidential election was not the winner of the popular vote. This is out of 56 total presidential elections. This means that the decision of voting citizens is carried through 71% of the time. It may seem crazy for that number to be anything less than 100, but according to the Library of Congress, the founding fathers had their reasons. They believed that “the use of electors would give our country a representative president, while avoiding a corruptible national election.”

Whether you agree with the electoral college voting process or not, whether you agree with the candidates or not, forgoing your vote does not make a statement. All it does is lessen the support for the causes which you believe in. It is especially important for women of color to exercise their right to vote. It was not until the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights act that minority citizens could overcome obstacles like high poll taxes and literacy tests when trying to cast their ballots. Women only won the right to vote less than 100 years ago, with the passage of the 19th amendment in 1919. Countless people throughout history have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into fights for suffrage. That “I Voted” sticker shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Beyond the Ballot:

Voting is probably the most obvious way to make your political voice heard, but activism does not have to be limited to one day every four years. You can stand up for what you believe in by volunteering on the campaign of a politician who advocates for the same causes that you do. You can utilize social media in a positive and respectful way, sharing your opinions or links to articles that inspire you (ahem) with your friends. Activism does not have to wait until you are eighteen years old, either. Volunteer opportunities are available to all, and you can always encourage parents and adult relatives to show up at the polls. Now, if you are reallyinterested in social activism, passionate about politics, then just run for public office yourself! Get that political science degree, girl, and be the change that you want to see in your community!

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