The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

November 2, 2012

Ah, democracy!

Voting for Barack or Mitt on Nov. 6? Sorry, guess again.

When the polls open here in Oklahoma at 7 a.m. Tuesday next, and I step into one of those folding, portable voting booths we’ve all become accustomed to standing in, I won’t be casting my vote for the next president of the United States.

And then again, despite all your intentions and efforts and want to, none of the people that read this column are going to stand in a voting booth, or fill out an absentee ballot and vote for president.

In fact, not a single registered voter in the United States or abroad will be casting a vote for the highest office in the land.

And, no matter what you say, I can emphatically state not a single vote has ever been cast for president in this nation.

Before you call me a liar and question my credentials and my heritage, let’s take a little flight on the way-back express.

As defined in the U.S. Constitution, voters cast all those millions of ballots every four years for electors, and not for the candidate of his or her choosing.

It’s a system most people have a vague notion about, and one which is more than a little odd, if truth be told.

The Electoral College comes to us from the Founding Fathers and the U.S. Constitution, and may be one of the more colorful ways the perceived leader of the free world is chosen. In fact, it’s almost bizarre.

The system with which we choose the president came about from a compromise between election of a president by a vote of Congress, and election by a popular vote of qualified citizens.

Ah, that last phrase was the rub. It seems many of the powers that be in the aftermath of the American Revolutionary War didn’t exactly trust the average American citizen with a vote to decide the president. In fact, in a previous column (Aug. 4, “The vote’s checkered past”), I noted just how few early Americans even got to vote.

The Electoral College process consists of selection of electors by voters.

Each major political party presidential candidate has his or her slate of electors from each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia — a total of 538.

That number varies among the lesser political party candidates, since some are not on the ballot in all states, particularly in Oklahoma.

Thus, it takes at least 270 electoral votes to pick a president, and each state plus D.C. is entitled to an allotment of electors equal to the number of members in its congressional delegation.

In Oklahoma’s case, that number is seven — five members of the U.S. House of Representatives and two members of the U.S. Senate.

Most states have a winner-take-all system that awards all electors to the winning presidential candidate — the vote winner in that state. However, Maine and Nebraska have a proportional representation.

The meeting of electors takes place on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December following the presidential election, at which time they cast their votes for president and vice president.

I told you earlier, this was a compromise in the Constitution — I didn’t say it was easy to follow.

Historically, the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787 considered several methods of choosing a president.

One idea was to have Congress decide. Thankfully, this idea was rejected because some felt making a choice would be too divisive and cause hard feelings.

Sorry Framers ... too late.

Others felt it would upset the balance between the three different branches of government. That was a wise thought as well.

A second idea would have had state legislatures select the president.

This idea was rejected out of fear the chief executive would be too beholden to individual states and erode federal authority.

A third idea had an election by popular vote, but that too was rejected, because the Framers of the Constitution feared that without sufficient information of candidates outside of their state, people would naturally vote for a “favorite son” from their state or region.

The reasoning was, no president would emerge with a majority to govern the whole country, and large population states would have little regard for smaller ones.

In the end, the Framers came up with the Electoral College.

And, while it seems strange and convoluted and counter-intuitive, they were democratic in their thinking and tried to devise a fair system for all.

Of course, it’s never been perfect, and on more than a few occasions the candidate receiving the most votes in an election has not been named president.

But, that’s many more stories for other days.

This Tuesday, Oklahomans will be voting, not for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney — we’ll cast votes for electors like Martha Skeeters or Duane Crumbacher.

Ah, democracy!

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at http://enid news.com/historicallyspeaking

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