electoral college

Exit 116. People stood by apathetically and did nothing.

It’s that time again here in the USA… the time when everyone is talking about the upcoming Presidential election.  And, as is the case pretty much every year, there are those people out there talking about how they don’t like any of the candidates, but the system is flawed because you have to vote for one of them, and voting for a third party candidate is throwing your vote away and/or helping the candidate you don’t like to win.  This year, this conversation is coming up more often than ever, because of the staggering unpopularity of both major party candidates.

Some disclaimers first: What I’m writing here assumes that elections are not rigged.  I’m sure that some are, but I want to believe that this is a vast minority of cases.  Also, I recognize that at the time that the USA was founded, the definition of “people,” in the sense of who was eligible to vote and make decisions about government, was much less inclusive than it is today.  That is not particularly relevant to the discussion about what is happening now, though.  Finally, I apologize to my readers outside of the USA, because this discussion may not apply to your systems of government.

There are valid complaints in this line of discussion.  But there is something else that many of us seem to have forgotten (as I have written about before): Our government exists only by the consent of the governed.  If the system is flawed, that is because people put that flawed system in place, or, more likely, people stood by apathetically and did nothing while those who stood to benefit from the flawed system put it in place.

Every single elected official in this country was put in power by voters.  And every single elected official is held accountable for their actions when they come up for reelection.  The main reason that so many of those incompetent NTACs keep getting reelected is because their constituents find the status quo less detestable than the alternative.

I think what bothers me the most about this kind of discussion is the line of thinking that a third party candidate cannot win.  It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  No one votes for third-party candidates because they believe that they cannot win, and they cannot win because no one votes for them.  Third-party candidates have won states in the past, often when they hold a particularly strong following in one region of the country, which usually occurs because of one specific issue.  (This happened most recently in 1968; sadly, the issue in question was racial segregation.)  The third-party candidate came in second in 1912, and some consider Abraham Lincoln a third-party candidate when he won in 1860, because the Republican Party had not yet been established as the second national party after the breakup of the Whigs.  Some say that third-party candidates never get votes because the mainstream media never pays attention to them.  But this is a time period when the mainstream media is less relevant than it has been in years.  If some no-name lady in a Chewbacca mask, hundreds of foul-mouthed douchebags and douchebaguettes, and dozens of funny-looking cats can all get millions of followers on the Internet, then surely political candidates out of the mainstream can do the same.  The reason it doesn’t happen all comes down to what I said earlier: too many people don’t care.

If a third-party candidate does win states in an election where the two major party candidates are running close (which has the potential to happen this year), this opens the possibility that no candidate will win a majority of the electoral vote, invoking the Twelfth Amendment and sending the election to the House of Representatives, where each state’s representatives will get one collective vote per state, from among the top three candidates.  This is not an archaic vestige of the past; it was designed on purpose, so that compromises and negotiations could happen among the elected representatives.  Each state is different, geographically and culturally, and each state should be different.  The Electoral College and the Twelfth Amendment were designed purposefully as part of this feature of our nation.  This kind of compromise, integral to our nation’s history, is sorely lacking in today’s political climate; once again, the reason for that is that the politicians who refuse to compromise keep getting reelected by people who don’t care, who see ability to compromise as a weakness.

I may be sounding like an idealist here.  But I still believe in the ideals of our nation’s government, and I hope that more people will learn about these ideals so that they will too.

Exit 49. Learning is the first step to understanding.

Last night I was at a friend’s housewarming party.  I got into a long and intense conversation about religion and politics with one of her college friends whom I hadn’t met before.  At first, going by some comments I had overheard her make earlier in a different conversation, I had a feeling this would be someone I disagreed with, but she turned out to be really cool.  (Note: Before you get any ideas, she’s married.  That isn’t where this story is going.)  While there were things we did not agree about, she said that it is a good thing to hear other people’s perspectives on issues.  I completely agree with this.  But that’s not where I’m going here.

At one point, she was asking about my faith background.  She is Episcopal.  For me, though, that is not an easy question to answer.  I consider myself a Christian, but I don’t consider myself tied to any one denomination.  I attended Catholic Mass until I was 20, but have mostly attended evangelical churches since then.  I am currently a member of a Baptist church.  She went on to talk about some things she likes about the Episcopal Church, and some of the differences with Catholicism.  She said that anyone can take communion in an Episcopal church, but only Catholics can take communion in a Catholic church.  I said that I still attend Catholic Mass once a year, on Christmas Day at the church of my childhood because I’m always back home visiting my parents and brother and grandmother for Christmas.  I don’t take communion at Christmas Mass, though, or any other time I have occasion to be at my parents’ house on a Sunday and go to church with Mom, out of respect for the Catholic beliefs about communion which I don’t agree with.  I took a class in college on Christian theology, from the late Dr. Lincoln Hurst, and I wrote my term paper on transubstantiation vs. memorialism and took the memorialist view.

At this point, she gave me a look and asked a question which suggested that she wasn’t following what I was talking about.  So I explained.  I explained transubstantiation, how Catholics interpret the Last Supper passages in the Bible, where Jesus breaks the bread and pours the wine and says “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” to mean that when the priest consecrates the bread and wine during mass, they miraculously become the actual body and blood of Christ somehow.  Most Baptists and Pentecostals, on the other hand, believe that communion is a memorial act, strictly symbolic of what happened on Jesus’ last night on Earth with no actual change in the nature of the bread and wine.  In researching that term paper, I rejected transubstantiation because of the wording in Mark’s version of the story.  Mark clearly writes (14:23-24) that Jesus did not say “This is my blood” until after the disciples had drank the wine.  If one is to accept that the Bible is divinely inspired, then God would have not have allowed this wording in a divinely inspired manuscript, and those who compiled the Bible would not have considered this wording to be canonical, unless transubstantiation was never intended to be an essential doctrine.  Again, this is merely the opinion I put forth in a term paper I wrote at age 21, so if you disagree, I’m not going to try to change your mind.  These differences, I explained, were one of the first points of dissension between Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans in the early days of the Protestant Reformation.

Anyway, the girl I was talking to last night, she said, “I never knew that.  I always just thought Catholics were being mean.”

I’ve found over the years that many things that confuse and frustrate people, causing them to complain, have rational explanations behind them.  While not all of the explanations are good excuses for why things are the way they are, it helps to understand the history behind something before you complain about it or try to change it.  You think that the President of the United States should be chosen by a direct popular vote instead of the Electoral College?  Learn about the history of the Electoral College and the Connecticut Compromise, and about the difference between a democracy and a republic, a federation and a confederation, and which ones apply to the United States.  You find the US system of measurement confusing and wonder why it takes 12 inches to make a foot, instead of 10 like the metric system, since calculating with 10s is so much easier (in base 10)?  Learn about the Romans and their system of numbers, beyond I and V and X, and how they wrote all fractions in twelfths, because twelfths can be grouped evenly into halves, thirds, or fourths, whereas tenths cannot.  You live in Sacramento and wonder why there are two Highway 80s?  Learn about the Interstate Highway system, and what a business route is, and why the route numbers of these two routes were changed in 1983.  Now learning about these things doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll change your mind; I could probably tell you more about the reason there are two Highway 80s in Sacramento than 99% of Sacramento County residents, yet I still think that the numbers should be changed.  But, no matter what the issue, learning is the first step to understanding, which is crucial if any meaningful changes are to be made.