I went before work, natch, to cast my ballot (although I admit to a brief period of mourning in the voting booth that John Edwards has officially left the race). While casting my ballot, I noticed something veeeeeerrrrryyyy interesting:
Most of the people casting ballots with me were first-time voters.
We're not talking fresh-faced 18-year-olds, by the way. We're talking people in their 20s and 30s.
Say it with me: "Hunh? Where the hell have you guys been?"
As someone who's voted in every election from dog-catcher to president that I could possibly qualify for, this is completely unbelievable to me.
Still, it was interesting to see these first-time voters going through the whole check-in process. I don't think they realized how much checking and double-checking (and as my Parental Units would be the first to tell you, triple-checking and quadruple-checking that goes on after the polls close) goes on during an election process. People seemed actually impressed.
Then again, Massachusetts (at least where I or the rest of my family votes) does not have electronic voting. It's paperwork all the way, baby, along with the paper trail.
[Interrupted for this special announcement: The Parental Units got home from their jobs as election workers at 9:30 p.m. There was ranting. There was raving. Apparently, first-time voters are a bit of a trial and require much hand-holding. Their precincts (they work in different precincts) had 50% turnouts. As I hung up, they were cracking open booze. Something y'all should know: my parents don't drink! Oi.]
In any case, the civic duties of yours truly did not begin and end with voting. No, sir. Yours truly found herself in the very odd position of boiling down 4 years' worth of high school civics and American history into an hour for yet another first-time voter.
Yes. You heard right. I basically pulled off a Master Class in American citizenship.
In one hour.
Shit. Now I need a drink. 'Cause if you're relying on me to figure out how to exercise your right to vote, you really are in a shitload of trouble.
It actually started several weeks ago. There's an individual who works in my building (but not for my company) who's been chatting with me about various issues with the various Democratic candidates. So, clearly, she had been paying very close attention to what was being said and by whom.
I had assumed, of course, that she was a regular voter and an educated voter at that.
Today, I learned that I was actually talking to an educated future voter. At the ripe ol' age of 28, she was actually going to be voting for the very first time.
And how that came out is a story in and of itself.
- Moi (hereafter called Our Heroine or OH for short)
- Her (hereafter called First Time Voter or FTV for short)
First Time Voter: [looks up from Boston Herald] Ummm, can you spare a sec?
Our Heroine: Wassup?
FTV: What the hell is a delegate?
OH: [after some sputtering and coughing] The dudes and duddettes that we send to the Republican and Democratic party national conventions.
FTV: Ummmm, so what do they have to do with the presidential primaries?
FTV: Are they important?
OH: [jaw drops]
FTV: I guess that's a yes.
OH: Ummmm, lemme see if I can boil this down. It's...it's...okay. Got it. You know the Electoral College, right? It's sort of like that. If you squint.
FTV: The Electoral what?
OH: [small voice] The Electoral College? It's in the Constitution. Y'know about that, right?
FTV: What the hell is that?
OH: Oh, boy. Lemme guess. First time voting?
FTV: [puffs chest out] Yup. Guess it's obvious, hunh?
OH: Not until just this second. So make that a no. Or maybe a yes, with caveats.
FTV: [looking pleased] Hey, thanks. So, what's this about delegates? And the Electoral College?
OH: [kissing the rest of her work day goodbye] Okay. Lemme do the delegates first, since that's what you have to worry about for the primaries. But only sort of. Because they're like human rubber stamps. Usually. Unless it's a brokered political convention, in which case, chaos takes over, it starts raining frogs, and someone no one has ever heard of becomes the candidate for that political party.
FTV: [stares at OH] You realize that I have no idea what you just said, right?
OH: [makes mental note never, ever to try political humor with someone who has no clue about the basics] I'll just start with the most shocking news first, okay? First thing you have to realize: We are not, technically speaking, a democracy. We are a republic, which means we elect people to make the day-to-day decisions for X-number of years. Follow?
FTV: You're kidding.
OH: Do you want to have an election every time the federal government wants to fart?
FTV: Well, no.
OH: This is why we have Congress. They get to vote on whether the federal government gets to fart. It's so we don't have to.
FTV: Hunh. Okay. That makes sense now that I think about it.
OH: [holds back a sob of despair over the American educational system] As an off-shoot of that, We the People don't actually elect a president. We don't even get to elect who gets to hold the banner for the Republican or Democratic parties, either. We're basically telling other people how they should vote.
FTV: Now, I know that's wrong.
OH: Hate to say it, but it's true. We actually have jack shit to say about it. Well, not jack shit, exactly. It's just that there's a layer between us and the whoever gets to be president. Several layers, if you want to know the truth. This is where the delegates come in. And the Electoral College.
FTV: Then why the hell are we even voting for president?
OH: Because we're telling the delegates who represent Massachusetts, and later the members of the Electoral College who represent Massachusetts, who they should vote for. In essence, they're rubber stamps. Sort of. Usually. But I think it's easier if you think of everyone between us and the Oval Office as, well, living rubber stamps.
FTV: Rubber stamps. This I have to hear.
OH: Let's start with the delegates. Each political party has it's own rules governing how the final candidate is picked at the national convention, but it comes out to the same thing. A state holds a presidential primary where We the People indicate who we want to be the final candidate for either the Republican or Democratic party. So, say Barack Obama wins Massachusetts in the Democratic primary. The delegates from Massachusetts will go to the Democratic National Convention and will cast ballots for Barack Obama to be the Democratic presidential candidate. By the same token, the delegates from the states where Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary will cast their votes for her. Same thing on the Republican side, too.
FTV: Why bother with the middle step?
OH: Because it's entirely possible that no candidate will have enough delegates to actually get the nomination because some states, like Massachusetts, will award delegates proportionally instead of a winner-takes-all deal. So, if Barack Obama wins by 57%, he'll get 57% of our delegates, while Hillary Clinton will get 43% of our delegates. If neither Obama or Clinton have enough delegates to win at the national convention, it becomes a brokered convention. That's when the other presidential candidates, like Edwards or Kucinich can basically can release their delegates to support either Clinton or Obama. However, that usually happens when there are more than two strong contenders. We're more likely to see it on the Republican side, I think, than on the Democratic side this year.
FTV: I'm confused again.
OH: For simplicity's sake, let's make it simple: all delegates will cast their votes the way their state voted in the presidential primary, subject to each state's individual rules. All the delegates are doing is voting the way we tell them to vote. Basically. Usually. Most of the time.
FTV: [suspicious] So who votes for these "delegates?"
OH: I think it might depend on the state. In Massachusetts, we elect them. Although they're usually unopposed. You'll see their names on the primary ballot. At least, you'll see them on the Democratic primary ballot. Dunno about the Republican one.
FTV: Okay. I feel a little bit better about it. Not much, but better. So what does this have to do with the Electoral Collage?
OH: That's the general election, when you've got one Republican and one Democrat racing for the White House. Again, we don't elect the president. At least, not directly. We're essentially telling our representatives in the Electoral College how to vote, and they decide who gets to be president.
FTV: Why are we voting again?
OH: Because someone has to tell them how to vote. Basically.
FTV: Ooooooohhhhhh. I see. We're back to the human rubber stamp thing again.
OH: In a really messed up way. It's possible to win the popular vote, but still lose the Electoral College. That means that the guy who actually lost the popular vote will be president while the guy who actually won the popular vote will be sucking wind.
FTV: How is that even possible?
OH: [whimpers] Okay. Say you have, I dunno, West Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey. Now, imagine those states have 7 Electoral College votes each. And say all of those states go for, I dunno, McCain. Collectively, McCain won 30 million votes from the popular, but the only thing that counts are those 21 Electoral College votes all three of those states represent. Follow?
OH: Now, say, Clinton wins Ohio. Just Ohio vs. McCain's three states. Clinton may have only gotten 10 million votes from the popular vote in Ohio, however Ohio has 22 Electoral College votes. That means Clinton wins, even though McCain had 20 million more people voting for him than Clinton. All that matters are those 22 Electoral College votes from Ohio trumping the 21 votes from West Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey.
FTV: That's kind of a dumb way to do things.
OH: You can thank the Founding Fathers for that. It was their idea. It was a way for smaller states to balance off the states with bigger populations. Besides, back when the Constitution was written, there was no popular vote for president. It was pretty much wheeling and dealing by committee, so this was a way to kind of control that.
FTV: Still dumb. Then again, they only wanted rich white guys to vote, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised.
OH: Yup. People like me and you were totally out of luck. You'd be more out of luck than me, though. But only by two-fifths.
FTV: Say what?
OH: [cringes] Sorry. I made assumptions.
FTV: What kind of assumptions?
OH: Ummmmm, that your ancestors were slaves.
FTV: They were. What does that have to do with anything?
OH: [realizes that she's in over her head] Black slaves counted as only three-fifths of a person. For population count reasons.
OH: [small voice] At least you count as a full person now. That's what's important. Right?
FTV: Three-fifths of a person?
OH: It's in the Constitution. Or it was. They've, ummmm, amended that. You're considered a full person now.
FTV: I want my 40 acres and a mule. With interest.
OH: Still waiting, hunh?
FTV: People who want to go back to the "good old days" need to have every square inch of their ass kicked.
OH: Can I watch?
FTV: I'll get on it after I vote.