Tuesday, November 4, 2008

10 Things Tuesday: Voting and Elections

1. If you are a citizen of the United States and eighteen years of age or older, you have the right to vote in local, state and national elections. The largest restriction on this right is relative to those who have been convicted of felonious crimes. With the exceptions of Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts, all states and the District of Columbia prohibit inmates serving felony convictions from voting in any public elections. While a majority of states restore voting rights to convicted felons after they complete their prison sentences or probation periods, several, including Virginia, Delaware and New Mexico permanently prohibit former felons from voting.

2. Before the Civil War, the U.S. Constitution did not provide specific qualifications for voting. These were matters under the jurisdiction of the states themselves. At that time, although a few northern states permitted free black men to register and vote, slavery and restrictive state laws left the practice to be exercised almost exclusively by white males. The 15th Amendment gave black men the right to vote in 1870, but even after this amendment was passed, a number of states sought to keep blacks from the polls. One common strategy used by states required blacks to pass literacy tests before voting, something not required of already-registered white voters. These tests had been used earlier in Connecticut and Massachusetts to discriminate against Irish-Catholic immigrants. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 eliminated these barriers, but it was not until Oregon v. Mitchell, in 1975, that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban on such practices.

3. The first serious proposal for women’s suffrage in the United States was announced in July, 1848, at the Seneca Falls Woman's Rights Convention organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. It was not until 1920--72 years later--that the nineteenth amendment was passed granting women the right to vote.

4. There have been three instances when a presidential candidate has won election through the electoral college, but lost in the popular vote:

In 1876, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes finished with 4,036,298 popular votes and won 185 electoral votes. His opponent, Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, won the popular vote with 4,300,590 votes, but won only 184 electoral votes.

In 1888, Republican Benjamin Harrison finished with 5,439,853 popular votes and won 233 electoral votes. His opponent, Democrat Grover Cleveland, won the popular vote with 5,540,309 votes, but won only 168 electoral votes.

In 2000, Republican George W. Bush finished with 50,456,002 popular votes and won 271 electoral votes. His opponent, Al Gore, won the popular vote with 50,999,897 votes, but won only 266 electoral votes.

5. It is possible for a candidate to not get a single person's vote in 39 states or the District of Columbia, yet be elected president by wining the popular vote in 11 of these 12 states: California, New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia.

6. There were no organized national political parties in the earliest days of our country, and there was no structure by which to choose from among the candidates for president and vice-president. The founders of our country feared the direct popular election option because travel and communication were slow and difficult at that time, and that meant a strong likelihood that a candidate could be popular regionally, but remain unknown to the rest of the country. A large number of regionally popular candidates would thus divide the vote and no one individual would stand out as indicating the wishes of the nation as a whole. On the other hand, election by Congress would require the members to accurately assess the desires of their constituencies and vote accordingly. This could lead to elections that better reflected the opinions and political agendas of the members of Congress than the actual will of the people. Our electoral college system was created to address these concerns.

7. A direct election system is subject to types of fraud that are impossible under our electoral college system. With direct elections, for example, there is an incentive for states to run up the popular vote for a particular candidate. Such majority fraud would be difficult to combat, because the majority party would also be responsible for counting the votes. Our electoral college system, however, eliminates any reason to run up the vote. Any fraud in the system exists in swing states, where the parties are more likely to keep each other in check.

8. It is possible for there to be a tie in the electoral college votes. When this happens, the House of Representatives is called upon to choose the president, with lawmakers voting by state delegations.

9. There is a single scenario in which the steps after election day are uncertain. Though it has never been tested, there are no guidelines for what happens if the winner of the election dies before the Electoral College meets in mid-December. The rules only make clear that, once the Electoral College meets, if anything were to happen to the president-elect before the January inauguration, the vice-president elect would take the Oath of Office.

10. I will be among the 64 percent of eligible voters who are expected to cast ballots today. I am excited to live in a state where the race is not contested, and so I have the freedom to cast my vote for a third party candidate in an effort to promote my support for a multiparty system of government. I’ll be perfectly content to see Barack Obama in the Oval Office in the short term, however.


Kizz said...

Dude, you're really fucking smart! Also you're psychic because this answers some questions I had about the electoral college and its continued usefulness.

Mrs. Chili said...

Okay, the English teacher in me is questioning whether you really KNEW all that stuff. Do you owe a works cited page? Hmmmm?

Kizz said...

Hey he knew enough to look it up and tell us about it all. That's good enough for me.

I'll be roasting him for not answering my Prop 8 question instead. :)

Suzanne said...

He is wicket smaht, isn't he?

Not to paint our Founding Fathers with an unfair 21st century brush, but I would say in regard to number 6 that there was a certain amount of elitism that came to the discussion of elections, at least on the part of some of the framers. Part of their concern was in fact due to the period's lack of "mass" communication, but there was a real concern among some of the Founding Fathers that the "common man" lacked the necessary knowledge and understanding of the political process to select the best leader on his own.