I’ve been watching. Its always good to stop, look, and listen. And as a psychologist, I am of course a trained observer of human behavior, and indeed a very good listener! But as I’ve been listening, I’ve been hearing one consistent theme that just doesn’t sit well with me. Its something that I cannot allow my silence to passively condone. And really, it is something so divergent from my belief system that it makes me cringe. My beef is essentially this: I’ve heard far too many indicate that the upcoming national election brings no suitable candidate from which to choose, and so they have decided not to vote at all.
The sheer horror of such a thought does something to me. If it makes me cringe, then certainly it causes our ancestors to flip over in their graves. Why? Because voting is a basic right of all US citizens, right? Truth be told, voting is a privilege that historically had only been afforded to those whose voices were the only ones that mattered: white men. Anyone not a card carrying member of this category endured great physical and emotional injury, terror, humiliation and even death to be able to earn the ‘right’ to vote. Poll taxes, literacy tests, cognitive tests (oh yes — there was the eight box test), and other forms of chicanery were loosed on the freed men whose only desire was to assert their voice and be heard. So for we Blacks living in America, voting is not a right. It was the victory at the end of a long struggle. It was an accomplishment we earned. We paid for in blood. Period. So my upset is not because by refusing to vote, one is refusing to exercise a right. No, my anger is because in not voting, we disrespect the memories of every life that was snuffed out prematurely, every neck broken by the noose, every black man humiliated because he couldn’t read a sentence or pay the toll at the poll. We cheapen the significance of the bloody battle that was fought and won for the cause when we refuse to vote.
Now if that little perusal through the annals of American history is not enough to convince you of the importance of your vote, then let me appeal to you using sheer logic. Presidential elections are a numbers game, but it’s not as simple as, ‘he who holds the most votes wins.’ The 2000 Gore/Bush elections taught us that.
School is now in session.
Lesson I: There are only two votes that count:
The popular vote truly is a numbers game. With the popular vote, the candidate with the most votes wins. Hands down. But elections are not based on the popular vote. They are based on the electoral vote. Ahhh yes, the dreaded electoral vote. We’ve all seen Anderson meticulously track electoral votes every first Tuesday in November of every recent US Presidential election year. And we’ve all thought to ourselves, ‘what the hell is he talking about?’ The electoral college is an intangible college created in the heads of some very smart (but dead) presidents that was meant to guard against the inherent unfairness of a solely numerically based system of electing a national leader. You see, in a solely popular vote type of scenario, a state that has more people has more say. These highly populated states can ipso facto change the outcome of an election — particularly if they were to band together and all vote for the same candidate. So to guard against this, we have this thing called the electoral college.
Lesson II: How the West Won
When you vote for President and Vice President, I know you think you are voting for who will be the nation’s leaders. But can I burst your bubble? You actually are voting not for the candidates running on the ticket, but rather, for an elector — a representative from that state whose only job is to cast that state’s electoral votes for a presidential candidate. Two important things here: The number of electoral votes a states has is, in fact, based upon the state’s population. Second, typically, (but not always), it is the candidate who obtains the most votes in X state (i.e. the one who wins the popular vote), that the elector casts his or her state’s electoral votes for. This concept is uber important because as we recall from the presidential election of 2000 (Gore v. Bush), one can win the nation’s popular vote (or have the highest number of individual votes cast for him or her), but lose the electoral vote (again, because the number of electoral votes is based upon population of the state). And in terms of numbers, there IS ofncourse a magic number of electoral votes a candidate muat have: 277. You don’t reach this number, you dont win the presidency. So some states kind of count more than others in terms of reaching this number, simply because they have greater electoral votes to throw into the game. This is why candidates focus their campaign efforts and dollars so heavily on large states (they need to get those electoral votes). Breaking all of this down, it is quite simple (well, I am making it much simpler for illustrations sake): for those of you who live in more populous states (NY, TX, CA for example), it is even more important that you exercise your vote. Because in most states, the electoral votes cast for a candidate are based on ‘winner takes all.’ So whomever obtains the most votes in that state (i.e. whomever wins the popular vote), also wins ALL of the electoral votes from that state. And we have already established that the larger the state’s population, the higher the number of electoral votes that state’s elector has to cast. This is why elections really boil down to mathematics. This is why we see those colorful maps on election night, and why some states are paid really close attention. This is why every vote really does count. And by simply playing a numbers game, this is how Mr. President himself, Barack Obama, won the 2008 and 2012 elections…decisively. And this is how Bush won the 2000 election.
Despite my very simplistic and watered down version of the national election process, I’m sure we still have some who are ill convinced of the implications of sitting this one out. My friends, don’t be fooled. There is a saying, “Pennies make dollars and dollars make hundreds.” The same logic holds true for votes. Cumulatively, all of the single votes that will not be cast will all of a sudden become millions of uncast votes. The stakes are way too high to chance how millions of votes could impact the upcoming election. Its just frankly a roll of the dice that we cannot afford to make. So cast your vote. Assert your voice and have a say. If you don’t believe your vote matters, just do the math.
Dr. Nik is a clinical psychologist, Life-ologist, author, and speaker practicing in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Follow her @theGoodDrNik and read more of her articles at http://www.Harvestmagazine.net