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Illusion of Democracy

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Each new election cycle produces an even bigger deception than the one previous.

Ah...another election year, another round of hyperbole from the media machine, another batch of confused and misinformed voters. It never ceases to amaze me that the more people seem to emotionally invest themselves in the dog and pony show known as the US election cycle, the higher all sides claim the stakes are, the less people seem to know about the actual process. This, of course, works out very well for the political elites, but reflects very poorly on a citizenry that is supposedly in charge of their own government.

An election year is the bread and butter for pollsters everywhere. There is a constant glut, almost a daily update on the latest national polls. And 2012 is certainly no different in this regard, with every major news agency flashing big, bold numbers all over the place. And this would make sense in a country where the population went to the polls, cast their votes and the candidate with the most votes won the presidency. Such a system is not, however, what we have in this country, and each new election cycle produces an even bigger deception than the one previous.

Now, some of this ignorance on the part of the voting populace would be understandable if we weren't only 3 elections removed from a contest that ended in the following popular vote count result: Al Gore 50,999,897; George Bush 50,456,002. This is why, with a more than 500,000 vote victory, Al Gore went on to become the President of the United States in 2000, right? No, of course not.  And without reliving the controversy of that result all over again or rehashing your long-forgotten US Government class in detail, the simple reason why is because the presidential elections are decided by the electoral college, not the popular vote. Each state has a predetermined number of electorates based on the number of congressional representatives, which is roughly based on each state's population in comparison to the country's population as a whole.

This shouldn't be news to anyone, and I'm sure most people on the street would at least claim recollection of this process. But then add in the additional factor that 48 of the 50 states (along with the District of Columbia) are winner-take-all contests, and people seem to get a little hazier on the subject. What this means, in simple terms, is that states cast all their electoral votes for the party that wins that state, no matter the vote count. For example, California, with the most electoral votes at 55, will cast all 55 of those votes for whoever wins the state of California. This year, if Obama gets 8,000,001 votes and Romney gets 8,000,000 votes, all 55 electoral votes go to Obama.

I realize this is completely remedial information to many of you, who are by this point saying, yes, yes, so what's the big deal here? Well, the big deal – if we slow down and look at the consequences – is that this way of doing things means that if you don't vote for the winner of your state, your vote is basically tossed out. If you don't vote with the majority in your state (except Nebraska), your vote is pointless with respect to the final result. Within each state, the minority has no voice in the presidential elections.

What this does is, it further cements the two-party system we have in this country, and basically locks in the overwhelming majority of states to easily predictable outcomes based on party. California and New York are so overwhelmingly Democratic, they can be penciled-in for the next 50 years. Texas is so overwhelmingly Republican, it can likewise be penciled-in. So, if you're in Texas, while you can vote for any party you choose, it isn't really going to matter in the end. And if you're in California or New York, you can go ahead and vote Republican, Green Party, Libertarian – that's all very nice, but you will have no electoral representation whatsoever.

As it currently stands, the results for about 40 of the 50 states can be predicted without much temerity. And out of the remaining 10 states, really only 5 or 6 are close enough to warrant any real arguments over the result. So, a nation of 50 united states will have its election decided by 5 or 6 states, called "swing states" because the vote counts could conceivably swing either way, Republican or Democrat.

So, in a country where majority supposedly rules, over the next two months you probably won't actually see many candidates visiting places that the majority actually live. The candidates can pretty much ignore the 3 most populous states – California, New York, and Texas. Nor will you see them even bothering to visit the largest cities – New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston. We haven't even voted and we've already been cast to the side of the road, which works out pretty well for the candidates' itineraries.

No, folks, this billion-dollar dog and pony show isn't coming to a city or town near you unless you live in Ohio or Pennsylvania or Wisconsin or Florida or maybe the Carolinas. The media, of course, will continue to show the national poll results because they aren't very well going to come on and point out that your state doesn't matter. If they did that, you might tune out. They're counting on you to remain invested enough to watch their coverage and keep the advertising revenue flowing their way.

Any mention of changing the Electoral College system is a total nonstarter in any political circles. You will be met with guffaws, eye-rolling, and probably some derision. The electoral system was written into the Constitution, and what it takes to amend that is so convoluted and impossible in this day and age, it isn't even worth discussing. Let's just say it is highly unlikely that it will ever be amended in our lifetime for any reason.

Changing the way the electoral votes are cast is an issue for each individual state. And there really is no incentive for any party in control of a state's legislature to push for a change, because the result would be a loss in that party's electoral count. The Republicans control the statehouse in Texas, and they have taken every step possible to ensure they remain in control for the foreseeable future. The Democrats control the statehouse in California, and the system behooves them to do what they must to retain that control.

For the remaining two months of this American election campaign, you will see every news channel leading off with slogans such at "Election 2012: The People Decide" or "Your Voice, Your Vote" or whatever meaningless catchphrase they will use, all meant to reinforce the ruse and distract you from the fact that you probably won't have any effect on the outcome at all. The candidates will loudly proclaim that this is the penultimate decision to be made by America, the public, the voters, the citizens – but the truth is that they know better than anyone that it will be decided by a few key districts in a few key states. So, by all means, go out and cast your votes on Election Day, proudly display your American flag, that supposed symbol of democracy – that highest of endeavors that represents truth, freedom and choice – but keep in mind, it is only a representation of such, it is merely an illusion.

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