The simple answer is: yes, sort of, in a way but maybe not the way you thought.
You see, when you cast your vote for the U.S. President, you’re not actually voting for the candidate, you’re voting for individuals chosen by a political party to vote for that party’s candidate: aka, the ”elector”. Confused yet? Don’t worry, you will be. We’re about to visit something perhaps even less understood than the secret societies of the Illuminati or Masons or Skull and Bones. I refer, of course, to the Electoral College. I once had a Poli/Sci professor declare, after an hour-long explanation, that it’s really quite simple. This way to the rabbit hole!
The perspicacious writers of our Constitution were at once perplexed as to how the president of these newly forming United States might be chosen. One of their concerns was an ill-informed populace. Back in those days, communication was sparse at best.
We didn’t have the likes of Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook to keep the masses informed. News of the day, adverts and notices were posted on walls (I know, right?) around town for those who could read and also a lot of folks didn’t live in town and might not see those postings. So, the framers were concerned about the illiterate and ignorant being able to choose between the Presidential candidates. Another major concern was the desire to lessen the influence of heavily populated states having undue sway over the election. So, they came up with this simple, convoluted system of electors we now call the Electoral College. Which seemed to work okay for a time.
With me so far?
In order to have this collection of electors, ostensibly learned men of character who would cast a more informed vote for us rubes, be representative of the population, it was decided to give each state a number of electors equal to one for each House seat and two for their Senate seats. Today that amounts to 538 electors, hence the need to gather the magical 270 electoral votes to win the majority and scamper off with the election, regardless the vote of the populace. Of course, this is a simplified account of the system as there are more considerations such as why Washington, D.C. has three votes although it has no representation in the Senate, faithless electors, etc., etc. But since I have limited space, intellect and, ultimately, desire, I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to dive further into the abyss in a quest for more details.
The question begs, then, if this Electoral College can produce a winner in the presidential contest despite a loss of the popular vote of the people as it has on five previous occasions with presidents Adams, Hays, Harrison, GW Bush and Trump, then why do we still use it (and please, no Hillary-hysterics, Trump-tantrums, Biden-bristlings or even Jorgensen-jitters – I’m just talking numbers here, not taking sides)?
Two difficulties I see are our current duopoly of political parties doesn’t want to leave an opening for a third party to encroach on its territory and more importantly, it would be a monumental task to abolish the system since it would require a Constitutional amendment to do so.
Remember, a Constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress to agree on something (pause for laughter) and further requires that three-fourths of the States come together and agree to it as well (my sides are hurting!)
I’m at a loss to think of one idea that our state or federal leaders could collectively agree upon even during a pandemic.
There have been some discussions regarding moving towards a less archaic vote accounting such as a direct vote count, which doesn’t solve the framers original concerns, ranked-choice voting, assigning votes by 1st, 2nd and 3rd number of votes per candidate and electors by district which is similar to how Nebraska and Maine award electors but these ideas have seen little traction.
Now that this is as clear as mud to you as to how the President is ultimately chosen, I wouldn’t be surprised if your befuddled self was still pondering the initial question of whether our individual votes really count.
Allow me to use my tenuous grasp of numbers to show you mathematically that your vote does indeed count and give you reason to head to your local poling place or Post Office by Nov. 3.
In the 2016 presidential election (Remember that? It may have grabbed a headline or two) just 58% of registered voters cast a vote or around 138 million Americans (if or how many Russian votes were cast is a matter of continuing contention).
And in the vote count, Trump garnered around 46% of that popular vote. If my math is right, in the simplest terms (statisticians, take a breath), only half of registered voters bothered to cast a ballot and just under half of those voted for the eventual winner meaning the contest that was awarded by the Electoral College, was secured by the votes of less than a quarter of the voters. And that 25% would be further diluted if all citizens of voting age, the eligible voters, were included in the equation.
Think your vote won’t count?
Think about that.