by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
Despite recent comparisons, there is a big difference between electing the next American Idol and electing the president of the United States. When people vote in the “American Idol” contest, every vote counts equally, and whoever gets the most votes wins. Unfortunately, those principles don’t hold true in presidential elections.
Our electoral college system skews the presidential vote in some weird ways. First, not everyone’s vote counts equally. Votes in the electoral college from less populous states are given more weight. For example, if you live in Nebraska, Rhode Island or Vermont, your vote counts about twice as much as our votes here in Missouri.
Currently, all but two states — Nebraska and Maine — give all their electoral votes to the statewide winner. If your candidate didn’t win statewide, your vote is essentially discarded. So presidential candidates are wise to avoid campaigning in states where the race is not close. Bush was smart to not campaign in California; he couldn’t win the state, and a million more votes there would not have helped him win the presidency. Likewise, Kerry didn’t try to get more votes in Texas because in the final tally it wouldn’t matter.
There are now only five to eight “battleground” states where the election is close. Presidential candidates focus all their attention on these states and concentrate on the issues that play well there. In the other 42 states, there is often little reason for voters to go to the polls. Republicans in New York can be assured their votes will not matter, and so can Democrats in Georgia.
The good news is your vote for the next American Idol will count and count equally no matter where you live. Yeah!
The state-by-state, winner-take-all system for electing the president also means sometimes the candidate who gets the most votes doesn’t win. Gore won the popular vote in 2000 but lost a key battleground state and thereby lost in the Electoral College. Bush won the popular vote in 2004 by several million votes, but if he had received 130,000 fewer votes in Ohio, he would have lost the Electoral College and the presidency. Richard Nixon also won the popular vote in 1960, but by losing Illinois he lost in the Electoral College to John Kennedy.
I probably don’t need to point out that in “American Idol,” whoever gets the most votes…