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Does my vote really matter?
The voting system in America can be confusing, especially since the system can differ from state to state. Below are answers to common questions about voting that all strive to answer the big question: Does my vote really matter?
Since the electoral college is not required to vote based on the popular vote, my vote doesn’t actually count for who I want, right?
It actually does! The electoral college can be a bit confusing, which is why this is a common misconception. While it is true that electors in some states (including Indiana) are not required by law to vote according to the popular vote, electors are chosen by their party at their party’s statewide convention, where they pledge to vote for their party’s presidential candidate. The party that wins the popular vote sends their slate of electors to the statehouse to vote for the president. Throughout history, there have only been 164 “faithless” electors that have not voted based on the popular vote, and 71 of those occurrences were because the candidate had died before the electors cast their votes. Indiana has never had a faithless elector, and across the nation 99% of electors vote based on the popular vote, so you can be sure when you cast your vote that your elector, if your party wins the popular vote, will be voting for your pick for president! (Reeves Law Group 2016 and Fadem 2020).
Furthermore, even if an elector decided to vote faithlessly, it would be extremely unlikely they would be able to swing the outcome of their state, let alone the entire electoral college vote. No faithless elector has ever voted in a way that has affected the outcome of a presidential election (Fadem 2020).
If electors vote with the popular vote 99% of the time, how can we have an election where a president loses the popular vote but wins the electoral college?
This exact situation occurred in 2016 for the third time in American history, where Hillary Clinton won the American popular vote by about 3 million votes but Donald Trump won the electoral college and was therefore elected president. Why?
The original purpose (more or less) of the electoral college was to balance the popular vote with Congressional power (Reeves Law Group 2016). The number of electoral votes a state has is identical to the number of representatives they are allotted for the House of Representatives, which is based on population measured in the U.S. Census. Currently, 270 electoral college votes are needed to win the presidency. If one party wins more state electors even if individual votes are different, then the electoral college can swing a different direction than the popular vote (Pilkington 2020).
But what if the same party almost always wins in my state? How does my vote still matter?
An example of this is Indiana, which has only recently voted Democrat in 1968 and 2008. Otherwise, Indiana typically votes Republican, so does a Democrat’s vote really count towards the president in Indiana?
Yes—as we see from history, as recently as 2008 Indiana voted Democrat, and as we learned above, Indiana’s 11 electors will follow the popular vote (270toWin).
But beyond the presidential vote and no matter what party you support, your vote still matters in many other ways. State representatives and senators are elected strictly by popular vote. Additionally, you get the opportunity to shape local politics, such as electing local officials, school board members, and casting your vote on local resolutions. Local politics are not to be overlooked as they have the most direct impact on any individual voter.
If you still worry that your vote doesn’t matter, take a look at this list of close elections decided by a small number of votes compiled by NPR: Close Elections: Why Every Vote Matters
Making Your Vote Count for Racial Justice
If you’ve been striving to act out being an anti-racist in your daily life, you may have seen voting as a primary action item. But how do you make your vote count for racial justice? Here’s a few suggestions.
Research candidate platforms. You can access the Republican party platform for 2020 here (they opted to continue with the 2016 platform, with some adjustments): Republican Party Platform and read about the adjustments on Ballotpedia here: The Republican Party Platform, 2020. You can access a breakdown of the Democratic party platform, which is new in 2020, here: Democratic Party Platform. What is each party promising to do for racial justice? How do these policies line up with what activists and activist organizations are asking for?
View your local ballot. Ballotpedia and Vote411are both excellent resources where you can see exactly what your ballot will look like on election day: Sample Ballot Lookup, VOTE411. Take some time to investigate the platforms of the people you will be voting on. How do their platforms relate to racial justice? Are they in support of Black Lives Matter, or silent? Do their campaign strategies go beyond blanket statements and assurances?
Examine candidate voting history. Govtrack is an independent website you can use to see who voted in favor of or against bills in the House and Senate. Congressional Votes Database
Ensure others in your area can also vote. Even though the Voting Rights Act of 1965 protects the rights of voters, voter suppression still exists in 2020 and has historically impacted BIPOC’s voting power. The American Civil Liberties Union has a good overview of the different forms of voter suppression: Block the Vote: Voter Suppression in 2020. Examples include gerrymandering, voter ID laws, voter restrictions, etc. Become informed and seek solutions in your community, even if it just means sharing resources online.
Register to vote if you are able and have not already done so! The deadline in Indiana is October 5, 2020. Here is information for Indiana about registering to vote: SOS: Register to Vote
Fadem, Barry. “Supreme Court’s ‘Faithless Electors’ Decision Validates the Case for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.” Brookings, 14 July 2020. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2020/07/14/supreme-courts-faithless-electors-decision-validates-case-for-the-national-popular-vote-interstate-compact/
Pilkington, Ed. “Electoral college: How Trump Could Lose the Popular Vote and Win Again.” The Guardian, 12 January 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jan/12/trump-electoral-college-2020-election-popular-vote
The Reeves Law Group. “Does Your Vote Really Matter? How the Electoral College System Works.” The Reeves Law Group Blog, 2016, https://www.robertreeveslaw.com/blog/electoral-college/