By Jim Lee
In a little over a week, all this election mania will retreat to the apathy closet for another four years, with a few relatively unnoticed interruptions such as picking members of Congress and approving/disapproving various ballot initiatives.
Politicians will go back to being cronies until the next regularly scheduled throat-slashing in 2008.
Meanwhile, some of us will vote, and some non-voters will say, “It doesn’t matter what I think because the politicians will do whatever they want.” In reality, the only time that can happen is when we really don’t care.
Another popular expression is: “My vote doesn’t matter because I don’t directly vote for a president anyway.”
This brings up the often misunderstood Electoral College.
Electoral votes really came to the forefront four years ago when more people actually voted for Vice President Gore. But electoral votes made the decision (along with a decree from the Supreme Court, but that’s another story).
Each state has the same number of electoral votes as it has members of Congress. New Mexico has two members of the Senate and three members of the House of Representatives for a total of five members of Congress and five electoral votes.
Of course California has the most with 55. The least any state can have is three. The District of Columbia also has three.
The total number of electoral votes is 538, and a majority (270) is needed to win the presidency.
It is not simply a matter of getting the highest number; the winner must earn more than half. If nobody gets a majority, the U.S. House of Representatives will pick the new president. This actually happened in 1800.
Each electoral vote is decided by a person called an elector. These are minor political-party people who vote for their party candidates.
Legally, they could do otherwise, but they don’t because it would be political suicide. Exceptions are rare.
Electors meet in their state capitols after the election and cast their ballots. Then a certificate is signed by the governor and sent to Congress no later than Dec. 13. The new president and vice president take office the following Jan. 20.
Excluding Maine and Nebraska, each state has a “winner take all” policy. In other words, all of a state’s electoral votes go to one candidate. If three of New Mexico’s electors goes for Bush and two go for Kerry, then all five will go for Bush; they’re not split.
Many people, including 64 percent of Californians in a recent poll, think the president should be elected by a straight popular vote. If this were to happen, though, the more populous states would dominate the election.
Smaller states like New Mexico and Wyoming would be all but ignored.
The Constitution wisely decided that the federal government would represent the states themselves, not just the people in those states.
Some think the example of Nebraska and Maine is a good compromise.
Would it be more fair for candidates simply to get the electoral votes they earn, no matter how many a state has?
Well, new Electoral College or not, our votes do count because we elect the electors. The way the math works this time around, New Mexico may even decide the election.
So get out and vote. Who cares about apathy anyway?
Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: