Electoral Math

So, last night, after Herr Trump finished his speech, I tweeted that I did NOT want to hear from anyone about voting for Jill Stein. To start with, full disclosure and all that, I am voting for Hillary Clinton, because I want to. Happily. With enthusiasm. I have done so before (in the 2008 primary). So I wouldn’t be voting Green regardless.

That said, the reason I don’t want to hear from people voting Green out of “conscience” because lesser of two evils, blah blah blah, is this: it is incredibly unethical, even immoral, to do so if you: 1) Believe that Donald Trump should be allowed nowhere NEAR the Presidency, and, thus, would never vote for him, and, 2)Live in a state where the election will be even remotely close.

Yes. Voting your conscience can be immoral. Because, well, math.

If you are not a Trump voter (and if you’re reading my blog, you’re probably not, unless you’re a masochist of some sort), I can see only four reasons to vote 3rd party. I’ll take each in turn:

  1. You live in a state where it won’t matter and want to cast a protest vote. For example, if you live here, with me, in sunny California, where Clinton averages a 20-point lead over Trump, then, yeah, your protest vote will be lost in the sea of Clinton votes, and, hey, whatever. You do you. I don’t care, really.
  2. You believe HRC is just as bad as Donald Trump. Okay, if this is you, you’re flat-out wrong, but you’re also so disconnected with reality that I know better than to try and convince you otherwise. A reasonable, rational person comparing the two party platforms will see the obvious differences. That same person knows that platforms matter, because parties matter, and what the party says they want should be taken seriously. The GOP platform is incredibly regressive. It calls for making abortion illegal, rolling back marriage equality, allowing conversion therapy of gay children, and repealing Obamacare. But, sure, HRC is just as bad. We just witnessed what may be the most racist and hate-filled political convention this nation has ever seen, but HRC is just as bad. One of last night’s speakers thinks women having the vote was a mistake, but HRC is just as bad. Whatever. If you think they’re the same, then we’re done talking to one another. For real.
  3. You know that Trump is a fascist strongman, that he’s WAY worse than HRC, but you don’t like the Democrats, either, because they haven’t successfully changed the reality of American politics enough to suit you, so because you think both sides are corrupt, you think, “Let’s just burn it all down and start over.” If this is you, then, seriously, fuck you. That’s an incredibly privileged position to take. It pretty much says, “I am in a secure enough position in society that this result, though it will suck, won’t be all that bad for ME, personally, and I’ve decided not to care what the end result will be for all the not-white, not-male, not-straight folks mentioned above.” Well, great. You can roast marshmallows over the dumpster if you want. The rest of us will be working on trying to prevent the actual end of freedom in America. And, no, after last night, I don’t think that’s all that much of an exaggeration.
  4. You think that it’s morally correct to vote your conscience, and you think Jill Stein would be a better president. Or you just CAN’T make yourself vote for HRC, because feelings. This I’m a little more sympathetic to. Honestly, I would hate to have to vote for Bernie Sanders (but I would, if he was the candidate). But I’m here to tell you that this is NOT the morally or ethically correct choice. Because, like it or not, one of these two people WILL become POTUS. There’s no way around that. It’s Trump or Hillary. And while a vote for Stein isn’t directly a vote for Trump, it IS a partial equivalent of a vote for Trump, mathematically. Because it: 1) reduces the overall number of votes that actually count towards the election, and 2) shifts the balance of those votes towards Trump. Period. It does. And you should know this.

So, the math. Many of you know all of this, but it bears repeating:

We don’t elect a president directly. We elect electors to the Electoral College, and THEY elect the President. There are 538 electors: one for each Congressional district, and two for each state, plus three for Washington, D.C.

Electors are awarded on a winner-take-all basis for all but two states (Maine and Nebraska, which between them have 9 votes). Meaning if a candidate wins the popular vote for that state, they get all that state’s electors. In Maine and Nebraska, electors are awarded by Congressional District, plus two for the popular state vote. So…of the 538 electors, 98% are elected in a winner-take-all fashion, and for the 2% you’d still have to win at least one Congressional District to win a single electoral vote. No 3rd party candidate is polling above 9% in any Congressional district, as far as I know, and certainly nowhere near the number needed to win a district. Anywhere. (And it’s not Jill Stein. It’s Gary Johnson, when it’s near 9%. Stein is polling so low that 538.com doesn’t even include her in their models.

So, math, Part 1: no 3rd party candidate has a reasonable chance of winning even a single elector this year. So any vote for them is, truly, a protest vote.

Next: to win the Presidential election in the Electoral College, a candidate must get an absolute majority of the electoral votes. That’s 50% +1, which is 270 votes. If no candidate gets 270 votes, the election is thrown to the House of Representatives to decide, where each state delegation gets a single vote. All states are equal. All pretense of caring about how many people voted in each state disappears.

What that means, right now? There are at least 31 states where there is a clear majority Republican delegation in the House. There are 11 with a clear Democratic majority. 8 are split more evenly. So…best-case scenario, then, is that 31 votes go to Trump, and 19 go to Clinton.

So. Say you get a 3rd party candidate who does well enough to win some states, and thus get some electoral votes. If that results in a true 3-way race, odds are nobody gets 270 votes, it goes to the House, and, hey, Trump. Because, don’t forget: Congressional delegations are NOT voting for a Green party candidate. Once it’s in the House, it’s a two-party race no matter what it is on the outside of the House, at least in America this year.

So: your 3rd party candidate either throws the race to Trump by competing really well and winning states, OR your 3rd party candidate has no chance and just shifts the balance towards Trump. These are your options, as predicted by math.

So. Realistically, if you’re in, say, Ohio, and you vote for Jill Stein, what you’ve done is: reduce the overall number of votes that count for anything (because your vote will NOT count, fair or not, if you vote 3rd party, not in America in 2016, because of the Electoral College). You have also shifted the balance of the remaining votes towards Trump, because, as I established above, you are a not-Trump voter making a protest vote for someone other than HRC. You have moved a fraction of a vote away from her, and towards him. In Ohio, that fraction is a LOT bigger than it is in California.

Given this math, it’s actually not ethical, if you know and admit that Trump is basically a neofascist (and aren’t okay with that), to vote for any 3rd party candidate. And the math is the same if you sit the election out, too. You’re not changing the system. You’re just helping the wrong side. And that’s why Bernie endorsed Hillary. Because he knows how the math works.

Yup, Nader voters ARE partially responsible for George W. Bush. It’s just a fact. I get why they don’t want to admit or believe it, but these people made a “principled” choice that was founded on mistaken principles.

The math is what it is. The two-party system is baked into the Constitution. You have to get rid of the Electoral College to fix it. We won’t be doing that before November.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Electoral Math

  1. So few Americans understand the electoral college and fewer still truly understand when and where their votes matter the most. It’s maddening. Good piece. Way to break it down.

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