What is an electoral vote?
The leaders of the newly created United States of America knew that the government should not be appointed, but they also feared that the populace was not informed enough to make the decision either. Smaller states also worried they would not have as much a say in the structuring of the government as large states. Thus the Electoral College was created to give some of, but not all of, the power to the people. Each state has a number electors equal to the number of senators and members of the House of Representatives. This means the larger a state’s population the more votes it has.
Each Presidential candidate has electors for each state, thus when you cast a vote for your choice candidate you are in fact voting for that party’s electors. Electors are the ones who actually decide who is going to be President. They cast their vote in December and the votes are counted by a joint session of Congress in January. 270 out of 538 electoral votes are required to elect the President. So to become the President of the United States of America the candidate must win enough of state elections to gather 270 electoral votes as opposed to winning one national election. Because of this, a candidate spends more time campaigning in states that have more electors.
Since we are actually voting for electors and electors then cast their own vote it is possible that an elector will not side with their party. In other words, the electors can ultimately vote for who they want to, at least in 21 states. The other 29 states have laws that control their electors. Maine and Nebraska have unique rules that split the elector votes rather than the normal “winner take all” approach. The two states assign one elector to the winner of each Congressional district and two to the popular vote.
The national popular vote does not necessarily have to agree with the electoral vote since each state’s vote is made of district votes. In 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000 candidates who lost the popular vote won the presidency. This may be shocking to hear, but it is actually rare that a president has the majority of the popular votes. This means that a candidate may have the most votes, but they have less than half of the total. Abraham Lincoln had 40% of the popular vote, Bill Clinton had 43%, and George W. Bush had 48%.
In a population of 323 million does one vote count?
If you’re a Republican living in Illinois, California, or Washington your vote may not seem to count for much. Illinois and California have voted for Democrat the last six elections and Washington the last eight. Likewise, if you’re a Democrat living in Kentucky, Texas, or South Carolina you may question how much your vote counts. Kentucky has voted Republican the last four elections; Texas and South Carolina the last nine.
The past voting trends of a state do not guarantee its future voting decision. Although putting it in perspective consider that for the last 36 years Texas has been a red state. It seems safe money to bet that Texas will vote Republican this year. So by this line of thought if you’re a Democrat in Texas your vote will not count.
The population of a state carries more weight in determining the value of your vote than historical trends. The more population dense a state the less value a single vote has. David Walbert’s excellent article explains this idea very well here. Basically, it comes down to some math (population divided by electors, then divided again by the national average). An individual vote in California has less value than a vote in Alaska. This means an individual in Alaska has more control over what party their state will support than an individual in California. The problem with this is that Alaska has only three electoral votes. On the national level, an individual in Alaska has very little say on who becomes president.
An individual vote may not count as much as we would like to believe, but it counts enough to make the effort and cast your ballot. Look at how close the 2000 election was: 271 to 266. Only 51% of the voting age population voted. What would of have happened if the other 49% voted too?
So does your vote count? I believe it counts enough that we should all put the effort in and cast a ballot.