Popular vote matters little in the US

November 4, 2008 12:00 am

, CHICAGO, November 4 – As Americans go to the polls on Tuesday, experts continue to question the disconnect between the popular vote and the Electoral College.

Professor Kenneth Janda, a Political Science lecturer and author of ‘The Challenge of Democracy’ said on Tuesday that although the constitution allowed the voters in the Electoral College to cast ballots for a candidate of their choice, it could run contrary to the choice of majority voters.

“When I vote for President, in fact by law I will be voting for a slate of electors of my Party who have pledged to vote for the candidate. But in 2004 there was one Democratic elector who did not vote for John Kerry,” he said.

Professor Janda said even if a candidate won by popular vote, he could not technically be the President-elect until the electoral vote is held.

“For example when Al Gore won majority popular vote in the year 2000, only some few democrats were calling him that, but he was quite guarded as to whether or not he was the President-elect,” Professor Janda said.

He also noted that elections in the country were a complex process from the founding of the republic in the 18th century.

“We have elected almost everything in the office that moves, so we elect almost all kinds of offices that you don’t even know what the bearer does,” he complained.

“For example in Chicago, I am expected to also vote for three people for something called the Water Reclamation Commission. I have been teaching political science for over 50 years and I have no idea what that is,” said the Professor.

“I did a Google search and sometimes you get 100,000 hits for almost anything but I only got 10 hits for the Water Reclamation District.”
Professor Janda noted that this system was almost impossible to change because the people who held the offices would always defend them. He said they argued that if you elect people to the public office you allow the voters to control them.

“I think it should be kept simple to just elect offices that are executive of legislative,” he said.

Meanwhile, Professor Peter Miller, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the North Western University in Chicago said the opinion polls that have been conducted throughout the campaign period have been based on likely voters therefore not much emphasis can be put on them.

“The best predictor of future behaviour is previous behaviour so in almost all of the likely voter models used by pollsters a big factor is whether the person has voted before, whether somebody knows who is running for office, where the polling place is and whether the election appears to be important to them,” Professor Miller said.
He said the biggest challenge for most pollsters was how to model the turnout.

“It is also complex because you are asking people to tell you what they will do sometimes in the future and lots of things can intervene between the time they say what they will do and when they do it,” he added.

The Professor also noted that another factor that pollsters have to confront – but only matters in close polls – is election administration. This he said is where people vote for a particular candidate but the vote is not counted correctly.

“If that happens in a close election it means that the polls were right and the election was wrong.  But we rarely have such incidences,” he said.

“The year 2000 is when people think that might have happened.”


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