New Yorkers For Mitt: Who Cares? The Winner-Take-All Electoral College and the Disenfranchisement of New York Republicans
October 24, 2012 | Leave a Comment
The lawn in front of 155 Brandon Terrace in Albany, New York is adorned with campaign signs reading “Romney: Believe in America” and “Romney & Ryan: America’s Comeback Team.” These signs are clearly indicative of the fact that Romney supporters reside within this household. Indeed, Mr. & Mrs. Brian Dougherty, who live in this home, will undoubtedly vote for Governor Mitt Romney and Representative Paul Ryan on November 6. But will their votes matter? Given that the winner-take-all Electoral College system still plays the dominant role in selecting the President of the United States, the answer is a resounding no.
The Electoral College is the body which elects the President of the United States. The college is made up of 538 electors. In order to be elected president, a candidate needs to win a majority of these electors, which is 270. A portion of these electors is allocated to every state in the union. The number of electors given to a state depends on the number of Representatives and Senators that particular state has in the federal Congress. The state of New York currently has 29 electors. In every state except Maine and Nebraska, the candidate who wins the popular vote in a particular state gains all of that state’s electoral votes. This means that whichever candidate wins the popular vote in New York on November 6 will take all 29 of the state’s electoral votes.
Since 1988, the popular vote in New York has favored the Democratic candidate. The election results from 2008 illustrate how Democratic presidential candidates have been able to win the total popular vote in New York. The counties in New York that vote for Democratic presidential candidates have extremely large populations. In addition, the number of votes separating Democratic candidates and Republican candidates in these counties is substantial. For example, in 2008, 318,920 registered voters in Suffolk County cast their ballots for Senator Barack Obama, while 289,236 people voted for Senator John McCain. Not only did Senator Obama gain a large number of votes, but the margin of victory for Obama in this county was 29,684 votes. Likewise, in Brooklyn County, 545,785 voters cast their ballots for Obama, while only 139,594 people voted for McCain. This was a margin of victory for Obama of 406,191 votes. In contrast, the counties won by Republican candidate John McCain were more sparsely populated, and the number of votes separating the two candidates in these counties was not very large. For example, in Hamilton County, Senator McCain won the popular vote with 1,903 votes. However, 1,060 people voted for Senator Obama, meaning that McCain’s margin of victory in this county was only 843 votes.
Indeed, with heavily populated counties in the New York City metropolitan area voting overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates, it has simply not been possible in recent years for Republican presidential candidates to close the gap in the statewide popular vote tally. The same patterns were present in the 2004 presidential election. In 2004, 283,994 citizens voted for Senator John Kerry in Bronx County, while only 56,701 people cast their ballots for President George W. Bush. This was a margin of victory of 227,293 votes for Kerry. Likewise, in New York County, the margin of victory for Senator Kerry was 419,360 votes. President Bush won the popular vote in smaller, more rural New York counties. For example, President Bush won Allegany County with 12,310 votes. Senator Kerry only received 6,566 votes. However, the smaller number of total votes in these rural counties, combined with the fact that fewer votes separated the two candidates in these counties, meant that President Bush was unable to catch up to Senator Kerry in the statewide popular vote. Therefore, all of New York State’s electoral votes were awarded to Senator Kerry.
This reality continues to leave many New York Republicans frustrated, as their vote cannot in any way prevent the entire sum of New York State’s electoral votes from going to the Democratic candidate. As Kathleen Melinda Moses wrote in the Watertown Daily Times, a publication that serves Jefferson, St. Lawrence, and Lewis Counties, “residents of Northern New York are never considered by the candidates, because all of New York state’s electoral votes are guaranteed to go to President Obama…our votes for president in essence do not matter.” This demoralization was also noted during an email interview with a conservative business leader at CMA Consulting Services in Albany County. This business woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, expressed her anguish by stating that it has become increasingly frustrating to be “registered as a conservative in a staunchly liberal state…The feeling that your vote counts, given the nature of the Electoral College’s ‘winner takes all method,’ is a distant memory…It leaves one only to vote out of moral obligation…not because you feel your vote has contributed to the election of your chosen candidate.” A member of the Republican Party working in the Saratoga County Board of Elections, who also wishes to remain anonymous, brought out an additional problem during a telephone interview. When asked whether Republican voters in New York feel disenfranchised by the electoral process, the Board of Elections member noted that most “average Joe” Republican voters simply “do not understand the process.” Consequently, these voters do not even realize that their voices are not making the slightest difference in the presidential election. These voters are operating under a false assumption that their vote is making a difference, and this is a travesty considering the immense feeling of satisfaction most people feel after casting their ballot for Commander in Chief.
When asked whether the Electoral College system disenfranchises Republican voters in New York State, the election official from Saratoga County stated, “yes, (the electoral college) is a problem (because) it does not represent the diversity of the state.” Given that presidential candidates are always speaking about the importance of going to the polls on Election Day, shouldn’t we strive for a system where everyone who casts a ballot actually does have the opportunity to affect the election? Isn’t it time to start caring about New Yorkers for Mitt?