Civics 101: Making your vote count

Last Monday, I posted on PA Act 94. At the time, the movement to steal Democratic votes was gaining traction not only in Pennsylvania, but also Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. Many of those states (but not Pennsylvania and Michigan) are walking back the idea.

In addition to being posted here, the article was also posted to other blogs, and someone put it on Reddit. Combined, more than 3,000 people viewed the information in the first 24 hours. Further, I sent a copy to many people I know who are political non-combatants. The most common response I received (and I got more than I would have imagined) was: What’s a Congressional District?

So this is a lesson in civics. You personally may not need the information, but you might want to save a copy, because I promise there are people living on your block who have no idea…

Like everything else, voting starts with the US Constitution. Article 1 starts with the Congress, setting forth the qualifications to be elected to each chamber, the terms, the (initial) number of Congressman, and this, from Section 4:

1: The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators. (This is from the original, which spelled it “chusing”.)

From Article II, Section 1:

2:  Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress:  but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

There have been changes to the Constitution, plus other Federal laws, that have changed the number of Congressman per state. In addition, in 1845, the 28th Congress enacted a law, signed by President Tyler, that made Election Day the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Bottom line: we have 100 voting Senators, 2 from each state, and 435 voting Congressmen. The original idea of the United States was a representative democracy. There would be two chambers, with the Senate (the Upper Chamber) having 2 seats per state, and the House (Lower Chamber) having one Congressman for a limited number of people. The two chambers were to insure equity of legislative representation from all the states, understanding that some states were much bigger than others.

The last time the number of Congressmen was increased was in 1910. Instead of the limited number of voters per Congressman, there are now over 680,000 people per Congressman. For information on that, click here.

Each Congressman represents one district. These 435 Congressional Districts (CDs) are moved around the country after every decennial census (and that census is, yes, from the Constitution) to keep the CDs equal in terms of population. So if State “A” loses population, or has relatively low population growth, while State “B” gains a huge amount of population, one or more CDs will shift from State “A” to State “B”. In the 2010 Census for example, Pennsylvania lost a CD, and Texas gained 4 CDs. A complete list of winners and losers is here.

So what does this mean to you? When you vote for your Senator, your Congressman, all your state and local officers, your vote counts for that candidate. In general, the candidate with the greatest number of votes wins. Until now, and with the exception of small areas of Maine and Nebraska, when you vote for president, your vote is tallied for the candidate of your choice, and one candidate carries each state, winner take all. The states send a number of electors, equal to the number of Congressional Districts, plus 2 for the Senate, to the Electoral College, where the president is elected.

Thus, on election night, when you watch the returns, the stations will say that State “A” is carried by Candidate “B”, for a total of “X” electoral votes. It takes 270 electoral votes to win.

In a purple state like Pennsylvania, Democratic presidential candidates win the state because more people statewide vote for the Democrat. This has been true consistently since 1992, and intermittently before then. Full data here.  However, the Democratic numbers run up in certain areas, which overcome deficits in others.

What Pennsylvania, Michigan and potentially other states, want to do is change things so that the candidate for whom you vote for president may or may not receive your vote in the tally. The general idea is that presidential candidate would be accorded 2 electoral votes statewide for the two “Senate” electoral college votes, but the electoral college votes aligned to the CDs would be based on who won the CD. Think it wouldn’t make a difference? Check out the graphics here, and understand that despite winning the popular vote, and a majority of states, under the Republican plans, Romney would have been inaugurated last week.

Hopefully, you now understand more about voting, and how that relates to proposed changes.

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