What is the Electoral College?

A Note from the Professor: This is my 9th year (8th time) teaching in the First Year Experience Program at Colorado College. In this most recent course, Mariolivia “MJ” Jimenez (’24) and Najma Abdi (’24) wrote their group expository essay on the electoral college, and wrote it for a young audience. So, after my daughter recently completed a mock ballot at school and asked if we could talk about it, I remembered MJ’s and Najma’s essay and sent it to her. She told me she really enjoyed reading it, appreciated it was written for someone her age (she really liked the part about the “homies”), and learned a lot. Of course, I wrote MJ and Najma letting them know, and they couldn’t have been proud. Then, when a friend asked if she could read the essay and share it with her high school student, I asked if I could publish here, and they agreed. Enjoy.

A Note from the Authors: Please click the links to read definitions in our glossary or read sources we cited. For your convenience, all links will open in a new tab. Thank you for reading.

Mariolivia “MJ” Jimenez and Najma Abdi
CC106 Knowledge, Identity, and Power
Dr. Heidi R. Lewis
September 16, 2020

Hillary Rodham Clinton

“What? How is this possible! Hilary Clinton won the popular vote, so how did Donald Trump win?” If this was your reaction while watching the 2016 presidential election, we do not blame you. It was ours, too. Even though people have recently been expressing their opinions about the electoral college because of 2016, this is not the first time this has happened, and it probably will not be the last. In fact, most of us turn 18 and are ready to vote by our senior year; yet, we have no clue how the electoral college works! So, how about we learn about this together? Let us start from the beginning.

Here is how it all went down: One morning, our so-called “founding fathers” got dressed and wore their prettiest wigs to join their homies for the constitutional convention. The convention took place in Philadelphia in 1787. One of the topics they discussed was “how to go about electing a president of this new United States.” Some of the proposals they came up with included the Virginia Plan, which stated members of Congress should elect the president. This was immediately rejected, because the Virginia Plan was giving larger states an advantage due to their populations. Then came the New Jersey Plan, which claimed regardless of population, states should only have one vote, but this plan was also rejected because opponents claimed one vote would not be enough to represent the people. So, they decided to combine the elements of the New Jersey and Virginia plans, which they called the Connecticut Compromise. Through this compromise, the electoral college was approved as part of the Twelfth Amendment.

President George Washington, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton circa 1795 (Photo Credit: Three Lions and Getty Images)

The newly established electoral college was in effect by the 1804 election, but due to its complications, the founding fathers had to ratify it. For instance, when the 1804 election took place, Republican electors had no formal way to choose Thomas Jefferson for President and Aaron Burr for Vice President. This created confusion that some politicians tried to exploit by earning two votes instead of one. With all the work it took to ratify the electoral college, you might be wondering, “Why do we even need this?” Well, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton wrote a federalist paper after the electoral college was amended. In this paper, they claimed “the electors would come from the people and that the election would take place among all of the states.’’ They claimed the system was infallible, because to them, the electoral college would allow smaller states to have as much impact on the election as the bigger states. Therefore, the electoral college was ratified and is now part of the current election system.

Now that you have some background, let’s discuss the current system. The electoral college has 538 votes in total, 435 of those votes from the U.S. House of Representatives. The number of House votes varies based on each state’s population. For instance, states like California have 53 representative votes whereas Wyoming has only 1. Of the remaining 103 votes, 100 come from the U.S. Senate, and every state has two senators. The last 3 are from the District of Columbia. These numbers might seem useless, but you need them to understand our election system.

When it comes to electoral college votes, some states favor one party over the other. Even though there are more than two political parties in the elections, we will focus on the two major ones: Democrats and Republicans. Some states vote Republican almost all the time and other states vote Democrat. For instance, Colorado had been a red state up until Obama’s second term. This change in political parties established Colorado as a swing state. So, before the election, the Democratic presidential candidate will try and campaign hard in the “red states” for votes, and the Republican candidate in the “blue states.” Ideally, the Representatives and Senators in the electoral college will cast their votes for President in a way that represents the popular vote in their states. So, if most people in Ohio vote for the Democrat, theoretically the Representative and Senators in Ohio would, too. However, that is not always the case.

This, in part, explains opposition to the electoral college. Also, as we pointed out earlier, what happened in 2016 wasn’t exactly new. People were also confused, and some very upset, when George Bush was elected President in 2000, because he won the electoral college 271 to 266, while Al Gore ended up getting 500,000 more popular votes. The confusion is probably because people are not aware of the influence of the electoral college due to its normalcy as an institution. Still, state lawmakers like Christopher Pearson, a member of the Vermont Senate, is against the electoral college, because the “winner-take-all” approach “ignores the will of too many voters.” Currently, 48 states adhere to the winner-take-all law. Through this, 70% of American voters are “ignored,” while attention is put onto 5 to 12 swing states. In 2016, for example, “two-thirds of the general election campaign (spending and events) took place in only six states; 94% was centered in just 12 states.” Through this method, five U.S. presidencies have resulted in the “second-place” candidate’s victory, second-place at least regarding the popular vote. This, critics argue, creates an unequal advantage of the electoral college over the popular vote of the people, even according to the constitution, the electoral college was meant to evenly distribute the voting power of states.  

On the contrary, many are in favor of the electoral college, as it “keeps states in charge of our elections.” Trent England, a distinguished fellow at the Oklahoma Council Affairs, claims the “founding fathers” feared that the bigger states would dominate presidential politics. Through this two-step process, people claim the electoral college prevents one region from controlling the white house. They claim the popular vote would rely on each state to certify a national vote total, which, in turn, would expect states to trust every other state’s elections. In theory, the electoral college does not allow for the bigger states to dominate, forcing presidential candidates to campaign in smaller states, too. Due to the electoral college being a two-check system, England and Pearson argue this would also lessen the “likelihood for recounts or demands for runoff election.” They say the electoral college would lessen the possibility for error and that it also “safeguards against uniformed or uneducated voters.” Thus, those in support of the electoral college claim it helps us reduce error and give opportunity to all states.

After years of being unfamiliar with the electoral college, now you understand what it is and its role in the current election system. With this new understanding, maybe now it will not come as a shock to you when a president ends up winning the election despite having a lower number of the popular vote than their opponent. How does this information challenge your current views on our election system? Are you for or against the electoral college? 

“Remember, I did win by more than 3 million votes than my opponent!”
Hillary Clinton (after the 2016 presidential election)

Glossary

In order of appearance in the essay.

Twelfth Amendment: Claims each elector must cast distinct votes for president and vice president, instead of two votes for president.

Ratify: To confirm by expressing consent, approval, or formal sanction.

Red State: A U.S. state that predominantly votes for or supports the Republican Party.

Swing State: A U.S. state in which the two major political parties (Democrats and Republicans) have similar levels of support among voters. Viewed as important in determining the overall result of a presidential election.

Blue State: A U.S. state that predominantly votes for or supports the Democratic Party.

Two-Check System: Makes sure power is balanced between systems. Common to the “check and balances” practiced in government.

Sexual Repression and Heterosexual Normalization in Spring Awakening

By Logan Smith

 

Editor’s Note: This issue features essays written by students in FG110 Introduction to Feminist and Gender Studies taught by Dr. Heidi R. Lewis in Block 3. FG110 teaches students how to examine, power, inequality, and privilege along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, age, physicality, and other social, cultural, and political markers using multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary approaches. These essays respond to Spring Awakening, a Tony-award winning show set in the 19th century about a group of adolescents navigating the complexities of sexuality in an era where they have limited access to information,  hosted by Performing Arts at CC and Music, Theatre, & Dance.

 

 

 

Spring Awakening emphasizes the repercussions that come as a result of the clinging to the “innocence” of teenagers so much so that their ignorance and sexual repression creates extremely toxic and unsafe situations. The show emphasizes the dangers that come as a result of sheltering teenagers from issues of sex and sexuality through shame—giving us situations of suicide, rape, teenage pregnancy (followed by a dangerous abortion) and homelessness.

In the textbook, Everyday Women’s and Gender Studies Introductory Concepts edited by Ann Braithwaite and Catherine M. Orr, sociologist Jyoti Puri writes about a nation’s monitoring of citizens’ sexualities in her piece “Sexuality, State and Nation.” She writes, “Nationalism’s greatest impact on matters of sexuality is by defining what is normal and abnormal, what is respectable and what is deviant” (Puri 286). We are shown instances of this in the show in the scenes that take place at school. Throughout the show, the adult figures are shown trying to control everything that the teenagers read, learn and think about.  They are shown what is “respectable” and “normal” through the actions of the adults in their lives. Their parents and instructors teach them that in order to be considered good citizens, they must live their lives in the ways they are expected to, prioritizing faith and schoolwork over everything else.

Because issues of sex and sexuality are never addressed by the adult figures in the show, the teenagers create their own assumptions and ideas on these topics based on what they witness and begin to consider “normal.” There is a moment towards the beginning of the show where a group of teenage girls are talking about who their husbands might be when they grow older. They address their crushes and talk about how it might be to marry them—which is the only form of sexual expression that is made visible through their parents. Braithwaite and Orr’s textbook also includes “Privilege” by Devon W. Carbado where they quote Keith Boykin explaining that, “heterosexual sexual orientation has become so ingrained in our social custom, so destigmatized of our fears about sex, that we often fail to make any connection between heterosexuality and sex” (Carbado 142). While sex as an act is stigmatized and rarely acknowledged, hetero-normative performance

is often openly displayed. Carbado says that, “This socially constructed normalcy of heterosexuality is not due solely to the desexualization of heterosexuality in mainstream political and popular culture. It is due also to the sexualization of heterosexuality as normative and to the gender-norm presumptions about heterosexuality—that it is the normal way sexually to express one’s gender” (Carbado 143).

With the limited information they have about sexuality and sex, the teenagers in the show begin to make assumptions based solely on what their society indicates as being normal and what is not. These assumptions lead to ill-informed decisions, like having unprotected sex without knowing that pregnancy might be a consequence, and unhealthy and toxic repressions of sexuality that lead to depression and eventually suicide for one character.

Spring Awakening is a cautionary tale about how the consequences of sexual repression manifest themselves. Every drastic consequence in the show—Wendla’s death, Moritz’s suicide, Ilse’s homelessness—can be tied back to the sexual repression that the adults in the show inflict. It is painful to realize that all of these consequences could have been prevented, had the parents and teachers in the show taken a second to sexually educate their children.

 

 

 

The Problem with Firewater

firewaterBy Judy Fisher

In Sausage Party, Firewater is a bottle of liquor taking on the stereotypical characteristics of a Native person. I will be analyzing this character through the framework of theories of representation or re-presentation, as discussed by Ann Braithwaite and Catherine M. Orr in Everyday Women’s and Gender Studies: Introductory Concepts. This concept emphasizes and analyzes the gap between “re” and “presentation,” and focuses on the negotiation and production of meanings (303). Native people are often stereotyped in the media as either drunks, uncivilized savages, or submissive “Indian princesses.” Firewater exemplifies the stereotype of the drunken, peyote smoking Chief. Since re-presentation in the media is about meaning making as a process of negotiation among many possible meanings, the inclusiveness of Firewater falls short in terms of accurate representation (308).

The re-presentation of Native people in Sausage Party failed to take into account the harmful consequences that these images have for Native people. For example, the disproportionate amount of alcoholism and poverty among Natives are real issues that many portrayals of Natives in the mainstream media fail to account for and in turn perpetuate or make fun of. The portrayal of Natives in stereotypical ways like the portrayal of Firewater in Sausage Party refuses to take into account the real life experiences and traumas that Native people face.


NOTE: This essay was written by a First-Year Experience (FYE) student in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies taught by Professor Heidi R. Lewis. FG110 teaches students how to examine power, inequality, and privilege along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, age, physicality, and other social, cultural, and political markers using multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary approaches. Near the end of the block, the students visited a local theater to screen Sausage Party, and this essay was written in response.