American voting

I’m glad the election is over.  I informed myself of the issues, I voted, and am fairly content with the outcome (local ballot measures aside).  Unless the votes are still coming in and it’s not official, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock did not win, which pleases me.  Unfortunately, I still can’t set my skepticism and bitterness aside.  Even when the people I want to win, win, I fret over the fairness of the whole voting system (maybe that makes me a better person?).  Part of it is wanting to make sure that said person won fair and square, and not some technicality.  But my main concern is whether my – and I refer to any eligible voter – vote really counts.

See here for a dynamic election results map: CNN election map

I believe the presidential results were announced around 11:30pm Eastern time.

Poll closing times: Politico.com

Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t all states west of the Rockies still voting?  Would this mean that, theoretically, if I lived in Utah, California, Washington, Alaska, or Hawaii, my vote wouldn’t count?  (Besides, California, especially, has to count as it has a notoriously huge population.)  Do Hawaii and Alaska count at all, because their time zones are even further out and their populations are so small? [actually, only Hawaii and Alaska may be still voting at 11:30pm Eastern time.  But how come some states have multiple poll times, and why aren’t the poll times the same as Eastern/Central/Rocky/Pacific zones?]

Then there’s living in a non-swing state.  If you live in a state that always votes Democrat, or always votes Republican, does your vote count at all?  Well, it does, perhaps more importantly, on the local and Congress level, as this election has proven.  And as this past term has shown, who’s in Congress could have more impact on the outcome of the country, than who the president is.  (local election issues in a moment)

Then there’s the issue of population size.  To what degree does tiny Rhode Island count?  Or massively open space, yet tiny population states: Alaska, Montana, other plains states.  It has been said that the Electoral College was created to give tiny states more of a voice.  So it begs the question that if the Electoral College system was removed, and only the popular vote taken, would the fate of the country basically be decided by California and Texas? (uh oh…)

Then there’s the infamous swing states.  It seems – especially according to the media – that in close elections, swing states are all that matter.  That is, states that do not consistantly vote one particular party, and who have a large enough population to grant a significant portion of electoral votes.  (i.e. Alaska or North Dakota etc. could be swing states, but they wouldn’t contribute enough points to matter)  In the last contentious election, Florida was the only state that mattered.  This time, it seemed that Ohio was the only state that mattered.  (which Jon Stewart had a field day with)  Ohio’s a great state (can’t exactly vouch for Florida), but the only state to matter?

So western time zones, low population, swing state, not swing state, and Electoral College.  Given all that, how can my vote matter?  If I was a supremely political person and, for sake of argument, no other factors matter, and I wanted my vote to count the most, which state (even down to district) would I live in?  Florida?  Ohio? Or maybe my money would be on Iowa, since they have the first caucus and are somewhat of a swing state.

And then there’s local elections, which, thanks to gerrymandering, I mean “redistricting,” are a complete nightmare.  Andrew Bayley even made a jigsaw puzzle out of it.  Most people in the media say that the Democrats drew the lines to favor Democrats, but some say redistricting has helped Republicans.  Disregarding either party, gerrymandering does not remotely seem fair.  I think that district lines should be along county lines, period.  In my case, though I am in county A (for example, as opposed to some debatable unincorporated area), my particular address falls in District X, whereas, if I lived a block away on the same street, I’d be in District Y.  The person who was my representative last year, though still the same person, is now the representative of another district, and vice versa.  Not to mention that politicians can move to run for election in districts drawn to favor them.  The political map draws circles around metropolitian areas, such as university areas, to designate and differentiate those areas as distinct from the surrounding rural areas.  So, for example, if you live in a relatively small town, populated by mostly local townies, consisting of farmers and blue collar folks, and yet your town houses a university, populated by out-of-towners, who may be registered to vote in that area, what is the political voice that is sent to Congress?  Is it skewed so that the university part of town gets representation, whereas the rural/townie part of town is given far less representation?  Is this an accurate representation of the voice of that town?  And/or should that university area be designated as a distinct district?  Like the town, the university and the rest of the town should all be heard together, in a statistical political sampling that reflects the reality of the area.  These crazy district lines will cut across county lines, across city and even street lines, to exclude portions and include other portions.

To visually see what I’m talking about, take Illinois for example (and here you can look up other states as well), Congressional district lines are drawn (completely cutting through and around counties), to include small towns (and parts of small towns) surrounding a large city, but excluding that actual city.  And then another crazier district is drawn to include all the cities, while excluding all the small areas surrounding them.  To anyone who knows Illinois (and I’m sure this is true for nearly all states), this doesn’t make sense and doesn’t reflect the people in the areas.  Chillicothe, a small town neighboring Peoria, has much more to do with the atmosphere of Peoria, than it has to do with river town Quincy, much farther west.  Champaign-Urbana, Decatur, and Bloomington are all one district, disregarding surrounding areas.  For Peorians (for lack of a better word, Peoriaites?), “west” Peoria and Creve Coeur are one district, while East Peoria and Peoria Heights are another district – maybe that’s as it should be, but maybe that really skews things.  And they’ve decided that Rockford has more in common with Galena, Quad Cities, and Peoria, than it does with Loves Park?  And that’s just Congressional districts.  Not to mention that House and Senate districts follow different wiggly lines.  Is this really about accurately reflecting and representing a constituency here?  (although I think everyone knows that it doesn’t matter what the rest of Illinois thinks, as Chicago trumps everything else.  I think the people of Illinois might be ok with making Chicagoland its own entity.)

Or look at Wisconsion, that was a political mess this year, pitting neighbor against neighbor.  Scott Walker was put to a recall, zillions of people protested, politicians fled the state.  and yet he was re-elected.  Though Wisconsion re-elected Scott Walker, toted strong Tea Party sentiments, and launched Paul Ryan, the state as a whole voted Obama.  Janesville might swing in an opposite direction than Madison, but I know some teachers in Janesville who are very unhappy with Walker and removing collective bargaining from teachers.  I read that cops and firemen were excluded from the crack down on unions – probably in part because most people tend to appreciate firemen (not teachers and other civil servants, I guess), but, cynically, likely because cops and firemen tend to vote Republican.

Thankfully – a little – not all states are such a mess.  Such as Iowa.  Iowa’s districts are much more cleanly cut, and there doesn’t seem to be the squiggly lines aligning major cities with each other and separating them from surrounding areas.  Even Michigan seems a little more straightforward.  (Not even the party colors, red and blue, were straightforward, until they were assigned in 2000 – I think.)

And then the whole Electoral College thing, which I think no one understands or thinks is exactly fair.

And this is entirely leaving out SuperPacs, hanging chads, digital voting, miscounts, dead people voting, voter ID laws, absentee ballots, soldiers’ votes, and various forms of corruption.  fun stuff.

Related Links:

Update: As far as I can tell, as of Friday, Nov. 9th, 11:40pm Eastern time, Florida still hasn’t officially counted their votes.  USA Today’s article on issues with Florida.  (I think I like their new paper design and the articles haven’t been too bad, though I did catch a prominent typo the other day.  This is the first time I’ve looked at their webpage, and it is, for good and bad, very flashy.  lots of pictures, less on text.)

Update #2:  Though, for all intents and purposes not needed (again with why some states count, and others apparently don’t), Florida’s votes are in, with a close, but uncontested, vote for Obama.  Also, I demoted my Town Hall.com link, in favor of CNN’s interactive election map, as it seemed more accurate and had Florida’s count.  (I like interactive maps.)

Chicago Tribune on gerrymandering:Stop the map mischief

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