Elections aren’t supposed to be super complicated. But they are. And if you feel like you still need a diagram to figure out our electoral process, here are two good ones to get you started (created independently and shared on the site visual.ly). Click on the first one to see it full size.
Here’s a little factoid that never fails to mightily confuse most voters. As Americans, we actually DO NOT directly elect our presidents and vice presidents. I repeat, the U.S. president is not chosen through a one-person, one-vote system!
Simply put: this is not direct democracy!
When we head to the polls on election day to choose a presidential candidate, we’re not actually really voting for that person. Instead, we’re throwing our support behind a group of “electors” who belong to a strange institution called the electoral college. And it’s that group that actually casts the direct votes to decide who the next president and vice president will be.
Don’t believe me? Check out Article II of the U.S. Constitution. Says it right there. Honest.
Here’s how it works:
First off, what is the Electoral College (and do they have a good football team)?
It’s more of an institution than a place. No dorms. No frat boys. No teams. No crazy parties. Basically, none of the fun stuff.
Here’s what it is: During the presidential election every four years, the various political parties in each state (for instance: California’s Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, etc.) choose a group of “electors,” generally party activists who have pledged their electoral votes to the presidential candidate of that party should he/she win the popular vote in that state. Pretty much anyone who’s registered to vote is eligible to be an elector, with the exception of members of Congress and federal government employees). Continue reading
Click each county on the map below for stats on California’s eligible and registered voters, as well as a breakdown of political party affiliation (but keep in mind there’s a big difference between registered and “likely” voters). The darker the shade, the higher the percentage of registered voters.
(Source: California Secretary of State, May 2012 data)
President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the Voting Rights Act into law in 1965, called voting “the basic right, without which all others are meaningless.”
But in California – where nearly 24 million adults are eligible to vote – the number of people who actually take advantage of this right is surprisingly small.
Consider these California voting stats (approximated):
- 24 million: People who are eligible to vote
- 17 million: People registered to vote (about 72% of those who are eligible)
- 6 million: “Likely voters” (those who regularly vote)
- 5.3 million: The number of votes cast in the June 2012 primary election
A Public Policy Institute of California survey also found that California’s “likely voters” are not representative of the state’s racial and economic diversity. About 65 percent of them are white (even though whites make up only 44 percent of the state’s adult population) and only 17 percent Latino (who make up about one-third of the state’s population). Likely voters are also generally older, more educated, more affluent, and far more likely to own a home than the average Californian. And more than 80 percent were born in the U.S.
For more on how to register to vote and who is eligible, go here.
In early November San Franciscans chose their mayor through an electoral process called ranked-choice voting (RCV). Also known as “instant run-off voting,” voters were tasked with picking three candidates (instead of one), and ranking them in order of preference, thus eliminating the need for a separate runoff election. It’s the first time San Francisco used this system to decide a competitive mayor’s race (RCV was used in San Francisco’s last mayoral election, in 2007, but because Gavin Newsom won in a landslide, the system wasn’t really put to the test).