When the founding fathers decided on the electoral college system, they assumed the early republic would be full of uninformed plebeians who were too busy farming and fighting Indians to make decisions for themselves. They could be trusted with local decisions, but the important choice of president could only be made by electors chosen by state legislatures or the parties themselves.
It might be said, however, that early citizens got off easy. Now, with the media feeding us sound bites and Internet headlines every second, it's a challenge to cull the accurate and relevant information from the massive amount produced, to fuse this information with our own values and experiences, and to match the result to a candidate and a vote.
But as our country's experience with the Electoral College system demonstrates every four years, your researched and reasoned vote doesn't matter much unless you live in a state whose electoral votes are up for grabs.
The electoral college is outdated and undemocratic. Created when there were only thirteen states, it was designed to prevent the preferences of populous states from dominating those of smaller ones. Now, it serves to allow the Supreme Court to choose our president for us. (Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000; by halting a recount in Florida, the Court awarded to Bush the 25 electoral votes that would have given Gore the 270 votes necessary to win the election.)
It also functions to give disproportionate weight to the votes of citizens who live in states where the election will be close. So if you're from Massachusetts and attend college in Illinois like me, you're out of luckboth of those states are distinctly blue.
Fortunately, Illinois is situated alongside or near the swing states of Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. All of these states went to Bush or Gore by less than 10 percent in 2000 and together comprise 65 electoral votes. Polls show Kerry and Bush are polling within the margin of error in all of these swing states. The outcome of the election will depend on which side can mobilize more volunteers to get more voters to the polls. So the election will be very, very close, and it could be decided by efforts in our neighboring states.
So what can we do about it? While voter turnout, especially by young voters and even in states already locked away, is a crucial way to direct the outcome of the election, this time it will take something extra. After all, George W. Bush took his dubious victory in the last election and governed as if possessing a mandate from the American people.
The best way you can help swing this election is to travel to one of the key battleground states this weekend and volunteer with one of the many organizations doing get out the vote work. You can help people identify their polling places, inform them about election-day registration, and get them to the polls on November 2. Trips to Ohio and Wisconsin have been organized for the entire election weekend or for just a day or two. All you have to do is choose one. Just make sure you cast your vote in Illinois before you go by stopping by the Board of Election Commissioners at 69 West Washington Street to vote in-house absentee.
Even if you've never been involved in politics before, and even if you can't spare the whole weekend, now is the time to take action. Leave Illinois, connect with voters in other states, and be one of the hundreds of thousands of people waking up on November 3 knowing you were part of the movement that took our country back.