The Curious Math in our Election Process
In regard to
- • the tallying
- • the interpretation
- • the application
of numbers, we have a rather complicated way,
to say the least, in which we go about electing a President
in our country.
I’m almost tempted to call it “voodoo”
mathematics, with attribution to George H.W. Bush, recalling
how he once applied that derisive modifier to Reagan’s
economic philosophy. But as that might be a bit harsh, I’ll
simply call it “curious.” After all, it has ended
up on a couple of occasions, whereby a man got more votes
than his opponent and still lost the election—something
I’m unaware of as being a possibility in any other democratic
nation. (And if Putin ever won that way? “Of course.
That’s Russia. What do you expect?”). But that’s
getting ahead of ourselves.
Primaries and Caucuses: The Weak
Shall Inherit the Earth
Long before election day—the first Tuesday
in November, in deference to our days as an agricultural society
in a horse and buggy world—there are 70 primaries and
caucuses that ooze out across the country over a span of four
and one-half months. Their ultimate purpose is to decide a
nominee for each of the two major parties for the presidency.
They began this year on February 1st, with
the Iowa caucus that kicked off this madcap election season,
followed shortly by the first primary in New Hampshire. Why
these two states at this approximate point in time every four
years you might ask? With apologies to Tevya—“TRADISHUN!”
The voting results from these smaller states
in no way reflect the makeup of the U.S. as a whole. 57% of
Iowa caucus goers describe themselves as Evangelicals…New
Hampshire’s black population is 1%. Yet they tend to
set the narratives for the presidential race, even serving
to eliminate candidates outright from further pursuit of the
nomination. But to the victors, or self-proclaimed victors,
no matter. A win is a win. Even sometimes when it really isn’t.
Here was Hillary, positively beaming over
her resounding victory over Sanders by three-tenths of
one percent in Iowa. But that’s only in the popular
vote. Which I couldn’t help but notice, that in a digital
age, was being tallied by counting pieces of folded paper
and dropping them into an open bowl in some precincts. Ah,
but her delegate win by 23-21— and delegate totals eventually
determine a party’s nominee—was a landslide victory
by comparison. How does a virtual tie in the popular vote,
correlate into a small yet clear delegate win? Or conversely
in some states to follow, such as in
South Carolina where Trump would win, all delegates
were awarded to him? Do you have an hour?
Mark Rubio who came in third on
the Republican side in Iowa with a whopping 23% of the vote,
popped up on the screen soon after Ms. Clinton, proclaiming
in a “victory” speech: “So this is the moment
they said would never happen.”
So on this first night, we got our first taste
of curious math. Not to mention, curious rhetoric. One can’t
even begin to imagine what will unfold between now and the
final primary in Washington D.C. on June 14th, appropriately
enough, Flag Day.
By the way, check out the schedules and mark
your calendars for a few of these vital results you won’t
want to miss prior to that last D.C. primary: the American
Samoa and the Northern Marianas caucuses, and the Guam primary.
And if those of you in inclement climes were considering a
quick getaway to the Virgin Islands before winter’s
end, be mindful that the Republican caucus being held there
on March 19th could affect the availability of hotel rooms.
These places are not states of course, but
rather states of mind. But no matter. They play a role in
sending delegates to each party’s nominating convention
There are several modifications that could
be made to the system as it now exits. An obvious one, would
be the consolidation of several primaries into, say, four
consecutive weekly regional voting days. In effect, creating
four “Super Tuesdays” similar to the one this
year on March 1st, in which 15 primaries and caucuses take
place on that one day alone.
Or if we insist on choosing early primary
markets, at least take— what we used to call in the
ad business when test marketing new brands— a “Little
U.S.” approach. One in which markets are selected
that mirror the country as a whole in terms of demographics,
economics, exposure to media outlets, etc. At least the results
would be something more readable, and potentially more translatable
on a national scale.
And with that, let’s cut to the chase
and the ultimate mathematical puzzle, in what we call the
The Electoral College: An Institute
of Higher Yearning
Our Founding Fathers, who at times could be
confounding, truth be told, decreed in the constitution that
elections would not be resolved directly by.
But rather by presidential electors known collectively as
the Electoral College. Equal to a combining of a state’s
Senate and House of Representatives, these totals can range
today from a high of 55 votes in California, to a low of 3
votes in various small population states. They total 538,
and therefore it takes 270 for a majority and victory.
The thinking behind this system?
“It sought to reconcile differing
state and federal interests, provide a degree of popular
participation in the election, give the less populous
states some additional leverage in the process by providing
‘senatorial’ electors, preserve the presidency
as independent of Congress, and generally insulate the
election process from political manipulation.” (www.history.com)
Note… a degree of popular participation
… not total participation. Clearly the belief
could not be entrusted to make a wise decision without some
filter, lest we go off the rails one day and make a horrendously
bad choice. And the women in that “we”? You’re
joking. How could they be trusted at all? They would not get
to vote until about 130 years later (Happy 90th Birthday
to Ma and to the 19th Amendment! SEPTEMBER,
The problem with the Electoral College system,
is that it is based on a“winner-take-all” concept.
So if a candidate were to win California by a single vote—a
state in which almost 11 million people voted in 2012—
all of its 55 electoral votes would go to that candidate.
A similar scenario in Delaware by comparison, would only make
a difference in 3 electoral votes. Therefore, by deduction,
a vote in LA is worth much more than a vote in Wilmington.
And one look no further than the relatively
recent 2000 election and Florida, with its hanging chads,
to see that this sort of consideration is not merely a hypothetical
exercise nor something that could only happen in ancient history.
* Without third party
candidate Ralph Nader’s vote totals in Florida
and New Hampshire, which presumably would have gone
substantially to Gore, this would have been a map
of a different coloration. But third party spoilers
is a topic for another day.
And for the wonks out
there such as I, the other winner of the popular vote who
lost the election was Samuel Tilden. To Rutherford B. Hayes
in 1876. Tilden has a high school in Brooklyn named after
him, so that counts for something I guess. But in terms of
presidential-sounding names, how can you beat Rutherford B.
Hayes? But I digress.
Anyway, the real offshoot to all of this,
lies in the so called “Battleground” or “Swing”
or “Purple” states; pivotal places that could
go either way and decide an election.
The larger ones this year, as they have in
the recent past, will include Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.
Those three total 67 electoral votes; almost 25% of the 270
needed for victory. And so unsurprisingly, candidates will
intensify their time, effort and money in such places, working
the electoral map, tailoring (and pandering?) their message
to the “Purple People”— an attention that
the “Reds” and “Blues” are not afforded.
In the absence of these types of scenarios,
a candidate would have to campaign for every vote in every
state, as every vote would truly be equal. A fairness reflective
of the belief we espouse, in what we call “The American
If all of this seems ponderous, and yes curious, imagine trying
to explain it to a foreigner? Someone vying for U.S. citizenship?
Your kid? (Though your cat will get it.).
By now, with some readers having since scrolled
or clicked (and even the cat has fallen asleep), I’ll
spare the lengthy and often esoteric arguments for keeping
our current elective process exactly as is—from Iowa
through election day. I’ll stick to the math. Which
doesn’t really add up. A realm in which 2 + 2 implies
4. Which I find bothersome by at least 35%.
The low rumble of a heating vent
the lion roars at the door
behind which hibernation
is the better part of valor
people shuffling down below
hell has frozen over
ancient figures of speech
black ice at the crossing
slick as thieves
undercutting the meek
the lamb of lame expectation
a snow job without shovel nor salt
to cast upon a winter’s clinging
does anything spring eternal
other than this?
Tweet of the Month
The Barbie® Evolution!
It was pretty big news seven
years ago when on March 9th, Barbie having long since achieved
a cultural icon status, had now also reached a golden age
as well (Barbie: The Big Five-O! MARCH,
2009 MUSE-LETTER). But
the announcement this past January 28th was even more newsworthy.
Seemingly all the major media outlets covered it. And it certainly
captured the attention in particular, of those of us who are
or were, parents of an adolescent girl.
Beginning on that date and
now running throughout the year, Mattel brings us what they
call an “Evolution”; a Barbie that comes in “7
skin tones, 22 eye colors, 24 hairstyles,” and most
importantly (drum roll), 3 new body types—“Curvy,
Tall and Petite.” Though be assured, that that original
blond haired, blue-eyed and excessively lean version of her,
Oh, that original. And with that body. Impossibly
proportioned—a lack of hips that have launched a thousand
quips— it has generated a good deal of discourse over
the years regarding its possible negative impact.
“One of the most common criticisms
of Barbie is that she promotes an unrealistic idea of
body image for a young woman, leading to a risk that girls
who attempt to emulate her will become anorexic.
A standard Barbie doll is 11.5 inches
tall, giving a height of 5 feet 9 inches at 1/6 scale,
Barbie's vital statistics have been estimated at 36 inches
(chest), 18 inches (waist) and 33 inches (hips). According
to research by the University Central Hospital in Helsinki,
Finland, she would lack the 17 to 22 percent body fat
required for a woman to menstruate.”
Laforest, Lifestyle, Feb. 2, 2016)
Don’t they have more pressing matters
to deal with in Helsinki hospitals? Makes one wonder about
the healthcare priorities in Nordic countries, that we hear
so highly touted.
Of course Mattel didn’t help matters in creating a rather
shallow image for Barbie in her formative years. In their
Slumber Party Barbie in 1965 came a book entitled,
How to Lose Weight which advised: "Don't eat."
The doll also came with a pink bathroom scale reading 110
lbs., which would be around 35 lbs. underweight for a woman
5 feet 9 inches tall.
They tried to rectify the situation a bit
in 1997 when the body mold was redesigned and given a slightly
wider waist. Not for body image reasons, but rather, “this
would make the doll better suited to contemporary fashion
As clothes have been said to make the man,
so too they have made Barbie. It has always been about the
clothes and accessories that sought to position her as a role
model for aspirational little girls. And along with that,
came humongous sales. And now as she undergoes this evolution,
it too is driven by something less than nurturing impulses—sharply
declining sales. The doll apparently had come upon some hard
times on the bottom line.
In actuality, I’ve never heard of one
instance in which a young girl, distraught over her body image
vis-à-vis that of Barbie’s unattainable dimensions,
had her entire life screwed up. Or worse, ended her life.
Surly such a horror would have been reported in the New
York Post. And most likely on the front page.
ever the concerned parent, whose child-rearing sensibilities
I always felt were beyond reproach, I wondered if I might
have been remiss in this matter after all? In light of this
Barbie Evolution, it gave pause: Did I, despite the best of
intentions, do damage to my daughter’s self-esteem?
And even though she has long since reached adulthood, I bought
her a Barbie Statue of Liberty as recently as a year
or so ago; a collectable reminder of her childhood days. But
maybe not a good idea?
It never bothered me that I could never have
the body of Superman, who I looked up to as a boy, so to speak.
And that I could never meet and one day marry Lois Lane (I’d
give up my identity for that). And if I had seen a Ken doll
or G.I. Joe action figure in my formative years, I don’t
think I would have been thrown by the fact that neither of
them has a penis. But I’m a guy.
Do guys really care about body image? All sweaty grunting
in gyms on demonic equipment aside? Well maybe about the penis,
but at heart, we all think we look pretty terrific. Regardless
of what a mirror might be playing back to us.
Anyway, I had to call my daughter. I had to
finally get her thoughts on Barbie. To hell with Helsinki
and their scary research, let me hear it from the horse’s
mouth. And in summary, here is what she had to say (along
with a plug from a proud father for her blog www.apocalypstick.com):
“I loved them…dressing them
up…made up stories…”
“I understand the implications but
it’s overblown…I never really looked at the
doll and felt bad about my own self-esteem, never correlated
it to my body…if anything, I wanted to be tall.”
“It got me interested in fashion.”
“Never really looked at her eye
color or hair…though I could understand that for
a black girl that could be different…”
“It’s a doll. No one looks
at G.I. Joe and thinks, oh we’re really perpetuating
a macho image for boys…”
“Cool that they’ve given her
a new body type…but didn’t think, oh finally…”
A polling of one, in this year of polls. But
conclusive as far as I’m concerned.
As for Barbie in all these new iterations,
I guess it’s much hairdo about something. I’ll
give them that. And if the world is ready for a box of 152
Crayolas and adults in a coloring frenzy, as I noted last
month, then surly it is ready for a Barbie Evolution. Though
as for a Bernie Revolution, that remains to be seen (I couldn’t
Quote of the Month
we know you’re great,
we just don’t know if you’re any good.”
Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen