I live in California. Effectively, I don't get to vote for President.
January 11, 2016
The United States has one of the more ridiculous systems in the world for selecting a chief executive, at least, firstly, in terms of sheer length. At the time of the writing of this article, it's been about 9 1/2 months since Ted Cruz announced the beginning of his campaign for US President, and we still haven't had the first primary caucus or election.
And the primary season is one major problem with US elections. Iowa and New Hampshire are exalted by virtue of their first-in-the-country status (despite, notably, Iowa's poor track record of actually voting for the eventual nominee), ensuring that voters in most states won't even have the choice beyond the few candidates deemed still "viable" after the first couple of contests are over; in many primary seasons, "Super Tuesday" may all but end the nominating process, should a single candidate establish a dominant record of wins in early states.
California is the last state (together with Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota, and North Dakota Democrats) to vote in the primary season this year (June 7). It seems at this point, given current polling, that the Democratic primary season is unlikely to take that long to resolve (unless a particularly strong showing by Bernie over Hillary in early primaries successfully upends, yet does not reverse, her currently-large national lead); even the much messier Republican primary is likely to begin clarifying as the field winnows down to even three or four candidates.
So despite all the interest in the primary season, from a voting standpoint, Californians have little skin in the game; having the right to vote in an election that's already over isn't much of a right at all.
The general election, of course, is even worse. Technically, of course, almost no one actually votes for President - only the electors of the Electoral College do that. Putting aside who actually casts votes, California's electoral votes are practically guaranteed for the Democratic nominee (more to the point, if California is significantly close to tipping its electoral votes into the Republican column, the national election is almost certainly already a Republican victory in a landslide).
This point is no news to anyone who's actually paid attention to US Presidential races: it's one of the reasons why national coverage of the election focuses so much attention upon "swing states," i.e. states which are closely matched in numbers of active Republican and Democratic voters, and which can and have switched between parties in the Electoral College (or are at least forecast to be closely competitive this year). In the general election, effectively, only this handful of states wields significant votes. Most of the rest of us have already been colored in red or blue on the Electoral College map - the only one that matters when it comes to who actually becomes President, no matter how many times the media breathlessly reports on "national polling numbers." (See, for example, 270 To Win.)
The problem with this system - both in the primary and general elections - is that it further increases the role of fundraising money in politics. If my vote, as a Californian, is effectively useless in either election when it comes to President, then one of the ways left to me to make a difference is to "pay to play," by contributing to a political campaign (or party or PAC or....). It's not the ONLY way that I can contribute - I can use social media activism or directly volunteer with a political campaign, which can make a difference - but insofar as they impact earlier-state primaries and/or swing-state voters (i.e. no one who lives in California).
We only encourage political apathy when we have a year-and-a-half long campaign, with nonstop media bombardment coverage, much less one in which large swaths of voters are effectively disenfranchised. It has been suggested that a more direct "popular vote" national election (in either the primaries or the general election) would pose a money problem, given that candidates would have to effectively campaign everywhere at once -- but with an election (and debate season) this long, how is there not already sufficient information available to voters nationwide to have an actual national popular-vote election?
I can express my opinions - to my elected representatives and publicly online. I follow the news (media, social media, blogs, and statistics and polls), candidates' positions, debates, the actions of Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court - at least, insofar as I can, since it's not my paying job to do so. I even do research on issues to learn actual facts about those issues, to more effectively understand and advocate for/against certain policies.
And I'm a registered voter in good standing.
But at the end of the day, I don't, really, get to vote for President.
And I won't, until and unless I move to Iowa, or Ohio, or some state that is important enough to matter, or until we change the way we elect the President of the United States.