Tuesday evening started out as every other Tuesday does. I went to my three classes and then stopped by the Guardian to see how everything was looking. Everything after that point, however, was far from ordinary. I am sure by this point everybody has been informed about what transpired on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. What isn’t as well known is the ramifications of the events.
When looked at in retrospect, Nov. 7 raised two very poignant questions that will have to be answered before the next presidential election.
First of all, there is the question of the media’s erroneous reporting. I have had a few quarters of statistics and econometrics, so I understand how the media use samples to predict the winner in specific states. If the sample is large enough, it is possible to run studies where you can be all but sure about the overall results. This is not what I have a problem with.
The problem I have is how they factor in previous results into their prognostication. In a nutshell, what they are doing is using previous results and comparing them to the results that they get from their exit polls, and making a prediction based on those numbers. Theoretically, this would be a good practice, but the problem is that populations in certain areas change drastically between elections.
Take Florida, the primary contentious state for this election, for example. Florida’s population is growing at one of the fastest rates of any state in the union. Also, the makeup of the different counties in Florida has been altered greatly of late. This caused the media a great many problems because they assumed that they were polling a representative sample of last election’s voting population in each county of Florida. This turned out to be far from true, and the inaccuracy of their polls caused them to call Florida for Vice President Al Gore way before they should have.
This problem only caused confusion among the American population and may have changed the voting patterns of people in states other than Florida. I figured the race was over when Florida was given to Gore, and if I hadn’t already voted I may have decided to stay home rather then waste my time on a hopeless cause. If there were enough people like me in the Western states, this mistake by the media may have altered the results of the election.
Even though this mistake seems extraordinarily unprofessional and damaging to the electoral process, the media made another mistake Tuesday night that may have been even more damaging.
The media is not allowed to announce their predictions for a particular state before all the polls in that state are closed. Florida was announced for Gore after most of the state’s polls were closed, however there was a section that was still accepting votes. The panhandle of Florida is in the Central time zone, and its polls closed an hour after the majority of Florida’s polls. As a result, prospective voters in Florida’s panhandle region saw that Florida had gone to Gore, and consequently, many of the voters that were going to vote for Bush may have stayed home rather than voting.
Therefore, as a result of the media’s wrongful announcements, the legitimacy of Florida’s vote count may have been jeopardized. CNN and NBC had better hope Bush wins, or they may have serious lawsuits on their hands.
The other problem that was revealed by the events of election 2000 revolves around the possible discrepancy between the popular vote and the electoral vote counts. Although it isn’t a sure thing yet, it appears as though Bush is going to win the electoral vote and the election, while losing the popular vote to Gore. Although reports that this will cause upheaval throughout the nation and lock the president-elect in endless red tape are erroneous, this discrepancy does beg the question of whether the electoral college is consistent with democratic ideals.
How can the will of the people be thwarted in this way? How can the majority of the people vote for one candidate while another one is chosen? The answer to these questions is simple: This is our system.
It was originally set up because a national election was not feasible in the 18th and early 19th centuries, so people voted for a delegate and that delegate voted for the president. Many people argue that with the Internet and altogether improved communications networks, a popular vote would be optimum. The 2000 election has affirmed that belief for many people.
The problem is that the electoral college now functions to protect the rights of smaller states. Alaska and South Dakota would never receive any concessions in a popular vote because of their relatively small populations. But because they each have three electoral votes, which are actually much more than representative of their population relative to the rest of the country, they are visited by the candidates and given promises if they elect that candidate.
When this is considered, a switch to a pure popular vote may not be the best path for the entire country. What should be done? Got me! All I know is that we are now aware of the problem and can no longer consider these problems hypothetical and ignore them. This election has made them all too real and put them in the forefront of our minds.
Something must be done about the media and the issue of the electoral college must be addressed before the next election so these problems don’t manifest themselves again.