The Final Week

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

11/1/2012 9:43:00 AM - Jackie Gingrich Cushman

No doubt there are thousands, possibly even millions of people like me who are glad that the election season is (more than likely, barring recounts) coming to an end. In less than a week, we will know the outcome of the presidential election (again, barring recounts).

As a lifelong campaign participant (my campaign experience started at 7 years of age), I know that campaigns are more than just raising money, producing ads, going to parades and participating in debates. They are the lifeblood of our country.

Elections are the process by which our government remains the government of the people, by the people, for the people. They are the opportunities that citizens have to participate in our process by picking the people who will represent them in local, state and national government.

It is important for us to remember that we have this opportunity only because our founding fathers fought for and won our independence and then created a structure of government that would allow us to overthrow the government peacefully if we so desired. Other nations have to gather arms and rise in rebellion, risking their lives, to pick a new leader. For us, this was done generations ago, so that we can overthrow our government peacefully today if we so choose.

This right exists not only nationally, but throughout all 50 states and thousands of communities in our nation. While the focus of the news is on the presidential election, thousands of other elections will be decided on Nov. 6.

All 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for election. In the Senate, 33 of the 100 seats are up for election. According to the Ballotpedia website, "176 ballot questions, 94 state executive positions and 6,015 state legislative seats" will also be determined next week. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of local elections will pick sheriffs, commissioners, mayors and local judges.

Our nation is stronger because of citizen participation: citizens running for office; citizens voting for their candidates or issues of choice.

Those citizens who exercise their right and live up to their responsibility to vote will decide the winners in all of these races. However, our Constitution delineates a process for the election of our president and vice president that is based not on popular vote. Instead, the winners are determined by the Electoral College. If a candidate gets more than half of the votes in the Electoral College (the magic 270 out of 538), then he wins the election.

This means that it is possible for a candidate to lose the popular vote but win the 270.

In 2000, Republican nominee George W. Bush won the Electoral College, while Democratic nominee Al Gore won the popular vote nationwide. (If only he had won his home state of Tennessee, Gore would have won the Electoral College.)

This had happened twice before (Electoral College majority, loss in popular vote).

Rutherford B. Hayes won the Electoral College in 1876, while Samuel Tilden won the popular vote. Benjamin Harrison won the Electoral College in 1888 against incumbent President Grover Cleveland, who won the popular vote. Four years later, voters returned Cleveland to the White House, making him the only president to serve nonconsecutive terms.

If there is no majority in the Electoral College (no one gets to 270), then the presidential election is decided by the House of Representatives. This has happened once before in our nation's history, when John Quincy Adams was elected on Feb. 9, 1825.

Andrew Jackson had won a plurality of both the popular vote and the Electoral College, but not the majority of the Electoral College. This meant the House of Representatives would elect the president from the top three candidates. Speaker of the House Henry Clay was no a fan of Jackson and threw his support behind Adams on the first ballot.

While our system might not be perfect, it does allow for citizens to participate in the election of our public officials. To me, it is always exciting to watch the participatory process. Instead of using guns and bombs, we are able to influence our future by voting.

While the outcome is important, so is the process. The process of active citizen participation is the foundation of our country. It is a reminder that we are a nation where the government is of the people, by the people, for the people. Go vote -- and take a friend with you.