1) “The Truth About the Electoral College” (below) is an animation written by me, produced by Chris Bonner, and drawn and animated by Sarah Berland (née Bereczki). It’s a satire of the Schoolhouse Rock style, with a lot more swear words. We made it in the first half of 2000.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
It’s a cranky, badly compressed animation that, amazingly, still works—although the pause button is broken, so it just hurtles ahead whether you like it or not. (Kind of like our worse-than-winner-take-all system of electing the president!)
2) This originally ran as part of an online series of funny/informative content thingies called “The Truth About”; the series was published on a website that ceased to exist not long after this first ran. I re-posted it here on my website right after the 2000 presidential election, but before the disastrous Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision. As of September 2016, I’m going to leave that post with its original pub date as-is, but I’m going to add this updated post with some additional details as well.
Namely, I’m adding the Creative Commons license, in case someone out there wants to take on the challenge of redoing/remaking this into something less technologically cranky and more fresh and exciting! As of 2016, the fate of the whole world rests in the hands of the American electorate. I’m hoping a better understanding of the Electoral College will encourage everyone to vote—and encourage everyone not to throw away their vote in a worse-than-useless protest.
3) As I’m hoping everyone reading this already knows, Al Gore won the presidential election with a margin of something like half a million votes. But he lost because of some combination of protest votes for Ralph Nader, a few hundred votes in Florida, right-wing Astroturf activists on the ground, a 5-4 decision in Bush v. Gore (that basically said that the legitimacy of a Bush presidency would be compromised by a total and indisputable Gore victory), and—more than anything, really—the structural awfulness that is the Electoral College.
(Yes, I know: Gore lost Tennessee. To which I say: Half! A! Million! Votes!)
If you want to know more, read The Electoral College Primer 2000. It hasn’t been updated in sixteen years (and, obviously, neither has the Electoral College), but it’s maddeningly and terrifyingly prescient. I haven’t found a better introduction to the subject. Let me know if you have.
4) For anyone interested in taking advantage of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license in the next six weeks, here’s “The Truth About the Electoral College” script. I’ve tried to update what we originally wrote to be a closer approximation of what we ended up recording. Apologies for any errors here; I’ll probably keep refining this after posting:
Kid: Extree, extree! Senator Brayin Jackass elected president! Senator Jackass is the new president of the United States!
Dr. E.: Well, he won the popular vote, but he hasn’t been elected president yet. When your mommy voted yesterday, she didn’t vote for president! Her vote goes to a group of people called the Electoral College. And they’re the ones that will decide who becomes president.
Kid: But—I thought America was a representative democracy, where the people elect the president.
Dr. E.: Jesus Christ, kid, are you high on crack?! Our Founding Fathers took great pains to make sure that the people would never elect the president directly!
(sung) Many many many many years ago
It was seventeen eighty-seven or so—
If my drug-hazed high school memories serve me right
The summer in Philly was hot and sticky
Our Founding Fathers were crabby and picky
And yet they hadn’t even begun to fight!
They almost had the Constitution done,
‘cept how to pick their number one,
The top-dog-cheese, the boss-mac-daddy-prince
And whaddaya know? Hey, look! A big surprise,
They settled on a crippling compromise,
And we’ve barely dodged the fallout ever since!
(spoken) You see, the first major fuckup was in article II of the Constitution. Article II goes like this: Each state shall appoint a certain number of people called “electors.” And then when people vote, their votes don’t go to the presidential candidates. The votes go to the electors. And all of the electors, called the Electoral College, vote for president.
Kid: Who are these electors, anyway?
Dr. E.: (sung) The electors were supposed to be good and wise
Like your favorite uncle in disguise
But then the whole thing went from bad to worse
Americans are supposed to vote for themselves
Not for a college of electoral elves
And that’s when they should have sent it off in a hearse!
But instead of putting it in the ground
They just fiddled and tweaked it all around
And it looms over the country like a ticking, time-bomb curse
(spoken) They wrote and ratified a whole bunch of amendments to the Constitution, which go something like this: The Electoral College elects the president, but only if the leading candidate has a majority. If there’s not a majority, the Electoral College goes home, and the House of Representatives elects the president.
Kid: A deadlock gets thrown into the House of Representatives?
Dr. E.: That’s right! It’s only happened twice, but sometimes people have tried to force it to happen, like Strom Thurmond in ’48, or George Wallace in ’68.
Kid: Why would they do that?
Dr. E.: Because they hated black people! And when the American public didn’t agree with them, they were hoping that maybe their buddies in Congress would.
Kid: Oh, I get it.
Dr. E.: But check this out! It gets worse!
(sung) If the house of reps can’t make up its mind
We’d all wake up the next morning to find
The speaker of the house becomes our president.
Kid: Goddamn it! Can I say fuck again?
Dr. E.: Sure, kid. I think you’d be justified.
Kid: Fuck! Fucky fuck fuck fuck! Fuckity fuck fuck fuck!
Dr. E.: Okay, potty-mouth, I’m gonna finish my song now.
(sung) So in 1996, in the final week,
If Ross Perot hadn’t been such a freak,
We could have had President Gingrich standing tall!
And if that ever happens, we’re out of luck—
It just goes to show how deeply fucked
Things can be in a country where the Founding Fathers didn’t trust the American people at all.
5) Part of the original script that didn’t quite make it into the final:
Jefferson thought it was good as dead
“A blight on the Constitution,” he said,
“And one which some unlucky chance will someday hit.”
But instead of putting it in the ground,
They just fiddled and tweaked it all around,
So there’s a chance the fan might someday meet the shit.
6) Something that seems like it might possibly be a story for journalists: the co-author of The Electoral College Primer 2000, Lawrence Longley—”best known for his expertise and authoritative knowledge of the Electoral College, which he believed was a fatally flawed institution that should be abolished”—died in March 2002. Which means he lived long enough to see the Bush v. Gore decision, the 9/11 attacks, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the long march to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. How did he feel about all these things? Did he want his book to live on, maybe finally causing enough sustained outrage to accomplish its ultimate goal of the direct election of the president, or something closer to it than we have now?
7) Vote, everyone! Vote! Civilization and life on earth depend on it.