If you live in Iowa you haven’t missed that 2012 is a Presidential election year. Living History Farms was honored to welcome President Obama in September. We are commonly referred to as a swing state, and we traditionally hold the first caucus in the nation. Therefore, we have been inundated with election information since that caucus, January 3rd of this year. It is interesting to live in a place where voting and the election is so frequently discussed. It affords us the chance to learn a lot about the electoral process. As the Electoral College was set up in the Constitution, it varies little from the system U.S. citizens were using to elect President William McKinley and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt in 1900. Last summer we profiled the election of 1900 when we named our calves McKinley and Teddy. Click Here if you want to read more.
As a point of interest, you can visit the National Archives and Records Administration to find out the results of every Presidential Election since 1789. This information is disseminated from that site. In 1900, 447 electoral college votes were up for grabs (this year there will be 538). The number of votes is distributed according to the number of representatives and senators in a particular state. For example, Iowa has 6 votes this year, though as a “swing state” sometimes it seems like we have more. At one time we did.
In 1900, Iowa had 13 electoral votes, just 2 behind Texas (which today boasts 38). California’s 55 votes are the most of the 2012 electoral college, yet in 1900 they were voting with only 9 electoral votes, less than Iowa! New York and Pennsylvania held sway in 1900 with 36 and 32 votes respectfully, yet neighboring Illinois was also important with their 24 votes. In order to win the election in 2012, a candidate needs 270, or a majority of the 538. In 1900, McKinley and Teddy wound up with 292. Iowa’s 13 went to them.
During an election year the electoral college comes under scrutiny, as with this system it is possible to win the popular vote and yet lose the election. This happened when Rutherford Hayes became President in 1876, losing the popular vote by 254,235 but winning the electoral vote by 1. This happened again in 1888, with a much smaller margin, and most recently in 2000. Al Gore, Jr. won the popular vote by over 540,000 votes, but George W. Bush earned 271 electoral votes to Gore’s 266, thereby making him the new President.
In 1900, the electoral college vote followed the popular vote. McKinley had 7,218,039 votes cast for him while his opponent William Jennings Bryan had 6,358,345. Note that the two figures together represent the majority of voters in 1900, a total of 13,576,384. In the last Presidential Election (2008) there were a total of 131,032,799. With a difference of nearly 117,500,000 votes it’s a really good thing that technology has aided the election process. That would be a lot of votes to count by hand!
The results of the the 2012 election are still uncertain. They will be decided by American voters shortly and perhaps us Iowans can get back to regular commercials instead of campaign spots. But no matter what the results, I will exercise my right as a citizen to cast my ballot, just like the Iowans in 1900. Though we no longer support the population required for 13 electoral votes, our 6 are just as important.