Tight election shows danger of multiplied stupidity at the polls

Forum editor Jonathan Katz is a Weinberg junior. He can be reached at [email protected].

This is the most exciting presidential election in American history. The fact that I can write about it in the present tense for Friday’s newspaper is proof. It’s better than Tilden-Hayes in 1876, Kennedy-Nixon 1960 and probably even Lincoln-Douglas-Bell-Breckenridge in 1860. And it kicks the living crap out of any of those barnburners today’s college students have had to live through — no thanks to the crack campaign staffs of Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and Bob “Erectile Disfunction and Lovin’ It” Dole.

And so, prompted by the unexpected influx of actual hard news from an American presidential election, television producers and newspaper editors around the nation are dedicating every waking moment of their staffs’ lives to gathering, regathering, dissecting and reassembling every crumb of insight that might tell us why this year’s race is so darn close.

But undertaking this search admits an interestingly baseless premise: Something rational is behind this electoral mess. It implies that voters knew what they were doing at the polls, that even if they weren’t making a spontaneous or thoughtful decision, that they had been duped enough by one or two campaigns to boldly cast a vote for a particular candidate.

Now you might say this is ridiculous. That it doesn’t matter that we live in a nation where 3,000 elderly Palm Beach residents got flustered in the voting booth and sent a clear message to Washington that their heavily Jewish, liberal county demanded an antisemitic, isolationist yutz to represent them. That while Americans on the whole might not be the coldest beers in the fridge, a grand-scale of individually random decisions cannot only show a societal trend but actually issue an executive mandate to the wealthy scion of a political dynasty.

But let’s look at what we know. We know that, in this system, an individual’s vote largely has no impact on the election. Hell, when for the first time in 25 years a few dozen people actually will have a perceivable impact on a presidential race, it’s international news. Even if the suddenly massive opposition to the Electoral College succeeds in establishing the Founding Fathers’ worst nightmare — a nationwide majoritarian democracy — the odds of your vote being part of a 50.00001 percent majority still would fall under the general category of “not good.”

We also know that a million votes certainly do have an impact on the election. A lot of people take that to mean that an individual’s snap judgment can become important once it’s part of a great societal thrust.

It might, but there’s another, better, possibility: That one uninformed, accidental vote multiplied by a few million equals a few million uninformed, accidental votes.

I stood inside a booth Tuesday, and even with a college education, slightly informed opinions, test-taking experience and well-corrected eyesight, I felt flustered and confused. All these months of decision-making came down to punching a dull needle through a piece of cardboard, and, frankly, I came very close to messing up. Even now, I’m not confident that I punched the right hole, much less made the right choice.

It seems to me that the “will of the people” means precious little at its heart.

Maybe that’s how it should be, lest we try to reevaluate our national philosophy every four years knowing full well how ephemeral our decisions will be. And, after all, the more than half of all Americans who didn’t even try to have a say in this contest will have to live with the result as well.

It might be a testament to the all but identical nature of the two major candidates or the inevitability with which they waltzed onto the national stage that America is deadlocked over its choice of leader.

But honestly, it’s probably just a case of dumb luck.