Online Essay Competition 2012 Electoral Votes


It’s the big day! 

Time to vote for your favorite entry in the Stratejoy Essay Contest. The lucky finalist with the most votes at the end of the three days will receive the $500 prize money. Woo hoo!

Below, you’ll find links to all of the essays, just in case you want to catch up on any that you missed. Once you’re ready to cast your vote, click below!  Voting will be open until 5 pm PST/ 8 pm EST Friday, March 2nd and we’ll announce the winner on Monday, March 5th.




Essay Finalist #1: Jesse Blayne 

From the outside, my life looked charmed.  I’d been married ten years to the owner of a successful business. We had a nice home, decent cars and extra money for planting perennials in the Spring and skiing in the winter. Weeks piled up like so many empty Pepcid boxes. I’d take a Pepcid on my way to bed, one in the morning and another before dinner. If I had been a hoarder, we’d have side-stepped past mountainous piles of empty Pepcid boxes.  (read more of Jesse’s Essay!)


Essay Finalist #2: Hilary Jarman 

It is unfair to say I am fashionable. I am not quite fashionably illiterate, but even that is up for interpretation considering I was a late-adopter of skinny jeans and I still can’t get myself to buy a pair of wide-legged pants or a floppy hat. I did have my moment of knowing and following the fashion of the time: In kindergarten, my ever well-intentioned parents supplied me with a Little Mermaid backpack; the ultimate in five-year old couture.  (read more of Hilary’s Essay!)


Essay Finalist #3: Brandy 

I stopped at red lights. I took a multivitamin each night after flossing. I retweeted important pleas and drank 8 cups of water each day. I got up when my alarm went off and began teaching when the bell went. I smiled when strangers smiled and laughed when others laughed . I did not make waves, I did not cause ripples. I followed all the rules. Except the one called “Do not consider suicide as your rescue boat.” No, that rule I wanted to break. I wanted to break it badly. (read more of Brandy’s Essay!)


Essay Finalist #4: Sara Fry

In middle school, a teacher once told the class to alwys question authority. It had never occurred to me not to. At the ripe(er) age of 27, I no longer fit the string-bean description. My hair has turned the color of dark honey and I have developed a decidedly better fashion sense. Luckily, I’ve kept the same inquisitive nature – only now when I ask, “Who says?” it’s to myself. (read more of Sara’s Essay!)


Essay Finalist #5: Eleni Zoe

“How do you feel about the care you received?” she asked. After a week of having tubes stuffed down my nose and into my esophagus, pumping chalky paste into my gut, I’d been released from hospital with a diagnosis of a chronic illness. I reckoned that it might be a good idea to keep my weekly session with my therapist. After all, I wanted to talk about the boy stuff that had happened before I landed up in the ER. (read more of Eleni’s Essay!)


Essay Finalist #6: Kate Lamie

Let’s start with the terms I’d use to describe the way I lived life before my quarterlife liberation shake down: Drained (emotionally, physically, and spiritually). Anxious (tight chest, racing heart stuff). Risk averse(safe seemed simpler). Numb (unfortunately, no romantic stud can fix that one). Itchy (hives). Sleepy (insomnia). Then I committed to a total life overhaul – due in large part to some serious health issues cramping my style. (read more of Kate’s Essay!)


Essay Finalist #7: Becky Shaw

I’m walking in the opposite direction, not sure where I’m headed. It makes me nervous – scratch that. It makes me so uneasy a lot of the time I feel like I might throw up, but I also think I’m on the cusp of something great. I don’t know what it is, but I’m going to keep pushing myself until I’m so engulfed in the possibilities this path brings that they become my new normal.) (read more of Becky’s Essay!)


Essay Finalist #8: Janah Valenzuela

For me, living life by my own rules starts with understanding and respecting the way life works. Life is unpredictable. Life is routine and monotonous. Life is heartbreak, happiness and all the moments in between. Ultimately, life happens and unfolds in ways we will never be able to predict. So how do we live on our own terms with so little control?Here’s what I have found that works for me: accept, adapt and appreciate. (read more of Janah’s Essay!)

Essay Finalist #9: Janet Brent

I’m counting the change again, wondering how much I can spread $10 in one week, when I get my next paycheck from a client.I don’t worry, though. I’ve gone through this enough times, and in much worse circumstances that I no longer need to cry in fetal position, feeling sorry for myself that “I’m not good enough” (I am). Things will be okay. They always are. (read more of Janet’s Essay!)


Essay Finalist #10: Tiffany Moore

Let’s rewind to the time before I decided to live my life on my own terms. To the time when I let other people get me down. When I begrudged my own happiness and good cheer. When I let other things, other people’s standards, become my priorities. That’s right: I used to wish I could be less happy, that I smiled less. I thought that things would be easier if I was less happy. (read more of Tiffany’s Essay!)

Essay Finalist #11: Jennifer Winter

I sat on the edge of my bed and surveyed my handiwork. Somehow, I’d managed to pack an entire month’s worth of necessities into my sturdy camping pack. The first time I’d used this pack was for my first trip overseas with my ex boyfriend, and every trip for the next eight years after. Now, several months after that relationship had ended, I was venturing out without him. (read more of Jennifer’s Essay!)


Essay Finalist #12: Deanna Ogle

Steve and I had only been dating for two months when we decided to take this day trip to the D.I.A. Even in the infancy of our relationship I knew something about him was different but it wasn’t until that moment when I figured out what it was: he knew me. I was crazy about him. The time I spent with him was full of bliss.  I broke up with Steve in April. After much crying and talking he and I decided to not talk for the next month to clear our heads. (read more of Deana’s Essay!)


Essay Finalist #13: Christine Black

Trying to do and be everything can lead to being excellent at nothing, which I fell victim to quickly. A snap reality check came when a close friend told me that she thought we were losing touch because she felt like I had to fit her into my schedule. Was I really too busy for the people who I cared about, and who cared about me? (read more of Christine’s Essay!)


Essay Finalist #14: Nadine Karel

When I was a kid, I would ride my bike around the neighborhood for hours. I’d pedal in a great circle: down my street, through an alley, over the cracked sidewalk, past the pine trees, down a second alley, past my house, and then repeat the cycle over again. And again. And again. Sometimes I’d ride with other kids, but often I’d just go out alone. And I loved it. When I was alone on my bike, I would use the time to center myself. (read more of Nadine’s Essay!)

Essay Finalist #15: Ashley

I was living with my mom at the time and a difference in views had us in the worst disagreement of our 26 year relationship. My stomach was in knots and I was petrified I had an ulcer from the stress. As I lay in bed crying myself to sleep, I decided to move out knowing it wasn’t the “smartest” decision. I had mounds of student loan debt, making it nearly impossible for me to pay my own rent, but I knew I had to do this, for my health, for my sanity, and for myself. (read more of Ashley’s Essay!)


Essay Finalist #16: Monica McCarthy

I’ll start by saying you’re not going to like my answer. At least not at first glance. Because my experience with living life on my own terms has meant three things: Leaning into fear, Wanting more, and Being uncomfortable. I’m not a particularly brave person.But I’ve learned that leaning into fear is like breaking in a new pair of shiny shoes. At first it’s incredibly painful. But the more steps we take in them, the better they feel. (read more of Monica’s Essay!)

Essay Finalist #17: Maria Ross

In 2008, I was on fire. My husband and I had just moved to Seattle, made new friends, bought our first house, adopted a dog – and I decided to escape Corporate America and start my own consulting business. I foolishly  thought working for myself would give me oodles of time to write and act – two of my biggest passions. Life was crazy and hectic because I was trying to live all of my dreams – at the same time. (read more of Maria’s Essay!)


Essay Finalist #18: Shannon Curtin

I admit I am not the best decision maker. I spend way too much time debating what shampoo to buy. I agonize over what novel to read next. I sometimes ask the wait staff for “just a few minutes more, I swear!” But when something feels inherently right? I tend to leap first and look later. I trust that the net will appear; no matter if my leap is dropping a major in my junior year or agreeing to marry a man I’d met only eight months earlier. (read more of Shannon’s Essay!)


Essay Finalist #19: Shannon Whitehead

I’ve spent the majority of my life caring about what other people think. Like most of my friends, I began every year with a brand new wardrobe. My mom would take my sister and I shopping. When I wasn’t dressing for others, I was working towards my future, doing all of the things a college-bound sixth grader was supposed to do. After all, getting into a good school was the only way I would get a good career, marry a good man and live a good life. (read more of Shannon’s Essay!)


Essay Finalist #20: Deirdre Flynn

We were in lush northern Vermont. All 26 members of my family crammed into various bedrooms, nooks and crannies. One evening we squished into couches and floor space clutching music sheets. Our grandfather had asked my mom to find some of his favorite songs he had loved as a younger man on “The Inter. Net”. With voices joined together, my grandfather standing in front of us with the woman he had been with since he was 17; I realized this is truly what life is about. (read more of Deirdre’s Essay!)





Take Me Back/Next Article

The Electoral College is widely regarded as an anachronism, a nondemocratic method of selecting a president that ought to be superseded by declaring the candidate who receives the most popular votes the winner. The advocates of this position are correct in arguing that the Electoral College method is not democratic in a modern sense. The Constitution provides that “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” And it is the electors who elect the president, not the people. When you vote for a presidential candidate you’re actually voting for a slate of electors.

But each party selects a slate of electors trusted to vote for the party’s nominee (and that trust is rarely betrayed). Because virtually all states award all their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote in the state, and because the Electoral College weights the less populous states more heavily along the lines of the Senate (two Senators and two Electoral College votes for every state, and then more electoral votes added for each state based on population), it is entirely possible that the winner of the electoral vote will not win the national popular vote. Yet that has happened very rarely. It happened in 2000, when Gore had more popular votes than Bush yet fewer electoral votes, but that was the first time since 1888.

There are five reasons for retaining the Electoral College despite its lack of democratic pedigree; all are practical reasons, not liberal or conservative reasons.

A dispute over the outcome of an Electoral College vote is possible—it happened in 2000—but it’s less likely than a dispute over the popular vote. The reason is that the winning candidate’s share of the Electoral College invariably exceeds his share of the popular vote. In last week’s election, for example, Obama received 61.7 percent of the electoral vote compared to only 51.3 percent of the popular votes cast for him and Romney. (I ignore the scattering of votes not counted for either candidate.) Because almost all states award electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis, even a very slight plurality in a state creates a landslide electoral-vote victory in that state. A tie in the nationwide electoral vote is possible because the total number of votes—538—is an even number, but it is highly unlikely.*

Of course a tie in the number of popular votes in a national election in which tens of millions of votes are cast is even more unlikely. But if the difference in the popular vote is small, then if the winner of the popular vote were deemed the winner of the presidential election, candidates would have an incentive to seek a recount in any state (plus the District of Columbia) in which they thought the recount would give them more additional votes than their opponent. The lawyers would go to work in state after state to have the votes recounted, and the result would be debilitating uncertainty, delay, and conflict—look at the turmoil that a dispute limited to one state, Florida, engendered in 2000.*

2) Everyone’s President

The Electoral College requires a presidential candidate to have transregional appeal. No region (South, Northeast, etc.) has enough electoral votes to elect a president. So a solid regional favorite, such as Romney was in the South, has no incentive to campaign heavily in those states, for he gains no electoral votes by increasing his plurality in states that he knows he will win. This is a desirable result because a candidate with only regional appeal is unlikely to be a successful president. The residents of the other regions are likely to feel disfranchised—to feel that their votes do not count, that the new president will have no regard for their interests, that he really isn’t their president.

The winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes induces the candidates—as we saw in last week’s election—to focus their campaign efforts on the toss-up states; that follows directly from the candidates’ lack of inducement to campaign in states they are sure to win. Voters in toss-up states are more likely to pay close attention to the campaign—to really listen to the competing candidates—knowing that they are going to decide the election. They are likely to be the most thoughtful voters, on average (and for the further reason that they will have received the most information and attention from the candidates), and the most thoughtful voters should be the ones to decide the election.

The Electoral College restores some of the weight in the political balance that large states (by population) lose by virtue of the mal-apportionment of the Senate decreed in the Constitution. This may seem paradoxical, given that electoral votes are weighted in favor of less populous states. Wyoming, the least populous state, contains only about one-sixth of 1 percent of the U.S. population, but its three electors (of whom two are awarded only because Wyoming has two senators like every other state) give it slightly more than one-half of 1 percent of total electoral votes. But winner-take-all makes a slight increase in the popular vote have a much bigger electoral-vote payoff in a large state than in a small one. The popular vote was very close in Florida; nevertheless Obama, who won that vote, got 29 electoral votes. A victory by the same margin in Wyoming would net the winner only 3 electoral votes. So, other things being equal, a large state gets more attention from presidential candidates in a campaign than a small states does. And since presidents and senators are often presidential candidates, large states are likely to get additional consideration in appropriations and appointments from presidents and senators before as well as during campaigns, offsetting to some extent the effects of the malapportioned Senate on the political influence of less populous states.

5) Avoid Run-Off Elections

The Electoral College avoids the problem of elections in which no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast. For example, Nixon in 1968 and Clinton in 1992 both had only a 43 percent plurality of the popular votes, while winning a majority in the Electoral College (301 and 370 electoral votes, respectively). There is pressure for run-off elections when no candidate wins a majority of the votes cast; that pressure, which would greatly complicate the presidential election process, is reduced by the Electoral College, which invariably produces a clear winner.

Against these reasons to retain the Electoral College the argument that it is undemocratic falls flat. No form of representative democracy, as distinct from direct democracy, is or aspires to be perfectly democratic. Certainly not our federal government. In the entire executive and judicial branches, only two officials are elected—the president and vice president. All the rest are appointed—federal Article III judges for life.

It can be argued that the Electoral College method of selecting the president may turn off potential voters for a candidate who has no hope of carrying their state—Democrats in Texas, for example, or Republicans in California. Knowing their vote will have no effect, they have less incentive to pay attention to the campaign than they would have if the president were picked by popular vote, for then the state of a voter’s residence would be irrelevant to the weight of his vote. But of course no voter’s vote swings a national election, and in spite of that, about one-half the eligible American population did vote in last week’s election. Voters in presidential elections are people who want to express a political preference rather than people who think that a single vote may decide an election. Even in one-sided states, there are plenty of votes in favor of the candidate who is sure not to carry the state. So I doubt that the Electoral College has much of a turn-off effect. And if it does, that is outweighed by the reasons for retaining this seemingly archaic institution.

Correction, Nov. 13, 2012: This piece incorrectly stated that a tie occurred in the Electoral College in 1824. (Return to the corrected sentence.) It also misstated the situation in which candidates would have an incentive to seek a recount if the winner were determined by the popular vote. (Return to the corrected sentence.) Thanks to Texas State Representative Scott Hochberg and Barnard professor Scott Minkoff for the corrections.

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