In my high school Government class, my teacher, Mr. Craft, had us do this wonderful experiment to help us understand how a President is elected in the United States of America. I learned something valuable in the week long experiment, not just about how a President is elected, I learned something valuable about myself. Here is how the experiment went…
First Mr. Craft selected two students to be our Presidential candidates. Next he asked for 7 volunteers to head up their own state. I wanted to head up my own state so I volunteered. Next he told us how many votes or delegates our state got. Turns out I was assigned a really small state and I had exactly 3 votes. Everyone else had 12 or more! Bummer. Some even had like 54 votes! The rest of the students in the class (21 or so) were divvied up according to percentage so the state with 54 votes got like 8 students, and the state with 12 votes got 2, and I got exactly none. All alone in my little state.
I was given information on my state like population, main source of income, main contribution to the country, etc. And my dossier also told me what was of most concern to the people of my state. I was instructed to determine which candidate would best satisfy the needs of my state and, when the time came, to cast my vote for that candidate.
Each Presidential candidate was given a platform and told they had to convince each state head to cast their electoral votes in their favor. Meetings were to be arranged between the candidates and state heads during the week, and the candidates had to convince everyone from each state to cast their votes for them.
So our teacher turned us loose to have our meetings and see what would happen. Which state heads do you think the candidates wanted to arrange a meeting with first? Not me with my 3 electoral votes. Nope. The bigger states. I tried to get a meeting and both candidates ignored me. 3 votes. Pfft. I was of no concern to them. For a couple of days I watched because it’s all I could do. And I saw some interesting things.
First, I saw the Presidential candidates each making promises to the bigger states. And I saw the state heads all bargaining with each other, trying to arrange alliances with each other. I saw deals being brokered and the same promise given to competing states. I even got wind of students using real money to bribe people for votes. Did I mention that whoever won the election got an “A” on this important project and the loser got a “B?” So there were real stakes in play. But did the candidates ask me who I was going to vote for? Nope. Totally ignored. For days.
On Thursday during that week we had our big presidential debate. I admired the two students who took part as Presidential candidates because it wasn’t easy. Each state head got to ask questions and the candidates had to answer based on their platform and position on the issues. The bigger states were allotted more questions too! So unfair. I got one question. In my dossier it said that my state’s biggest need was a decrease in the unemployment rate. So I asked the candidates what they planned to do to increase employment in my state. They both told me that the country had bigger concerns than just my little state, but assured me that what was best for the country would be good for my little state too. Fine, whatever. I basically got the brush off. I don’t even think they knew the name of my state. I complained to Mr. Craft that the candidates were ignoring me and he told me that was their choice but to simply consider which candidate would be best for my state.
On Friday we had the big vote. Both candidates were fawning all over the state heads, except me of course. Still being ignored. Each state had an internal election where all the students in the group voted for their candidate in secret. After everyone voted Mr. Craft asked each state head to stand up and reveal their vote. A tally was made on a big poster board. I’m sure you can see where this is going. Somehow, someway, the vote was exactly tied by the time they got to me. Yep, that’s right. Little old me, with just 3 electoral votes was in the position to cast the deciding vote. Who was going to get my vote? Who was going to win the election and get an “A” on their project? Who was going to beat me up after class for not voting for them?
The air was still. I realized what kind of power I held, and I decided to wield it for my little state. I finally understood the point of the exercise that had previously bored me. Every vote counts. Every state matters. Everyone’s needs are important and should be addressed, because you never know who is in position to cast that deciding vote. So I looked both candidates in the eye and said, “Neither one of you bothered to meet with me to discuss my states’ needs.” Mr. Craft raised a knowing eyebrow at both candidates who looked sheepish and a little desperate. “Neither one of you thought my state mattered, did you?” Again they looked at me pleadingly. Mr. Craft said to the candidates, “Would either one of you like to meet with her now?” They both jumped at the chance. He said, “I know that neither one of you bothered to meet with her during the week. So for her sake, and to make this really interesting, I’m going to give you both 5 minutes alone with her.” He sent us to another room. I didn’t know if the candidates would try to bribe me or threaten to beat me up, so I was a little nervous when I left the room with them.
Once inside the room the first candidate told me he would give me $20 if I voted for him. Oh. What happened to the issues, I wondered? He said he really needed an “A” and that’s why he volunteered to be one of the candidates. Ah, I see. He begged me for my vote and I told him I had to meet with the other candidate. He grudgingly left the room. The next candidate came in and said, “Tell me about your state and what it needs and I’ll see what I can promise you.” Wow. Staying in character all the way. I liked that. I told him what my state needed, and he looked at his platform list and said he thought that helping my state was in alignment with his stand on the issues and asked me for my vote. I told him he would find out back in the room.
We went back to the room. Who would I vote for? Who would you have voted for?
Mr. Craft called on me to give my vote. Everyone stared at me with hopeful eyes. I cast my vote for the second candidate I met with, the one that stayed in character and didn’t try to bribe me, who listened to my state’s concerns. Half the class cheered, and half the class cast me threatening glances. I walked with friends to my car that day I can tell you!
Why did I vote for the second guy when in the real world I would have gotten personal gain from the other guy? I respect integrity. And I didn’t need the money. If he would have bothered to find out what I really wanted instead of assuming I could be bought then maybe it would have turned out differently, but he only cared about getting something for himself. The second candidate wanted to do a good job with the role he was playing and his grade, though important, was something he wanted to earn on merit.
It was a fascinating social experiment. I saw corruption, bribes, sordid arrangements, and people handing out false promises to each other. It was so seedy and dirty. I’m glad things turned out the way they did because it let me see a side of myself I’d never seen before. You never know when you’re going to be handed power on a silver platter. It’s wise to know in advance how you’ll handle it.
What do you think you would have done if you were in my position? What would you do today if you found yourself in a similar situation for real?