I recently dreamed I was visited by an alien from another planet. My dream was so vivid I wanted to get the details of our conversation written down while they were still fresh in my mind.
My alien friend was pleasant and curious about how we organized ourselves here on earth in hopes his planet could learn from us. I explained that there were many “countries” on our planet, how I was citizen of one of the largest ones, and how our country was organized. The conversation proceeded from there….
“So is your country ruled by a king who has great power?” he asked. “No”, I said. “We elect a President who serves a four year term. And although people in our country get very emotional about who the President is, the position is not as powerful as many of us would like to believe.”
“Interesting”, said my friend. “What do you mean by ‘elect’?”
“Well, eligible citizens can cast a vote for who they want to be President”. I went on to explain about our two political parties and how each nominated one person, so the election ultimately was a choice between two people. My alien friend was busy taking notes. He said, “ok, so all the Democrats and all the Republicans get together on one day and nominate their preferred candidate, right?”.
“Not quite”, I said. “First, the people of Iowa do.”
“Yes, it’s a state”
“Is it a huge state, representing most of the voters?”
“Um, no. It’s fairly small actually. Also New Hampshire”.
“New Hampshire? Is that a huge state?”
“No. Forget it. It’s complicated.”
“So back to Iowa. Then do all of the Democrats and Republicans in Iowa vote for a nominee?”
“Not quite” I said. “They don’t actually vote in Iowa. They ‘caucus’.”
“Yes, they gather together in schools and community centers to elect precinct delegates who then…forget it. Most of us don’t really understand how it works, so it’s tough to explain someone who comes from another planet.”
My alien friend scratched one of his heads in puzzlement. “Ok, so people in Iowa caucus, and people in New Hampshire vote, and then I assume all the other states participate together and someone is nominated?”
“No, then there’s South Carolina.”
“Let me guess” he said. “Also a small state?”
“Yes” I said. “Actually, let’s skip the rest of the details. The point is that both parties nominate one candidate who then campaigns for votes in what we call the general election.”
“Ok” said the alien. “So the eligible voters in all the states vote at once to determine who becomes president?”
“Now it’s starting to make sense!” my alien friend exclaimed. “So everyone votes, and no state matters more than any other, correct?”.
I was quiet.
He sighed. “Let me guess. Iowa again?”
“Yes. It’s what is known as a ‘swing state’, meaning it’s a state where either a Democrat or Republican could win, so it becomes a very important state.”
“Right. Also Florida.”
“Who cares what one state does versus another state?” he asked, with growing irritation. “I thought people just voted!”
I hesitated, and then said “I’m sorry to do this to you, but I’m going to make this a lot more complicated with two words.”
He closed all of his eyes. “Go ahead”, he sighed.
“Is that a school?”
“No, it’s an artifact from a long time ago when information was transmitted via horse. It’s too complicated to go into. The point is that it doesn’t matter if Democrats in Texas vote or if Republicans in California vote. Everyone knows who is going to win those electoral votes before the election is even held.”
“So if you’re a Democrat in Texas or a Republican in California your vote doesn’t really count?”
“Exactly!” I exclaimed. “Now you’re getting it! That’s how our democracy works! It’s like that in most of our congressional districts also because of something called gerrymandering, but let’s skip that.”
“Gladly” he said. “Well, thanks for your time. I like the idea of elections, but it seems like you have over-complicated a simple idea. I don’t think we’ll use any of your ideas on my planet. You people are strange.” With that, he vanished.
Man, was that a crazy dream.
Originally published February 7, 2016