The Not-So-United States of America

So the presidential elections (only one more month to go!!!) and having to explain the Electoral College and how voting works in the US to the French have stirred up some emotions about why I don’t like living there. The United States of America is just that – a collection of states, but states that are not all that united. All of them must follow federal laws, like driving at 16, voting at 18 and drinking alcohol at 21; but there are also a lot of laws that are decided on by state governments, which I find completely unfair. We are all American citizens, yet we don’t all have to live by the same laws just because we live in different states?

In Michigan this year, there are two proposed amendments to the state constitution on the ballot: legalizing marijuana for medical purposes and allowing embryonic stem-cell research. In some states these are already legal or illegal. In some states, they are voting on other amendments, like banning gay marriage or preventing animal cruelty.  How awful is it to tell people they can be married in one state but if they travel or move to another state within the same country, their marriage is no longer legal???

I believe the federal government should have more power over each state, so that the laws are the same everywhere you go in the US. Why do some states have better education systems than others? Why do some states provide more basic human rights than others? Why do some states have better health care options than others?  I don’t necessarily agree with France’s centralizing everything to Paris, but at least laws are the same in every région and département. And that is my biggest problem with voting in the US.

The Electoral College favors the Republicans by giving states with small populations a larger say in the overall vote… states that usually vote Republican. Technically, a candidate only has to win 11 states in order to win the presidency. So what’s the point of even campaigning in the other 39 states? It’s obvious that every year the candidates focus on the swing states that could change the outcome and ignore the rest. Why not just have a direct vote so that every American citizen has an equal say instead of each state having unequal say? The fact that the Electoral College was created to limit the impact of women’s and slaves’ votes says something about its true, undemocratic nature, doesn’t it? I’ve always felt insulted that the government believes states are more important than the people or that the people are not intelligent enough to vote for the president, although we do so for the Congress.

For those of us who don’t live where we are registered, why do some states require that you vote in person at your precint the very first time you vote? Isn’t that extremely unfair to those college students who can’t afford to return to their parents’ on a Tuesday during the semester? Or for those who are studying or moving abroad before they have the chance to vote for the first time? What are they supposed to do?

And why even bother to vote if you know your state will give its electors to the other candidate anyway? I’m glad Michigan votes democrat or else I would be very frustrated that my vote doesn’t count for anything. I would still vote, of course, just for the pleasure of voting against the republicans, but I wouldn’t feel that my vote could make a difference. And isn’t that why we vote?

I may be an American citizen, but most days, I don’t really know how to define what that really means. I’m an American who abides by Michigan laws (or used to when I lived there.) So am I really a Michigander first, and American second? I think that’s why I’ve always thought that I’m not really “American” – because there are 50 different types of Americans.

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  • http://blondeinfrance.blogspot.com/ Andromeda

    It is a completely ridiculous system and I personally will never vote in America unless it’s a true democratic vote.
    Sometimes I wish we could talk to the founding fathers and just ask what they had in mind for the future of America. So many of our laws just don’t even apply to modern times and yet we don’t want to change them because it was a bunch of old white guy’s ideas that somehow have become commandments instead of a constitution.
    Ok, rambling over, just trying to tell you how much I agree with you!!

    Andromedas last blog post..Art police

  • http://blondeinfrance.blogspot.com Andromeda

    It is a completely ridiculous system and I personally will never vote in America unless it’s a true democratic vote.
    Sometimes I wish we could talk to the founding fathers and just ask what they had in mind for the future of America. So many of our laws just don’t even apply to modern times and yet we don’t want to change them because it was a bunch of old white guy’s ideas that somehow have become commandments instead of a constitution.
    Ok, rambling over, just trying to tell you how much I agree with you!!

    Andromedas last blog post..Art police

  • http://lennui-melodieux.blogspot.com/ Randal Graves

    Great post. Our system is indeed a running joke. After the VP debate, we had a nice back-and-forth with our French teacher who comes from Bretagne and even after living here for over a decade she’s still shocked at our political process, how the personal becomes the political, what we focus on, not to mention the asinine voting structure we have. Most votes wins for sanitation commissioner, but not for the highest office in the land?

    Of course the most comical moment was trying to explain the etymology of doggone it. I think we stopped after realizing how dumb this country can be.

    Randal Gravess last blog post..Yeah, Ohio isn’t a huge, energy-producing state. What’s it to you?

  • http://lennui-melodieux.blogspot.com Randal Graves

    Great post. Our system is indeed a running joke. After the VP debate, we had a nice back-and-forth with our French teacher who comes from Bretagne and even after living here for over a decade she’s still shocked at our political process, how the personal becomes the political, what we focus on, not to mention the asinine voting structure we have. Most votes wins for sanitation commissioner, but not for the highest office in the land?

    Of course the most comical moment was trying to explain the etymology of doggone it. I think we stopped after realizing how dumb this country can be.

    Randal Gravess last blog post..Yeah, Ohio isn’t a huge, energy-producing state. What’s it to you?

  • http://eileen.likeafrog.org/ Eileen

    I don’t know, it’s all relative. If you think about how the states felt about each other in 1776, it was completely different from how we think about each other now. We are much much more united. Before the constitution we even had different currencies. Obviously that changed early on but I think it still represents the mindset of Americans back then. In fact the United States is much more typically a singular noun (in English anyway) than it was then. (I mean that we don’t say “the U.S. are.” now but we used to before the civil war.) I find it actually really interesting how much it has changed.

    I still vote Democrat in Texas and don’t consider it completely futile because I know that Texas was once a Democratic state and that these things can change. Plus I feel that I wouldn’t have the right to complain about things if I didn’t go through the easiest venue there is to express yourself (although given it is not all that easy what with all the voter fraud paranoia).

    And I don’t think it’s necessarily that you have to be one (Texan) or the other (American). I don’t know any Texans who would say that they’re Texan at the expense of being American and I find it hard to imagine one who would. And Texans are a particularly proud breed with a lot of identity invested in their state. I like the diversity we get from the different states–I think that’s one of the things I consider “American” about myself.

    But that’s a little different from agreeing with lawmaking based on states. I agree with you that the electoral college is outdated (given that it was designed in a time when most people had real practical trouble educating themselves about elections), that it gives undue power to rural areas over cities, and that our lawmaking system is kind of ridiculous.

    Also just because some countries have centralized law-making systems doesn’t make their systems equal… I mean, look at France.

    I guess I’m just playing the devil’s advocate because I think the system is more complicated than that. It’s not that I’m a huge fan of it. I just find it interesting.

    Sorry this comment was so ridiculously long.

    Eileens last blog post..Austin City Limits

  • http://eileen.likeafrog.org Eileen

    I don’t know, it’s all relative. If you think about how the states felt about each other in 1776, it was completely different from how we think about each other now. We are much much more united. Before the constitution we even had different currencies. Obviously that changed early on but I think it still represents the mindset of Americans back then. In fact the United States is much more typically a singular noun (in English anyway) than it was then. (I mean that we don’t say “the U.S. are.” now but we used to before the civil war.) I find it actually really interesting how much it has changed.

    I still vote Democrat in Texas and don’t consider it completely futile because I know that Texas was once a Democratic state and that these things can change. Plus I feel that I wouldn’t have the right to complain about things if I didn’t go through the easiest venue there is to express yourself (although given it is not all that easy what with all the voter fraud paranoia).

    And I don’t think it’s necessarily that you have to be one (Texan) or the other (American). I don’t know any Texans who would say that they’re Texan at the expense of being American and I find it hard to imagine one who would. And Texans are a particularly proud breed with a lot of identity invested in their state. I like the diversity we get from the different states–I think that’s one of the things I consider “American” about myself.

    But that’s a little different from agreeing with lawmaking based on states. I agree with you that the electoral college is outdated (given that it was designed in a time when most people had real practical trouble educating themselves about elections), that it gives undue power to rural areas over cities, and that our lawmaking system is kind of ridiculous.

    Also just because some countries have centralized law-making systems doesn’t make their systems equal… I mean, look at France.

    I guess I’m just playing the devil’s advocate because I think the system is more complicated than that. It’s not that I’m a huge fan of it. I just find it interesting.

    Sorry this comment was so ridiculously long.

    Eileens last blog post..Austin City Limits

  • http://davidsswamp.blogspot.com/ David

    Funny, I think completely different on the topic.
    I think federalism is the way to go and centralism is just plain wrong.
    Why should I follow the same rules than the people who live in complete different areas with different lifestyles, different climates, different cultures, etc? Rules dictated by a third region which imposes everything to the rest of the country?
    Does it make any sense to you?
    To me it doesn’t. Still, this is the way France has been running since the end of feudalism.

    I think you’re blaming the wrong thing. It’s not the system that’s wrong in the US (look how federalism works just fine in many other countries that are using it), but the people running that system.

    And about the vote itself, a few details:
    -The electoral college was not designed to limit the impact of women or slaves, neither had the right to vote when the system was implemented.
    It was implemented to limit the impact uneducated voters could have (and yes, it has shown its limits)

    -Andromeda, the main problem with most laws not applying to modern times is the fact that the Constitution is some sort of bible that cannot be changed. Most democracies have had several constitutions or even no written constitution at all. The founding fathers had no idea what the future would be, and if people just keep on following this idiotic idea that the constitution is sacred and cannot be changed it’s their very own fault, not the founding fathers’.

    -Finally, it’s no more or less democratic to have an electoral college or a two rounds votes or anything else. The only true democracy is direct democracy, but as long as there is a representative democracy, there must be rules for elections, and yeah, most of the times it’s the rules that determine the winner, not the votes.
    I had found an amazing document about that showing that with the exact same vote the winner would be different depending whether you follow US rules, Italian rules, French rules, etc. Sadly I can’t find it anymore.
    But a very clear example:
    -With US rules, Jospin would have been elected President of France in 1995. He arrived first in most regions of France at the first vote, no run-off, he’s President.
    -With French rules, Gore would have been elected in 2000 (I’m not even alluding to the Florida debacle): After the first vote, there’s a run-off, most Nader’s voters transfer to Gore, he clearly beats Bush about 52% to 48% or something like it.

    Davids last blog post..How rich are you?

  • http://davidsswamp.blogspot.com David

    Funny, I think completely different on the topic.
    I think federalism is the way to go and centralism is just plain wrong.
    Why should I follow the same rules than the people who live in complete different areas with different lifestyles, different climates, different cultures, etc? Rules dictated by a third region which imposes everything to the rest of the country?
    Does it make any sense to you?
    To me it doesn’t. Still, this is the way France has been running since the end of feudalism.

    I think you’re blaming the wrong thing. It’s not the system that’s wrong in the US (look how federalism works just fine in many other countries that are using it), but the people running that system.

    And about the vote itself, a few details:
    -The electoral college was not designed to limit the impact of women or slaves, neither had the right to vote when the system was implemented.
    It was implemented to limit the impact uneducated voters could have (and yes, it has shown its limits)

    -Andromeda, the main problem with most laws not applying to modern times is the fact that the Constitution is some sort of bible that cannot be changed. Most democracies have had several constitutions or even no written constitution at all. The founding fathers had no idea what the future would be, and if people just keep on following this idiotic idea that the constitution is sacred and cannot be changed it’s their very own fault, not the founding fathers’.

    -Finally, it’s no more or less democratic to have an electoral college or a two rounds votes or anything else. The only true democracy is direct democracy, but as long as there is a representative democracy, there must be rules for elections, and yeah, most of the times it’s the rules that determine the winner, not the votes.
    I had found an amazing document about that showing that with the exact same vote the winner would be different depending whether you follow US rules, Italian rules, French rules, etc. Sadly I can’t find it anymore.
    But a very clear example:
    -With US rules, Jospin would have been elected President of France in 1995. He arrived first in most regions of France at the first vote, no run-off, he’s President.
    -With French rules, Gore would have been elected in 2000 (I’m not even alluding to the Florida debacle): After the first vote, there’s a run-off, most Nader’s voters transfer to Gore, he clearly beats Bush about 52% to 48% or something like it.

    Davids last blog post..How rich are you?

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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