October 26, 2021

Caramel-coated Election Day

When I go to cast my ballot on Election Day, I think of caramel corn. I swear, when I walk into that voting booth I can smell those sweet and salty puffy kernels.

My mom’s polling place in the late 1980s through 2012 was a small community center on Maury Street on the Des Moines eastside. She took me along on voting day. It might have been to expose me to the voting process early in my life in the hopes that I would one day be consistent in performing my civic duty, but it was more likely because it was cheaper and easier than hiring a sitter for an hour.

The poll workers at the community center were in their 60s and 70s, probably retirees who have learned the importance of our democratic process through the decades. But 11 hours at the polls deserves a treat beyond social scientific satisfaction. The volunteers on Maury always had a fresh batch of caramel corn to share. They drizzled the hot caramel at the polling place to make sure it was fresh, and the smell filled the cement and wood-paneled voting hall.

As an absolutely adorable 4-year-old, sometimes I’d get to have a handful myself.

As an absolutely adorable 31-year-old, I was so consumed with covering our local elections that I haven’t taken the time to comment on the conclusion of this crazy national election cycle. For the second time in my three decades as an American we are about to inaugurate a president who won the race for the Oval Office but lost the nationwide popular vote.

As of Nov. 15, Politico reported Clinton’s popular vote lead at 1,002,049. That is a lot of card punches, Scantron circles and lever pulls.

According to Factcheck.org — a project of The Annenburg Public Policy Center — and my high school government class, the electoral college was developed by the framers of our constitution because “they didn’t trust direct democracy.” In fact, when American voters go to the polls they are not actually directly voting for a presidential candidate, they are voting for a slate of electors. Each state has electors equal to the sum of their U.S. Senators and U.S. Congressional Representatives.

The electoral college does have a more noble purpose than distrust of the electorate. It makes rural, less populous states matter. The 2.1 million registered voters of Iowa would never get as much as a postcard from presidential candidates if the state’s electoral college didn’t offer a solid six votes toward the magic number of 270. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would have spent most of their times in the population centers — New York, Chicago, L.A., Dallas, etc. Their resources would be spent where they can reach the most voters in one swoop.

But the true will of the majority of the American electorate wasn’t reflected in the final outcome this Election Day. This is only the fifth time in U.S. history this has happened, but the Electoral College victories of George W. Bush in 2000 and now Trump and the loss of the popular vote reveal something more than just a flawed system. It shows a stark separation in philosophies between rural and urban America. It shows a population going in two very different directions — for now.

There are still common bonds. Freedom of speech, religion and the ability to shape our own destinies are all very American traits we all share, despite the vitriol of the last 15 months. We’re experiencing a truly transformative era in our county as significant as the Civil War, the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage and World War II. As President Obama often says, “democracy is messy.” He’s right. We’ll get through this tension just as we have in the past, we just have to continue to love and respect one another while seeing past our social differences.

Oh, and caramel corn. I bet we could all share caramel corn.

Contact Mike Mendenhall
at mmendenhall@myprairiecitynews.com