Things That Make No Sense: Scientology and the Electoral College

LILIT MARCUS: So, I’m a religion journalist. Can you imagine a less glamorous job? No one wants to make dinner party conversation about the Pope’s latest speech. However, if I want people to sit rapt and stare at me, all I have to do is offer to explain what the hell Scientology is about. I was going to do that here, and then I realized that a) it’s been done already, and b) I can provide it right here in all its brilliant South Park glory.

Now that we know what Scientologists believe, here are some translations to help you figure out what they’re talking about.

Uptone: L. Ron Hubbard believed that emotions were on a “tone scale.” It’s sort of like sad being zero and happy being 40, except that zero is “homosexual” and 40 is “good Scientologist.” (No, really.) So “uptone” means “person who is being positive/earning lots of money and giving it to us/doing whatever else makes you a good Scientologist.”

Auditing: A process where members are hooked up to a machine that has two tin cans and a metronome. If you lie, the metronome allegedly goes all wacky. Hint: when being audited, don’t wear magnetic jewelry.

Clam: A fun nickname for Scientologists, coined because they clam up whenever you ask them questions about their fake religion.

Squirrel: A derogatory word Scientologists call someone they think is not using L. Ron Hubbard’s “technology” properly.

12 cents an hour: How much you earn as a “religious worker” in Scientology. Try not to blow it all in one place!

Blow: When someone leaves Scientology without permission. Since no one ever gets permission, everybody blows. Insert Tom Cruise joke of your choice here.

MATTHEW DAVID BROZIK: At least you get invited to dinner parties. As a lawyer, I don’t get called unless and until a guest slips and falls! Okay, I’m not that kind of lawyer. But I too have an excess of information no one wants. For example: I understand the Electoral College (U.S. version). You can too!

Remember that the United States of America is an off-shoot of sorts of England, a country with a king. Or queen. Sometimes both. Monarchy, however personified, is what the Powers That Were in colonial times wanted to avoid. The leaders of the new country would not be appointed by God; power would not be inherited. Rather, the president (and vice president) of the country would be elected by the people (i.e., citizens eligible to vote). An admirable notion, indeed!

But wait. There are, someone realized, a lot of people, and not all of them are, how you say, SMRT. So maybe there’s something that would work better than a simple, straightforward popularity contest, which is better left for grade-school student counsel and late-season American Idol. What about a kind of hybrid system, in which the eligible voters of the country vote not directly for their eligible candidates of choice, but instead for intermediaries who will, in turn, vote for candidates. Brilliant.

So what happens is this, essentially:

  • Each State of the Union is allotted a set number of electoral votes (equal to the total number of Senators and Representatives); the District of Columbia gets 3. There are a total of 538 electors in the Electoral College.
  • Prior to Election Day, the political parties (yup, that’s right… the parties) nominate their electors, who might or might not have to do anything on Election Day, depending on who wins the popular vote in that State, and which State it is.
  • On Election Day, voters vote. This is the fabled Popular Vote. Millions of American citizens exercise their franchise and select a candidate for President.
  • The votes are tallied, and one of two things happens: In 48 States and DC, the winner of the popular vote (that is, the party of the candidate who has received a plurality of votes at the polls) is given the right to send all of its electors to the State capital; two States, Maine and Nebraska, do something different (and, some would argue, more fair).
  • On the Monday after the second Wednesday in December (I’m not kidding), the appropriate electors in each State meet at the State capital and cast their votes for President.
  • The President of the United States is the candidate who receives an absolute majority of electoral votes.

Note that I wrote that the electors cast their votes for President. Not yours. Because here’s the best part: An elector is not bound, other than by his or her word, to vote for his or her party’s candidate! Currently, 24 States have laws to punish faithless electors, but none has ever been invoked. And in any event, a faithless elector may be punished only after his or her vote has been cast! (Only two States have laws for invalidating faithless electors’ votes.)

So if you’re one of the many voters who has already done the math and realized that the electoral college system allows for a situation in which the popular candidate nonetheless does not get a majority of electoral votes… well, now you’ve got something else to lose sleep over.

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