POTUS is the only office for which 100% of registered voters in the U.S. can vote. But our votes don’t actually go toward electing the president. WHAAAT???
Why bother! Do our votes even matter?
The short answer is yes.
The long answer is absolutely!
The longer answer is…
THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE
While writing the Constitution, the founding fathers decided on a compromise between electing a president through popular vote and letting congress choose. They came up with the electorate system. Each state is allocated a number of electors corresponding to the number of representatives it has in the House plus two for the Senate. So, California has 55 and Wyoming has 3. There are 538 in all, 535 for each member of congress plus 3 for the District of Columbia that gets to pretend it’s a state for this (sorry American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands!)
Before each presidential election, all the political parties choose their very best friends to be potential electors. This is usually a reward for being loyal to the party and working hard to advance its causes. They can’t choose a member of Congress or a traitor to the U.S.
Every four years, on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, we voters choose which electors will represent us in casting votes for POTUS. In all states except Nebraska and Maine, winner takes all. Meaning, if the Democrat candidate wins the majority of votes in California, the Democrat Party gets to send all 55 of the electors they’ve chosen and no other party gets to send anyone. Nebraska and Maine both distribute their electorate proportionally. While we’re all celebrating the winner and the loser concedes the race Tuesday night, the chosen electors actually decide the victor in December! In the unlikely event of a tie vote, the House of Representatives would choose the President and the Senate would choose the Vice President.
There is no provision in the Constitution that mandates the electors vote for the candidate for whom they’ve been pledged to vote. Half of the states have laws requiring that they do so, however.
In theory, all the electors could talk amongst themselves and persuade 270 of them to secretly elect Bernie Sanders for President! They may have to pay a stiff fine or do jail time but they’d certainly get their 15 minutes of fame!