Beauty Pageant Voting? Not a New Development

Did Tuesday's results in the Republican primary confuse you?  As explained here, by the New York Times, the three elections on Tuesday didn't really award any delegates.  Yet, that didn't stop people from voting in them (not a lot of people, as turnout was quite low, but thousands of people nonetheless).

This prompted one colleague to ask me, is there any historical precedent for this?  Or have we just gone crazy, voting for nothing?

The good news (maybe) is that we haven't gone crazy.  There is a long, storied historical precedent for this.  A perfect example is the 1824 Presidential election.  Do you remember this one?  It's the one where the President was actually chosen by the House of Representatives because none of the four candidates received a majority in the Electoral College.  There are already a number of misconceptions running around about this election, namely because several states, including New York, which had by far the largest population, didn't directly elect their presidential electors, and so the popular vote that we have is far from representative of the country as a whole.  But New York wasn't the only state who didn't direct elect their electors.  South Carolina was another state where the state legislature elected the electoral ticket.  The rest of the population had absolutely no say in who the legislature would choose.

But that didn't stop them from saying it anyway.  As can be seen here, there were polls around the state throughout the summer and autumn where the people chose to have their say.  Luckily for them, when the legislature did actually make their choice, they went with a ticket dedicated to Andrew Jackson, the same person who overwhelmingly won the state poll.  But there was nothing that required that the legislature agree with the rest of the population.

And it could have been even more confusing.  At least in South Carolina they knew who they were electing.  In Delaware, they weren't certain who the electors would vote for and there was a question as to whether they were legally elected.  As seen here, one of the three electors chosen by their legislature ended up voting for William Crawford in the Electoral College.  But of the eight newspapers that reported on the legislative election, five of them listed him as a supporter of Henry Clay.  And there were 30 members of the Delaware legislature at the time and two of the electors only received 15 votes.  "Through a strange and unexpected interpretation of the state law governing tie votes, the president officer of the senate cast an additional vote for each of the Crawford men, both of whom were declared elected." (History of American Presidential Elections 1789-1968, Volume 1, Arthur M. Schlesinger, jr. Editor, p 374)  And even then, thanks to the confusion in the newspapers, the people still didn't know who their electors were voting for.

So, cut the people in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri some slack.  They're just following historical precedent in casting votes that don't mean anything.