By M. Grant Winston, Managing Editor
A joint study by Brandine University and The Helvetica Institute recently looked into Americans' understanding of the presidential election process. Their findings indicate that the public knows very little about how the process works, and much of what they think they know is wrong. Among other mistaken ideas, a majority of the American public thinks that The Electoral College is a school. These are the very people who will be choosing our next President.

“I was taken aback,” said Dr. Janis Thayne of Brandine University. “How can so many be so misinformed?” She told me that she spoke a man named Hank Kuhn who said to her, “The Electoral College is just like Harvard and Yale. Eggheads who think they are so dang smart go there, and all they learn is how to be liberal like that Muslim the Democrats have running for President. The one that swore in on the Muslim Bible. To hell with them!” Not only was Mr. Kuhn confused about our election process, he also had Senator Barack Obama from Illinois confused with Representative Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Ellison, not Obama, is the only Muslim member of Congress and the only one ever to swear in on The Koran. “I suspect that Internet chain letters are the source of that bit of misinformation,” said Thayne, “people believe the stuff that shows up in their inboxes that asks them to forward it and never give it a second thought, but how could anyone who went to school beyond the seventh grade think that The Electoral College is a school, not to mention part of the Ivy League?" She also told me that many others were just as anti-intellectual as Mr. Kuhn.

For those who do not know, when we vote for President, we are choosing electors for our state who will later come together in a meeting called the Electoral College, and choose the next President on our behalf. They are supposed to choose whoever won the greatest number of votes in their state, but are not always legally obliged to do so. It is similar in some respects to choosing delegates for the Democratic and Republican conventions through primary elections and caucuses. That too, is a process few understand.

I also spoke to Mark Tolliver, a graduate assistant at The Helvetica Institute who was a leader in the polling process. He told me that some people became hostile toward him when they learned he was from an institution of higher learning.  “A lot of the people I talked to were downright nasty to me. I just don't understand their hostility. A few even called me 'college boy', using it as a epithet. I heard the word 'liberal' a lot when they told me about things they didn't like. My best theory is that they listen to too much talk radio. That seems to be the way a lot of nonsense gets spread around. I met a few people who said they do not vote because you have to volunteer for jury duty if you want to vote, and they are unwilling. I tried to explain that this is not how it works, but they put no credence in anything I said to them." He then told me, "I also met some people who were thoroughly dismayed that John McCain was allowed to run. They though that since he not born on US soil, that he was a naturalized citizen, not a native born citizen. Trying to tell them that overseas Military bases are considered US soil, and children born to our service men and women there are considered native born did no good. They were sure that I was the one mistaken."

Here is a summary of what Brandine University and The Helvetica Institute's survey found. 63% of the U.S. population believes that The Electoral College is a school, and most of those have a negative view of the supposed school. 20% believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim and 12% believe that he swore in on the Koran when he became a Senator. 7% believe that John McCain should not be eligible to run for President because he was not born on US Soil. 3% are convinced that anyone who will not volunteer for jury duty is ineligible to vote. Less than half of those polled could correctly identify on which day the election of 2008 will be held. It is Tuesday November 4, 2008, FYI. Maybe all the people with these mistaken notions will line up outside the polls on the wrong day. If not, they will be choosing our leaders.