The cornerstone of citizenry in the United State of America is our right to vote. Through voting for local, state, and federal representatives, the general population has direct influence in selecting a leadership which directly reflects the views and values of constituents. But are our values truly represented fairly?
What is our voting system?
The American voting system, the Electoral College, is a relic from our early nation. Established in 1787 by our founding fathers, the system was a compromise between a president elected by Congress and one elected by the popular vote of the people.
The Electoral College is a group of elected officials appointed by each state who elect the President and Vice President of the United States on behalf of their constituents. Seems simple enough, right? Not exactly…
On election day, Americans don’t directly vote for president; the Electoral College is a form of indirect election. In fact, four US presidents have been elected without winning the popular vote: John Q. Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison and George W. Bush.
- John Quincy Adams (1824) – Despite having second place in both the popular vote and electoral vote, Adams was elected by the House, defeating Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and William Crawford.
- Rutherford B. Hayes (1876) – Although Hayes won in the Electoral College by gaining disputed votes, he had fewer popular votes than his opponent Samuel Tilden.
- Benjamin Harrison (1888) – Grover Cleveland, who was President both before and after Harrison, did not win enough electoral votes despite receiving slightly more of the popular vote.
- George W. Bush (2000) – After narrow wins in Florida and Ohio, Bush became President despite having 550,000 fewer popular votes than sitting Vice President Al Gore.
How is it possible to be appointed President of the United States of America when you don’t have the support of half of the nation? Through the astounding, and I argue outdated, Electoral College system.
What citizens actually vote for on election day is a group of 538 electors, the 100 US Senators plus the 438 Representatives in Congress. These electors are appointed by the political parties to chose the president on the citizens’ behalf. Each state is granted a minimum of 3 electoral votes and the remaining votes are distributed based on population.
Why do we need electors?
The system was originally adopted due to the lack of efficient and effective means of rapid communication between the capitol in Washington D.C. and the individual states. Because news traveled so slowly, by word of mouth or by rider on horseback, it could often take months for information to reach some of the furthest states. In order to combat this lack of technology, each state chose representatives to travel to the capitol and make decisions based on the best interests of their state’s constituents.
At the time it was the most effective means of representing the rights of each state, but significant advances have been made in communications over the years, thus rendering it obsolete. The Electoral College system has not been significantly revised in over 200 years and is no longer a viable means of fair and equal representation.
How is it unfair?
In theory, the Electoral College protects the smaller, less densely populated states, granting them more political power. However, in practice, it is unsuccessful because the system:
- Necessitates unequal distribution of campaign resources.
- Allows for Minority Rule.
- Allows the Presidency without winning a majority of the popular vote.
- Employs the “winner-take-all” distribution of electoral votes.
- Allows unbound, “Faithless” electors.
- Enforces a two-party system, sidelining third party movements.
The Electoral College is fundamentally flawed because of unequal representation. Even though the electors’ votes reflect that of their state’s popular vote, the views of the people are not fairly represented. Say one candidate received 51% of the popular vote in his state, and the other candidate received 49%, the candidate with only 1% more of the popular vote receives all of the electoral votes in that state.
A dozen states are generally considered electoral battlegrounds where elections are won and lost: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
- 57% of campaign events by major party presidential candidates took place in only four states, representing just 17% of the nation’s eligible voters: Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia.2
- Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia were also the primary targets of political funding, receiving 54.5% of all ads by the presidential campaigns.2
- 98% of all campaign events and more than 98% of all campaign spending took place in only 15 states representing 36.6% of the nation’s eligible voter population.2
These states are disproportionately targeted by the super political action committees (Super PACs) political campaigning and advertisements because they are so valuable in the outcome of an election. Because of the “winner take all” mentality the Electoral college imposes, voters in one of these states have more say in the outcome of an election.
The Electoral College is further flawed because after being appointed, the electors have no obligation to vote for the party candidate they initially promised their state’s citizens they would vote for. This is called a Faithless elector. There have been instances of faithless electors 158 times in US history.
Map of the Electoral Votes in the US (As of 2012 Elections)
The Electoral College, like all forms of first past the post voting, quashes political diversity, reinforcing the two-party system and stifling any significant growth of third party movements. In 1992, third party candidate Ross Perot won 19% of the national popular vote, yet received zero electoral votes.
Voters must often chose the “lesser of two evils,” rather than a candidate who truly represents their values and opinions in what is called strategic or tactical voting.
A smaller party has almost no chance to gain support and few voters will support a smaller party that never wins. In doing so, the constituent is taking a vote away from the major party they would otherwise support and essentially wasting it on a third party. This is known as the spoiler effect.
If the electoral college is unfair, why hasn’t it been changed? There have been a number of suggested revisions over the years, but none has received any real support and ultimately all suggestions have faded.
In fact, the Electoral College is no longer supported by its citizens. A recent poll by Gallup found that 62% of Americans would amend the U.S. Constitution to replace the Electoral College with a popular vote system. Only 35%, say they would keep the Electoral College.1
What other alternatives are their? There are a number of voting methods from which to choose. Some are currently employed in other nations with great success, like: Mixed Member Proportional or the Alternative Vote. Regardless, the time has come for this discussion to be at the forefront of America’s political future. We are in need of real change, not just the change promised in a campaign slogan.
Because we have employed this system for so many years, the United States has become political stagnant. Third party movements consistently receive little to no real support and fall by the wayside.
The similarities between Republicans and Democrats far outweigh any substantial differences. They both receive funding from Goldman Sachs and many other major corporate backers, because both parties agree with The Federal Reserve printing money, accruing more debt, taxing, and getting involved in more wars.
Regardless of who occupies the White House this November, our nation needs to confront the problematic policies and attitudes instilled in our governing body since the September 11 terrorist attacks, and that will persist in 2013. President Obama is not the problem, nor is his predecessor. The problem lies in the institution itself. Either major political party, be it Republican or Democrat, will continue the trend of violating our civil liberties, expanding executive powers, and waging a secretive drone warfare with no regard for the sanctity of other nations.
In his farewell address on September 19, 1796, George Washington, warned the budding nation to be cautious of political parties:
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages & countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders & miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security & repose in the absolute power of an Individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.
While Washington accepts that people will organize and operate in groups like political parties, he also argues that every government has recognized political parties as an enemy and has sought to repress them because of their tendency to seek more power over other groups and take revenge on political opponents. Our two party system might quibble over healthcare, birth control, and gay marriage but these issues, which receive a vast majority of the media’s attention, are mere distractions from the real issues at hand and should be decided by each state.
In order to reform our institution, it is necessary that we cultivate political diversity. As our nation continues to grow and with the continuous advent of new technologies, there are more issues at hand today than the Founding Fathers could ever have foreseen, and our legislation must reflect that growth accordingly.
Abolishing the Electoral College would, at very least, force super political action committees to spread their money and campaigning evenly across the country, instead of focusing it where it can do them the most, perceived electoral good. It would be a start…
1. Gallup, Poll of the American Voting System
2. Fairvote.org, 2008′s Shrinking Battleground
3. Fairvote.org, Problems with the Electoral College
4. Iowa State University, The Electoral College Should Be Revised
5. TheLamron.com, Two-party dominance leaves American politics stagnant, restrictive
6. OpenSecrets.org, 2012 Presidential Race Funding
7. Why vote if the candidates are picked by the elite?
8. NPR.org, Are Obama And Romney The Same Guy?
9. The American Interest, The American Political Parties Are Breaking Down
10. The Atlantic, The Responses to ‘Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama’