Is It Really Democracy Politics
Over 200 years ago, when the Constitution of the United States was written, the Electoral College was formed with the purpose of electing the President of the United States. It is still used today to elect presidents, yet only one if five American citizens know how it works and fully understand what it does (Sabato). This is quite shocking as it plays a crucial role in deciding which person will run the country for the next four years. The Electoral College has many flaws and contradictions to democracy such as: unequal votes, its effects on third party candidates, and the possibility of electing a presidential candidate that does not earn a majority of the population's vote.
The Electoral College is comprised of state appointed electors. The electors' job is very simple: formally elect/ vote the next president of the Unites States into office. It is not as simple as it sounds though (as nothing in politics is). The system behind which direction electors cast their votes is very complex and hard to understand. It's hard to understand because it makes sense in certain aspects of the Constitution but violates rights given to the citizens of the United States.
Today, there are 538 electors in the Electoral College. 270 votes are needed by a candidate to win the majority of the college. Once the candidate receives 270 Electoral votes he or she becomes President of the United States (Lineberry 38). It only gets more complicated. Each state's representation in the Electoral College is based on the population in that state (same way they are represented in the House of Representatives) and the number of members in the Senate it has (each state has two senators). The variations in population of each state can be rather significant. Take the states South Dakota and California into consideration. Their population difference is tremendous! This leads to states having fewer or more votes in the Electoral College than other states. But shouldn't this system be fair if each elector votes in concurrence with the majority of the people they represent? The problem is: they do not. Instead, they currently follow a system called the "Winner Take All System". Democracy almost goes out the window when this system is brought into question.
Every state other than Maine and Nebraska (who follow the district system) use the Winner Take- All system to cast electoral votes in the college. In the Winner Take- All system the candidate who receives the most popular vote in a state receives all the Electoral votes from that state. For example: two running candidates for President go to Alabama, which has nine electoral votes. Lorrie Etheridge is running against Jesse Knowles (the current president). In Alabama, Lorrie earns roughly 55% of the popular vote and Jesse earns the other 45%. Because Lorrie earned the majority of the popular vote in Alabama she gets all nine votes from that state when the Electoral ballot is cast in the college. It does not take a mathematician to see the discrepancies. The Winner Take- All system was not created by the Constitution, but the college was. The founders of the Constitution (and of the United States of America) actually created the college as a way of controlling who would become president next. So, it would be the nation's elite deciding who would become president next (not the citizens they were representing). It was never their intent to let the president be directly elected by the people they represent (Wattenburg). Taking this information into consideration, the United States is actually more democratic than the Founding Fathers intended, but is still not directly democratic by far. The Winner Take- All system is not set in stone by any mean. By contrast, each elector is Constitutionally allowed to vote for whomever they choose. Take caution to all the crippling effects of the Winner Take- All system as they may overwhelm some readers.
The system that the American Bar Association called "archaic, undemocratic, complex, ambiguous, indirect, and dangerous" could not have been described with better accuracy (Edwards 345). It's a system that poses several problems with democracy and its purpose. Political advantage now revolves around the Winner Take- All system. Going back to the allocation of electoral votes it is easy to see why the Electoral College is an undemocratic component of the United States' government that cripples citizens' rights and liberties. The most prevalent and un-nerving aspect of the Winner Take- All system is the possibility of a winner that does not receive the most popular votes (Britannica). How does this happen? How could this happen? Well, because of the variation in population per state one electoral vote from a state may represent more citizens' votes than in another state. It's easy to display the contrast between states. Just look at the population. Today, about 478,000 eligible voters in Pennsylvania are equal to one electoral vote in the college from that state. However, it only takes 139,000 eligible voters in Wyoming to equal an electoral vote from that state (Rocca). They may just seem like numbers and conjecture but the possibility of it happening are very real. In fact, it happened very recently in the Presidential Election in 2000. Bush ran against Gore and received roughly 450,000 less votes from the citizens of America. Yet, he won the presidency because of his 271 votes from the Electoral College. Think about it. Bush won even though he got less votes. It is undemocratic from any view it is seen.
How did Bush win in 2000? He traveled to and campaigned in the states that "mattered". What does this mean? Voting is predictable for well over half the states for which the majority will support (Sabato). The resource allocation of a campaigning candidate is based on the number of electoral votes he or she can receive from a state and how many undecided voters are in that state. Another example is needed to show how this works. Lorrie, the republican candidate from Georgia, will buy more ads and spend more time in Florida than in a certain supporting state like Georgia who is traditionally votes republican. Florida, in this scenario, can be viewed as a "swing state". It has many undecided voters and many electoral votes to be sought after. Candidates go to these states that don't necessarily support them to "swing" their votes in his or her favor. In other words, presidential candidates seek the electoral votes (not exactly the popular vote). In several ways it manipulates and weakens democracy in the United States through the election process.
Elaborating on campaigns and candidates' courses to the White House, the Electoral College can depress voter turnout across the nation. Each state is entitled to the same number of electoral votes regardless of the turnout of voters. Remember that electoral votes are based off of population, not the participation of voters. Realistically, there is no reason for the state to encourage participation in voting for the president. In some instances (usually the South) voter turnout is discouraged so that a minority of citizens can determine which way the electoral votes go. This happened often when the 3/5 Compromise was in effect and slavery was involved. Despite many years of desegregation, it is seen in several districts where a majority of those holding office is white and a majority of the population is black. This as troubling as it sounds is not the only negative effect that the Electoral College yields though. It also makes it nearly impossibly for any third party candidate to be elected President.
How many times has a third party candidate won a presidential election? The answer is zero since 1852. This is a result of the Electoral College encouraging the two- party system: Republican and Democrat. For third party candidates it is very difficult to receive electoral votes. He or she would have to win the majority of a state to receive the electoral votes they seek. Most often a third party candidate receives a plurality of votes cross the country but they do not make a difference because of the Electoral College. If a third party candidate does receive enough votes from a state to earn the electoral votes they still need to earn the majority of many more which is very unlikely. The best laid plans by republican and democratic campaigning analysts can be easily undone by the rise of a third party candidate though.
The discouragement of third party involvement can be viewed from either side of the spectrum. On one hand it keeps the government stable by having the two- party system. On the other hand it is not fair to cripple third party candidate that receives support from many citizens. They may not receive nearly as many votes as the other candidates but that does not constitute that they should be discouraged from running.
The risk of the Electoral College failing to reflect the popular choice (due to the Winner Take- All system) is very alarming. In its defense though, the college was never created to reflect the nation's will for president. It was actually made because the typical voter a couple hundred years ago had a very hard time learning what each candidate stood for and so the responsibility was given to the Electoral College to decide. This is completely different today. Now there are unlimited sources for citizens to find out more about the candidates. Along with universal education is the access to television, radios, and the Internet. It is an out of date institution that ought to be reformed or eliminated.
If the Electoral College were not around in today's politics, candidates would campaign to earn as many votes as possible from each state, instead of concentrating on the states holding important electoral votes. Each citizen's vote would also be equal making voters feel they can truly make a difference through voting for who they support. This would unmistakably increase voter turnout across the country as well. It is ridiculously undemocratic to follow a system that makes votes count unequally.
With all this said, over 700 proposals have been introduced in Congress to reform or eliminate the Electoral College. None of which have been passed and made into legislation (F.A.Q 2). This doesn't mean that efforts should stop towards reforming the Electoral College. It only means that citizens and lawmakers should try harder. It stands as an institution that defies democracy and should be eliminated as soon as possible.
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