Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Electoral College: An Affront to U.S. Democracy

By HUNTER SAVERY ’20

Contributing Writer

Everyone knows that America is a democratic nation with a government that is “by the people, of the people, and for the people,” as outlined by President Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address. America prides itself on electing leaders chosen by its citizens, yet there is an institution that stands in firm opposition to that notion: the Electoral College. On Nov. 8, Americans may have cast their ballots, but the next occupant of the White House will not truly be chosen until Dec. 19, when the electors meet. The trouble is that the Electoral College does not vote the same way that the American public does, and four times in American history, it has selected a candidate that lost the popular vote. How can a democratic nation defy the will of the people?

The Electoral College was established by Article Two of the United States Constitution. There are 538 electors sent from the states to choose the next president. Electoral votes are mostly divided among the states based on each state’s population, but not exactly. Every state has a minimum of three electoral votes, as does Washington D.C. The remaining votes are given to states based upon which states have the largest populations. Electors are decided on the first Tuesday in November and they pledge to vote the way their state did. Most states, 48 out of 50,  have a winner-take-all system. This means that whoever wins one of those states, by even the slimmest margin, gets all of that states electoral votes. Only two states, Maine and Nebraska, allocate their votes in a system based on congressional district.

So who are these electors? Electors are nominated by parties within each state. If chosen, electors are then sent to the Electoral College based on either the winner-take-all, or the “congressional district method” employed by Maine and Nebraska. The trouble with the electors is that, despite their pledge to vote as their state did, they are not, in fact, bound to do so. As of 2015 there have been 157 instances of electors breaking their pledges. These people are known as “faithless electors.”  Twenty states have laws to prevent faithless electors, yet the penalties are minor, and have not been enforced in the past. To date, faithless electors have not swung any US presidential elections.

From faithless electors to the winner-take-all system, the Electoral College does not seem designed to follow the will of the people. Connecticut has a population of 3.597 million as of 2014 and seven electoral votes. Hypothetically, if 2 million voters selected a Democrat, and 1.5 million selected a Republican, the state would send all of its electors to vote for the Democratic candidate. So what happens to those 1.5 million votes? Simply put, they disappear. This system chooses the president based on the winner of each state, but that does not represent all Americans. In 2016, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the popular vote by over 2 million votes, but still lost in electoral votes. Two million more Americans voted for Hillary  Clinton, but those votes are wasted because they came out of states limited in their electoral votes. If the vote was purely based on how Americans cast their ballots, Hillary Clinton would be the next president

The Electoral College leaves out the votes of millions of Americans living within the 50 states, but what about the millions of American citizens that reside outside of the fifty states. Americans living in the District of Columbia get the same number of electoral votes as those living in states. Americans living overseas can often vote via absentee ballot sent to the state where they last resided, but Americans living in the territories do not get to vote at all. Americans that live in Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, etc. have no say in who the next president will be, despite  the fact that they are American citizens. The Electoral College does an excellent job of ignoring what Americans want.

If Americans actually got to choose their president, Al Gore would have won in 2000, and Hillary Clinton would have won in 2016, but the Electoral College has once again proven its ability to thwart democracy in America. Now is the time to end the Electoral College. If the United States is committed to its democratic principles, it must abolish the Electoral College. Though politicians may resist this move, it is for the good of the country. Concerned citizens everywhere should call their congressmen and senators. A constitutional amendment must be put forward to save American democracy.

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