Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Megan Moutsatsos, Queens University.
Like Canada, America is a democracy: the citizens determine their leaders. However, America uses the Electoral College system to choose its president and vice president, as opposed to simply using the popular vote. The system comes from the American Constitution; it was designed to be a compromise between the popular vote and a vote in Congress. Its basic premise is that each state gets a number of electors to match their amount of members in Congress. During the presidential election, American citizens cast their votes, and the nominee that receives the most votes in each state earns that state’s number of electoral votes, except Nebraska and Maine, where things run a bit differently. Then in December, Congressional electors vote for the candidate who won the majority of votes in their state. Because there are 538 electors total, a presidential candidate must receive 270 electoral votes to win the election. Therefore the popular vote doesn’t determine a candidate’s victory in the United States: the number of states a candidate wins does. This system undermines democracy: not using the popular vote to determine the election’s victor has resulted in presidents that were not technically chosen by the people.
Four Americans have been president without winning the popular vote. First, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876; second, Benjamin Harrison in 1888; third, George W. Bush in 2000; and fourth, Donald Trump in 2016. These candidates represented the people, but the people did not technically choose them, which is unfair in a democratic society. However, the Electoral College system was ironically intended to increase fairness in elections. Some argue that the system gives more power to smaller states, ensuring their citizens’ voices will not be swallowed by those of bigger states. While every voice should be heard and equally valued, this is precisely why the Electoral College system should be abolished: in trying to give smaller states more voice, the country is taking away the voices of bigger ones. Take California and Arkansas: California has a population of roughly 40 million people, whereas Arkansas has roughly three million. Meanwhile, California has 55 electoral votes, whereas Arkansas has six. This means that California gets one electoral vote per approximately 725,000 people, and Arkansas gets one vote per roughly 500,000 people. Therefore, while larger states like California have a greater number of electors, their citizens’ voices are still less heard in comparison to smaller states like Arkansas, which is unfair and strips the value of each individual vote.
But even if all states were perfectly equal in terms of their population’s representation, the Electoral College system still wouldn’t make sense. Why should a heavily populated state be viewed as a problem if every person still receives one vote? It shouldn’t, but ironically, this is another issue perpetuated by the electoral system, for the majority of states are considered Democrat (“blue”) or Republican (“red”) depending on which political party tends to receive the most votes there. Therefore, there is likely fear that large Democrat or Republican states will influence the vote too heavily for one party. Abolishing the current electoral system would likely help eliminate this fear, as no party would be able to “win” a state, thus turning it red or blue; only the candidate with the most votes would be elected. Over time, this should help erase the idea that certain states are either Republican or Democratic. While states would always have party majorities, these majorities would not be as heavily advertised as they are now, which would hopefully help neutralize opinions about certain states. Additionally, most states being considered “red” or “blue” likely leads to American citizens feeling disconnected from their states. For example, New York is considered a blue state, as the electoral votes usually go to candidates who are Democrats. However, in 2020, over two million New Yorkers voted for Donald Trump. New York is still considered a “blue” state, but that is not representative of the whole population, as many New Yorkers evidently do not identify with that label. Abolishing the Electoral College system would not eliminate these labels, but it could help reduce the political ties attached to certain states, allowing citizens to feel properly represented within.
Furthermore, the Electoral College system undermines democracy by stripping the popular vote of true power, and likely leads to citizens feeling unrepresented within their “blue” or “red” states. Another argument in support of the system is that it makes recounts easier, but to ensure all voices are properly heard, a difficult recount should be a small price to pay. Additionally, while people might have trouble arguing against the system because it is enshrined in the Constitution, many systems that were once enshrined have since been eradicated by the Amendments, slavery being a key example. Therefore, if systems like these can be changed, this can too — it simply needs more voices and effort behind it.
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Image Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Results_by_state,_shaded_according_to_winning_candidate%27s_percentage_of_the_vote_2016.svg