United States: Democracy
The United States has operated on an electoral based democratic platform for over 200 years, back as far as 1776 with the dawn of American democracy. This system of election to power has changed and evolved over the history of our country, but no change perhaps more influential than that made in 1804 with the ratification of the 12th amendment and formation of the electoral college. It has become modern controversy two centuries later whether our system of election is truly fair or if it favors a certain party. This issue is highlighted in The minority majority: America’s electoral system gives the Republicans advantages over Democrats: The constitution was not designed for the two-party politics it unwittingly encouraged. This article highlights that although Democrats by majority vote are a shoe-in for the primaries and to win the house, there is still an overwhelming chance that Republicans can remain victorious. The article also highlights in general how our entire electoral process is biased and how there are deliberate attempts to create districts that provide favorable results for a given party. I do believe that our way of election is unfair, it favors certain parties and misrepresents certain populations and this article does a good job analyzing our system and bringing to light this issue.
One of the most important arguments which is discussed within this article is the focus on the impact that the house and senate combine to have in our elections. The United States is unique in the fact that a state’s vote in the electoral college is in proportion to their combined representation in both the house and senate. I do in a sense agree that this system seems to be “jury-rigged” as the article refers. This sets up a candidate who barely wins in many small states to win over a candidate who gets more votes overall. This idea though is not party specific but sets up parties for success or failure based upon where most of their supporters are geographically located. Take for example the fact that the 13 most densely populated states have 121 Democratic House members and 73 Republican ones. That single fact alone sheds light on the correlation between population density in urban areas and political alliance. Along with that notion is the fact that the 5 most rural states have about 50% more electoral votes and three times as many senators per resident than the 5 most urban ones do. It is clear that representation in the electoral college is not equal.
At a certain point these arguments become much of a numbers game for the sake of the argument. The article highlights that in many recent years’ Republicans converted a 51% two-party vote into a 55% share of the chamber seats. This is a 4% disparity in a body built of over 400 members. I do believe that given the structure of our popular vote and representative electoral system you have to allow for expected discrepancies, and this article seems to reach for these numbers to prove their point even more. However, I recognize the fact that there is a trend, and that these few percentage points are recurring.
The electoral college and its lack of specificity on how states allocate their electors has further influenced the two party system and its unfair nature. All but two states rely on a winner take all basis of their electoral votes which furthers the divide of popular vote and representation in the house. Take for example the 2016 presidential election, the fifth time in U.S. history, and the second time this century where a presidential candidate has won the election while losing the popular vote. Donald Trump won 304 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton’s 227 while Clinton received almost 3 million more popular votes than Trump. This mismatch arose because Donald Trump won several large states by small amounts, gaining all the electoral votes. The whole system seems quite foreign once you grasp the idea that the candidate who received the most votes, lost. With that in mind alone, there is no way this system could be fair.
I believe that it ultimately comes down to voter density and rural representations, with an advantage coming to the candidate able to win over low population states. I think one of the most important lines that stuck with me from this article was “places where people live close together vote Democratic, places where they live farther apart vote Republican”. This trend coupled with the facts highlighted above regarding electoral representation in the least populated states shed light onto how Republican candidates are pulling off recent wins. This goes to show that location and population density have such an overwhelming influence on election outcomes, and that popular vote alone is not nearly enough. At this point in time Republicans are on the right side of this issue, reaping the benefits of their more dispersed rural representation, but I believe that this is something that will constantly change throughout American history as the unfair electoral system remains the same.
The article brings into question some of the potential approaches for Democrats to solve this pressing issue. It mentions that some say Democrats could solve their issue by targeting rural populations by modifying policy and appealing to these less dense populations. I agree with the article and the authors with their statement that although on paper this seems like an incredible solution, it would not solve much. The population continues to change as it becomes less and less rural decade by decade. More people live in cities than ever before and that trend is likely to only continue. It is also likely near impossible to change your appeal to rural population as that population continues to decrease. The next solution brought into question was the campaign led by professor Lessig and Attorney Boies discussing the unfair and unconstitutional winner-takes-all allocation of the electoral college. They argue that “If all a state’s electoral-college votes go to a candidate supported by just 51% of that state’s voters, they argue, the other 49% have in effect been disenfranchised”. I think this is a strong argument and it opened my eyes to how it could even be considered a fair system if there is a possibility for nearly half of a state’s votes to theoretically become void.
In conclusion I whole heartedly agree that the system of election in the United States today is not fair and does give Republicans an advantage over Democrats. I don’t believe however that it was modeled this way. The system can give either party an advantage, but current population distribution and record level urban populations give Republicans a leg up. I think one of the most logical ways to resolve or attempt to resolve this issue is to modify the winner-take-all aspect of the electoral college votes. This unique characteristic has always seemed bizarre to me and after reading this article I think it may be the root of the problem. The NPVIC movement, which seems to be gathering steam appears to be a logical solution as well, obligating state’s electors to vote for the winner of the popular vote rather than the victor in their state. The NPVIC solution would also avoid getting the supreme court involved. Allowing distribution of electoral votes based on popular votes or adopting NPVIC in all states would allow for an overall more even representation of polling outcomes and thus a fair and just system of election.