American presidential elections take place every four years. The problems the public have with the Electoral College stand for so much more- it can influence voter turnout, voter trust in the government, and voter’s faith in the future of their country.
America has used the electoral system as a method to elect its president for centuries, so why is there so much commotion lately against this familiar system? Donald Trump has already secured the presidential term for the next four years, yet there has been sudden uproar challenging the system that elected him, as well as other presidential candidates in the past. Why are American voters talking endlessly about getting rid of the Electoral College that it utilizes, and will this defiance be able to implement change for the elections to come?
The next presidential election will not take place until November 2020. This is a relatively long time for the citizens and politicians that are fighting to repeal the electoral college. The efforts and strides that concerned voters make to rebel against this policy start now, and they will continue to affect the political world until the next election in 2020 and beyond.
How the electoral college works
In the Electoral College, each state is assigned its own number of electoral votes, which is determined by the population size of the state. With this, small states, for example, Hawaii at 4 electoral votes, have significantly fewer votes than states with huge populations, such as California at 55 votes.
Before hitting the polls, electors, or election representatives, are chosen by each party. Once voters get to the polls, they are choosing the candidate that they wish the electors to vote in on their state’s behalf.
The complexity of this system alone is enough to deter voters from ardently supporting it. It’s difficult to get a grasp of, and for many, it is even more difficult for voters to accept that they are not the ones directly voting their candidates in.
Sentiments of oppression
When lawn signs and what is heard on the TV encourage citizens to vote, these voters are conditioned to believe that their values are important and the polls need their opinions to make a decision on a candidate. As voters choose who they are going to support, they hope that said candidate can fulfill their political desires and help their hopes for the future come to fruition.
When the Electoral College deems the winner to be the candidate who did not receive the majority of the popular vote, voters feel that their votes were invalidated and view the electoral college as an undesirable way to select the president. Voters are inclined to feel that the inside mechanisms of the Electoral College determine the president, not the popular opinions of engaged voters themselves.
The contentious outcome of the November 2016 presidential election reflects this pattern. Despite Donald Trump receiving 631,000 fewer votes than Clinton, he managed to secure the presidency, as he received the majority of the electoral votes.
November 2016 was not the first American election in which the president-elect did not gather the majority of both the electoral and popular votes. It happened three times in the 1800s, but more recently, November 2000 also had a contentious election when George W. Bush secured the election with more electoral votes, yet his opponent, Al Gore, won the popular vote.
To many voters, the election of November 2016 was history repeating itself, as measures had not been taken to prevent what happened in the Bush-Gore election from taking place again. Many began to feel unempowered in their ability to vote and skeptical of if their votes had a sizable influence in contributing to the presidential decision. Instead, this outcome stimulated the public to considerer a new strategy to vote in future presidents.
Many Americans are now eager to enact a more permanent change in how the country casts its votes for president, reducing the likelihood of this happening again in the future. While no revisions have succeeded to be passed and practiced, voters are showing persistence in pushing for change before the next presidential election in 2020.
Challenges to the system
The Electoral College has been in play since the Constitutional Convention. Since the system was established within a constitutional amendment, another amendment would need to be passed in order to alter or abolish the electoral college. Passing, altering, or nullifying an amendment can be a tedious process, as it relies on the cooperation between the president and Congress.
Members of Congress have already attempted to spearhead change in the voting system. Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) urged that the popular vote is a stronger way of ensuring that individuals are guaranteed individual votes to represent them, urging that “the Electoral College is an antiquated system that was established to prevent citizens from directly electing our nation’s president, yet that notion is antithetical to our understanding of democracy,”.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has even proposed legislation to fight for a popular vote to determine election results over the Electoral College, noting that "this is the only office in the land where you can get more votes and still lose the presidency. The Electoral College is an outdated, undemocratic system that does not reflect our modern society, and it needs to change immediately."
Voters are feeling similarly. A poll on gallup.com indicates how 6 out of 10 Americans would prefer the popular vote over the Electoral College. Conducted in 2013, this survey records public opinion only one year after the 2012 presidential election.
Politicians and voters alike become engaged shortly after the elections occur and subsequently vocalize their opinions to the public eye.
Some have even turned to the Internet to rally support, creating online petitions to be circulated from person to person, with an electronic signature representing an individual’s support. There are currently petitions on MoveOn.org with close to 550,000 signatures, in which petition author Michael Baer states its purpose is to “amend the constitution to abolish the Electoral College. Hold presidential elections based on popular vote”. There is another petition on DailyKos.com with close to 800,000 people in support of the popular vote being the determining factor.
While some feel that the Electoral College undermines the strength of the popular vote, there are other inadequacies within this system that contribute to its unpopularity.
This was the first election in which I met the age requirement to vote. I’d always known what the electoral college was, but since I’d never voted before, I had yet to feel strongly for or against it.
I was voting late at night, the only time most other busy students could also go to the polls. I overheard some of my peers behind me in line saying that they felt their votes, at this point, barely mattered. As our state of New York traditionally votes for the Democratic candidate, my peers complained that they predicted our last-minute votes to be minimal. They whined that the majority of New York’s votes were cast by now, and since the Electoral College limits each state to its predetermined number of electoral votes, it was too late at night for our votes to contribute or reverse the result.
New York’s polls would still be open for another half hour at that point, but it’s true- the Electoral College provides a cap for voters- once enough votes have been cast, the state has decided who its electors will vote for, and the remainder of the votes coming in are relatively trivial. However, polls remain active until a previously determined time, often 9 pm, meaning that people may continue to vote whether or not the state has already determined which candidate its electors will support.
If this pattern affects small groups of college students, it surely also affects larger groups- towns, cities, and states filled with voters who feel the same way. When people learn that their votes may be minimally considered towards the presidential decision, they are conditioned to believe that their votes are negligible and are discouraged to vote in future elections.
Regardless of the public clamor against the currently instated system, the process of amending the Constitution to change or eliminate the electoral college is time-consuming and difficult. For the system to be altered or abolished, a strong and realistic alternative must be proposed.
Sure, the popular vote is often suggested as the best avenue to a pick a president. But what other methods can be explored and potentially implemented? Perhaps the reason why the Electoral College continues to reign is because voters and/or politicians have yet to develop an innovative, just, and practical alternative.
Would a popular vote be better? Would an entirely different system work better? Only trial and error can tell. No system may be perfect, but it can certainly be enhanced to be more sensitive to shortcomings of the Electoral College. Even if a solution has yet to be found, I urge you, your friends, and your representatives in local, state, and federal government to reconvene and think of one to help the 2020 election, and every four years from then on.