I was watching the news the other night, trying to follow the upcoming election and, to be honest, I found it more than a little dizzying because, instead of hearing about issues and debates, I watched in horror as words like “battleground states” and “home field advantage” filled their place in my head.
In my recollection, the last time I heard these words strung together so frequently was in a History Channel documentary on the tactics of World War II.
So why do American politics require the strategy of Rommel and Macarthur? Why are politicians busy appealing to states and regions instead of voters and issues? Why does your average election update read like a Pentagon briefing?
Easy, blame the Electoral College system.
The electoral college system, which denies direct election and lets the states vote, giving states a number of votes equal to the number of representatives and senators they have congress, which in turn is determined by population, has done more to screw up the idea of democracy than it’s ever done to help it.
The first problem is that the system was never designed to aid in the idea of direct election, but rather, to buffer against it. When it was first devised in the late 18th century, it had a simple goal, to act as a safeguard against the masses. Back then, there was a huge fear that the largely uneducated masses wouldn’t be able to choose a leader effectively and the system gave the states final say on who their votes went for, even if it meant going against their populace.
Now, in defense of the system, it did serve some practical use. Most notably overcoming the logistical challenges of the day. Tallying millions of votes scattered over thousands of miles in the days of horse and buggy would have been a daunting challenge. The electoral college was a move to localize and simplify the election process that also did wonders to settle the petty disputes between states that existed back then.
However, to call those reasons archaic in the information age is a drastic understatement. When information travels at the speed of light and the rancorous disputes between states just a lesson in our history books, direct election is not just a practical possibility, but by far the easiest and simplest route.
In fact, in modern times, the electoral college system only achieves the following things:
- Ensuring that, unless you live in one of the so-called “battleground states” that your vote won’t count. If you’re state is already committed to one candidate and you vote for another, your effort will never benefit your candidate in any way.
- Due to antiquated laws, in many states, electors can still vote no confidence and go against their constituents. Once again, meaning your vote doesn’t count, even if you are in the majority.
- It serves to confuse and bewilder the public.
- It sets up debacles like the 2000 election where one candidate wins the popular vote by a comfortable margin but still loses the election due to the electoral college
- It favors voters in smaller states (those with less than five votes) since even the smallest states are guaranteed three electoral college votes (two senators & one representative). **Note: See math at end of piece for clarification.
With all of that in mind, the only question becomes why do we put up with this biased, confusing and complicated system. Why can’t Americans, long since educated in the ways of politics, be allowed to directly vote their leaders? Why do candidates have to focus on strategy rather than issues?
It’s ridiculous, it’s out of hand and it has to go. We've been left behind by the rest of the world, there’s no room for this in a modern democracy and all it’s doing is ripping control from the hands of the people and putting it with the government. That’s counter to the very idea of a democracy and it’s time our leaders stood up and challenged the system.
Because one thing I learned a long time ago is that, when the best excuse for doing something is “that’s the way it’s always been”, it’s time to change. Tradition has its place, but not when our votes are being squandered wasted.
Let us all have a voice, even democrats in republican states and vice versa. Let us elect our leaders directly, the fairest, simplest and least confusing way possible.
**How does the electoral college system favor votes in smaller states? Watch this:
Take a look at Alaska and Florida
Alaska has 3 electoral college votes and roughly 700,000 residents.
Florida has 27 electoral college votes and roughly 16,279,000 residents.
Divide then number of residents by the number of votes and you see that, in Alaska, they have roughly 233,000 residents per elector. In Florida, they have almost 603,000 residents per elector, almost three times the number of people.
This means that, in Florida, it takes three times the votes to equal just one electoral college vote than it does in Alaska, effectively making votes there worth three times less than they are in Alaska.
Still think all votes are equal?