Op-Ed: US Elections are Fundamentally Flawed, Let’s Change That Before 2024

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American elections have many discrepancies and it is important to change this (Image credit: NBC).

The United States of America, one of the world’s oldest democracies, established a constitution over 200 years ago. Nine out of the 13 original colonies ratified the constitution under the promise of liberty; a promise of a future chosen by the people, and a devotion that their kids, and the children of those kids, can live in a world void of despotic tyranny. 25 thousand American revolutionaries lived and died for this dream. On their grave was a simple message, a message for a government chosen by the people.

The dreams of these intrepid optimists were crushed in 2000 and were lost in 2016. Since 2000, America has been ruled by four different presidents. Of these, two of them were not popularly elected. In the year 2000, we saw a race for president that was “too close to call.” Although Al Gore had obtained over 500,000 more votes than Bush, Bush won 5 more electoral votes ushering Al Gore’s defeat. During the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton won over 2.8 million more votes nationwide than Donald Trump. Despite this, Trump won the Electoral College by 77 votes, beating Clinton’s 227 Electoral College votes with his astounding 304 votes. He accomplished this feat by marginally winning key battleground states: Michigan by 0.2%, Pennsylvania by 0.7%, and Wisconsin by 0.8%. He lost to Clinton in states with larger cities with even bigger margins, up to 30% in states such as New York. Despite gaining his victory by low margins, Trump had officially won the presidential election. 

These inherent flaws are designed into the constitution. America was built under the idea of Federalism, a system where all states were treated as individual governments that could choose their own laws and interpret them their own way. Since all states were essentially separate entities under the constitution, they would go to the ballots and have their votes counted as separate states where the person who was most voted for would win the whole electoral college for that state.

 To compensate for the disparage in states with a higher population and a lower population, states with more people were given more electoral college votes. This meant that states that winning these bigger states became more important than ever. Despite these attempts at making the system fairer, a new problem arose. If the candidate with the most votes could win all electoral colleges in the state, then victory margins wouldn’t matter anymore. 

To illustrate this, let’s use three states, A B, and C, and two nominees, Y and Z. State C has a population of 1,000,000 and 10 electoral college votes, while states A and B have a population of 600,000 people and 6 electoral college votes each. If candidate Y won state C by 100% but only won 40% of states A and B, they would lose the election. This is because despite having 1,480,000 votes compared to candidate Z’s 720,000, candidate Z would’ve won all of state A and B’s electoral colleges, meaning that he would have 12 electoral college votes compared to candidate Y’s 10. This creates a system where the candidate who has the majority of votes cannot always win the election. 

This creates two problems with the way votes are counted. Firstly, individuals in states with a clear margin of victory have less voting power than those whose margins are smaller. Under a state with a high margin of victory, a single vote will not play a major role in determining which candidate wins that state. This is because a few hundred or thousand votes for the other side would not be a major determinant in which way the state swung, rendering that vote practically useless. States that are more decisive towards the election are those that are closer in margin. These states, often called swing states, are states where both parties have similar levels of support, and margins of victory are usually extremely small. Swing states usually matter more to elections, as both parties do not have enough electoral college votes without them. This causes a few swing states to become extremely decisive in elections. In 1916, California, a swing state at the time, decided the outcome of the Wilson v. Hughes election with a margin of just 3,773 votes. This meant that the voting power of each resident in California was substantially greater than an inhabitant in any other state at the time. 

Another issue is the undermining of democracy that is caused. Fundamentally, democracy should allow everyone to have an equal say in the country’s ruler. If some have more power than others, then America cannot call itself a democracy. Elections cause democracy to always be skewed towards the ideologies of one or two swing states, creating a system where the incumbents win by serving the interests of one or two swing states, who then get more representation than any other state.

To fix this fundamental issue, America must transform into a referendum-based system. A referendum-based system is one where each person is given one vote. Whereas previously states would have been counted separately as electoral colleges, all people in this new system would be tallied together and counted as one. The person with the most votes would then win the election. This allows equal power to all; a man living in New York chasing his dreams would now have the same political power as a bartender living in the current swing state of Michigan. With this new system of government, swing states and electoral colleges would be abolished. The terrible legacies of Former Presidents Donald J. Trump and George W. Bush would never have come to fruition. Only under this system would America become a true democracy. 

Written by Pacey Qi

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