For those of you who are unaware, we Americans do not live in a true, or direct, democracy. Because of several institutions, most prominently the Electoral College, we live in a constitutional republic.
The Electoral College essentially decides who becomes President and Vice President in every presidential election. The system, which is made up of 538 electors – one for each senator, one for each congressman, three for D.C. – makes the decision based on the absolute majority of the votes – 270, which is slightly more than half, of the electoral college’s votes.
There are multiple problems with this otherwise infallible system.
First of all, this makes it possible for someone to win the popular vote, but not the electoral vote, which has happened multiple times throughout U.S. history, most recently in the election of 2000, where Al Gore won the popular vote but somehow lost the election to George W. Bush.
This system doesn’t allow for Ranked Choice Voting, an alternative to an Electoral College system, which is utilized by most European countries and Canada and actually makes a lot more sense:
- Voters rank candidates in their order of preference (1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on). If a candidate has more than 50% of the first choice votes, she or he wins.
2. If no candidate gets a majority of the #1 votes, then the candidate with the fewest first choices is eliminated.
3. The voters who selected the eliminated candidate, as their first choice will then have their votes added to the totals of their second choice.
4. This process continues until a candidate has more than half of the votes or only two candidates remain.
This also creates the very real possibility of a tie, or the possibility that no candidate reaches the 270 mark. In this instance, Congress will automatically decide the victor based solely on their own will – so it doesn’t matter that we voted at all. This has actually happened before too, with our sixth president, John Quincy Adams.
Because of this system, it makes it practically impossible for a third party candidate to win, even if they are more qualified than the nominee of the two major parties. In 1912, when Teddy Roosevelt decided to run for what would be his third non-consecutive term against Democrat Woodrow Wilson and Republican William Taft on his own Progressive Party ticket – he failed to re-win the presidency, despite the fact that he is widely regarded as being one of the greatest presidents in the nation’s history.
Beyond the reasons provided above, there are too many problems with the Electoral College to count. While the system may have made some iota of sense back in the country’s founding, it’s about time we ditch it for something better.