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The creation of America is one of the most unique and interesting processes to study in its historical context. During a time of oppression and conformity, a nation was born based upon the ideals of self-expression, self-determination, and freedom. To this day, we as Americans continue to exercise our rights that our forefathers died for in order “to create a more perfect union.” Or do we? One right that was fought for and can almost singularly be described as the cause of the Revolutionary War is the right to self-representation, or voting. Even though an immeasurable amount of blood was shed to place this right within the hands of the people, the percentage of the population who voted in the last presidential election barely capped over half the voting age population at 54.9% (Statistic Brain). Among many reasons, the Electoral College is partly to blame. Due to its condescending nature, its role in decreasing voter turnout, and the fact that it creates the possibility of discrepancies in presidential elections, the Electoral College should be restructured to become more conducive with modern American politics.
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In early American society, education was solely for rich, white males. During this time period, it was more important and lucrative for children to help their parents on the farm than focusing on their studies. For that reason, literacy rates were much lower than the present day. In order to ensure an informed decision about the presidency was being made, the Electoral College was created. However, education in America has drastically improved since our beginning, starting with the first compulsory education law that was passed by Massachusetts in 1852 (Race Forward). This signified the beginning of a long movement where we began to value the growth of our mind over the growth of our crops. (Race Forward). Not only have we become more literate, but we have also become much more politically savvy. Americans have many more avenues available to them in which to follow presidential races. Coverage and speculation about future presidential candidates begins almost immediately following the current election. All one would have to do is turn on their favorite news station or radio station to hear about the candidates and their platforms. Admittedly, these news stations tend to have political biases. For example, Fox News is notoriously known as a right leaning news station, while CNN tends to have a very liberal slant, but having news mediums such as these is a vast improvement for the virtually nonexistent circulation of politics when the Electoral College was created. Between news stations, publicized debates, and radio talk show hosts we are much more politically informed, and are perfectly capable of choosing the president on our own.
As it stands, winning the popular vote of the election has very little to do with becoming the president yet, due to the fact that we receive more than enough political information to make an informed decision when choosing the president, the first step in restructuring the Electoral College is to remove its precedence over the popular vote. The popular vote is a direct representation of the people, and since our education and exposure to politics has proven us worthy, we should be given this authority. If the Electoral College and the popular vote were to switch places in terms of importance, then presidential elections would truly be in the hands of the people versus a few electors. Doing this removes the historical idea that the typical American is not politically adept enough to pick the president and gives more of an incentive to vote.
As mentioned earlier, voter turnout for the last presidential election barely reached over half the voting population age. In fact, according to the 2012 census from the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, America ranks 120th out of 169 countries for which voter turnout data has been collected (LiveScience). Low voter turnout can be attributed to many reasons, such as the difficult process that one must go through to register. Another fact is that the United States is one of few democracies who holds national elections in the middle of the work week, and since voting in America is voluntary, we could, like other democracies, impose small fines on their citizens who do not vote (LiveScience). While all these reasons hold true, Americans willingness to endure these annoyances could increase if they felt like their vote actually mattered. Admittedly, this mentality has a lot to do with Americans feeling like their one vote is not likely to make a difference in a sea of many however, political apathy is also a contributor, which the Electoral College perpetuates. Lyle Scruggs from the University of Connecticut states, “Because only a few states are competitive, most presidential campaigns dump money into 10 swing states and spend almost no time campaigning in the other 40” (LiveScience). In other words, presidential candidates heavily concentrate on states like Nevada and Florida in the hopes that their electoral votes will flow their way while virtually ignoring other states that historically go for the opposite of their party or have little electoral value. This phenomenon can make voters feel as if their vote does not matter, which leaves them less likely to vote.
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As it pertains to restructuring the Electoral College, the next step would be to assign each state an equal number of electoral votes. A counter argument to this might be that states with larger populations may not be represented proportionally, however if we assume that the popular vote has more weight than the Electoral College, then this is not a factor since ultimately each person is representing his or her self. If each state is given an equal amount of electoral votes, presidential candidates will be more likely to focus on the United States as a whole instead of heavily focusing on swing states. This will help voters feel like their individual vote is just as important as those votes in Nevada and Florida and surely increase voter turnout.
The final reason why the Electoral College should be restructured is to avoid discrepancies in the presidential races. Due to the Electoral College, a candidate can become the president without actually winning the popular vote. In a country that is structured “for the people, and by the people” this seems to be a glaringly obvious breach of our fundamental values. A shinning example of how the Electoral College can leave an election shrouded in uncertainty would be the presidential race between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000. The race all came down to the state of Florida, which was first attributed to AL Gore, later named too close to call, and finally given to George W. Bush in the end (Digital History). Many other discrepancies surrounded the Florida issue, such as multiple recounts and missing names from voter rolls (Digital History). Ultimately the electoral votes were given to George W. Bush, making it the first time in one hundred twelve years that a president lost the popular vote but captured enough electoral votes to secure the presidency (Digital History). The possibility of having a president that most people did not vote for is an electoral disaster. In retrospect, this seems to have only been a one-time occurrence, but if a majority of people want a specific candidate in office, then they should get what they voted for.
The last step in restructuring the Electoral College is rethinking how the electoral votes are delegated. The “winner take all method” was definitely an issue in the 2000 election which gave the appearance of a clear winner, when in reality much of the election is still uncertain. If each candidate is given a percentage of electoral votes based upon the popular vote in each state, then the electoral vote is more likely to accurately reflect what the people want. For example, the state of Missouri has eleven electoral votes. If a candidate receives 48% of the popular vote, he or she should receive 48% of the eleven electoral votes in Missouri. Although this method of delegating the votes may not have solved the issue of the 2000 election, it certainly would have been a more accurate reflection of the circumstances in Florida, and possibly made the situation seem like less of a set up.
Although the Electoral College as I have described it can be seen as a complete political annoyance, it’s still important to consider the congressional aspect of presidential elections. That being said, the congressional aspect should not overshadow the people’s choice. By making the popular vote the deciding factor, equalizing the amount of electoral votes given to each state, and delegating electoral votes as a percentage of each state’s popular vote we can ensure that the electoral college still plays an integral role in presidential elections while also promoting voter turnout. Overall, these changes will help ensure that government remains “for the people and by the people.”
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