When it comes to electing a President of the United States of America, we use a very convoluted AND antiquated system that remains in place to this day because ironically, even the problems are advantageous to some. Unfortunately, American citizens on average are proving to be woefully ignorant of what these problems are.
First off, it’s common for people to confuse the various election systems that we have. We don’t elect our president the same way we elect our legislators, for instance. We elect our legislators through a direct democracy where each citizen in a state or representative district gets one vote. All the votes are counted and the candidate with the most votes wins.
Here’s what it looks like when we vote for a legislator. We can call this a direct democracy…
We could, in theory use the same approach to elect our president…
So, the question some people have now is why aren’t we electing the president the same way? I’ve concluded that there are no “good” answers for that, ‘though there are a lot of one-sided excuses.
Perhaps we should start with our founders who were trying to forge a single republic out of a confederacy of 13 sovereign states. Each of these states was already familiar with the parliamentary system from their colonial days. So, setting up a system for electing legislators was pretty much a matter of slight adjustment. But a parliamentary system doesn’t include a president. So, a whole new process had to be created for that.
For some (unanswered) reason, it was decided that the president would be elected by the legislators elected by the citizens. So, here’s what that looks like…
So, yeah… Indirect Democracy. However, this still introduces a level of abstraction and for every level of abstraction there is opportunity for misrepresentation. The founders caught this right away suspecting that a legislator might become entangled in corruption and vote against the will of his constituency…
So, the founders created the Electoral College which uses proxy voters that are not involved in politics to reduce that risk.
So, now we have TWO levels of abstraction, because even an electoral voter can dissent, but this was considered a lesser risk and history has shown the dissent in the Electoral College IS infrequent. So far, aside from the unanswered question of not letting citizens vote directly for their president, there isn’t much to be concerned with. This is the system the founders proposed. But is that where the story ends? Not even close.
After all, wouldn’t it be naïve to assume it was all Kumbaya at the Philadelphia Convention? The Federalists were basically asking these states to give up their sovereignty. There is plenty of argument for suggesting that building a fair and effective republic might have often taken a second priority to confederate compromise in this confrontational process.
One such issue was the fear of “mob rule”. Delegates from states with smaller populations expressed a concern that in a “fair democracy”, states with larger populations would always have the upper hand so they demanded handicaps. One such handicap was the idea that states with fewer citizens but lots of slaves could count those slaves as 3/5th of a person. Now, those slaves couldn’t vote, but their headcount did give the state more districts.
This is one of the most blatant examples of a compromised design in any democratic system and it was installed directly into our foundation. ‘Just something to think about. Fortunately, slavery has since been abolished and those states can no longer rely on the head count of their slaves to cheat democracy, but it didn’t take long for a new form of democratic distortion to arise.
After the 1910 U.S. Census, it was decided that the number of seats in the House of Representatives would remain frozen at 435, no longer incrementing to keep up with the growing population to maintain an even ratio of citizens to representatives as the founders had intended. As a result of this new rule being introduced (at the start of Industrial Revolution) the rural areas kept the same number of districts and roughly the same ratio of citizens to representatives while the booming urban areas had to cram their growing populations into the same number of districts, while their ratio diminished, looking something like this…
In this example, the seven citizen population of the right district maintains the same ratio of one representative per seven citizens but the left districts added 42 new citizens bringing their ratio down to 21 citizens per representative. In other words, each citizen in the right district has the power of three voters in the left districts.
So, we went from a system that gave some regions more districts based on a head count of slaves, thereby increasing their voting power to a system that crammed urban populations into a limited number of districts, giving them less voting power.
And if that’s not enough, there’s still another trick in the bag where the districts are simply redrawn to change their composition. This is called gerrymandering. Here’s what that looks like…
In this case, we just traded one red and one blue citizen between the two blue districts and that’s all it took to flip the second one to red.
And let’s not forget, the old “you can’t vote” trick that can be applied at the individual level. This is probably the most common form of democratic corruption because it can be implemented on all levels of administration, right down to the county or even the ballot office. The excuses seem endless… “didn’t register in time”, “expired ID”, “clerical error” and of course the “anti-fraud” systems like Kris Kobach’s shameless CrossCheck system which has been exposed for invalidating registrations based on erroneous information.
The 2016 election was no doubt affected by all three of the last tricks mentioned. Getting back to our sample after the population boom, we can see how a little gerrymandering and some convenient disqualifications can give 14 red citizens the president they want, while denying 35 blue citizens.
This is how a president like Trump can lose the popular vote by 3 million and still win the election. Many people are blaming the Electoral College for this, probably because we always see two tallies, the popular vote that doesn’t count and the electoral vote that does count but the Electoral College itself is not the problem.
Many people are reacting to these attacks on the Electoral College by saying that it’s the way our founders set the system up which is true, but when pressed for an explanation they usually respond with equal ignorance by saying the Electoral College is there to protect the “little states” from the “big states”. No, it’s not. The entire purpose of the Electoral College is to prevent political corruption, not to counter-weight majority rule. The only example of any provision by our founders to counter majority rule was the “slaves are 3/5ths of a person” trick. And today the fact that there is significant counter-weight to the democratic majority is a little known decision made in 1910, long after the founder were laid to rest, although I’m sure they were rolling in their graves.