The elections that decide which candidates obtain the titles of president and vice president of the United States are arguably the most important elections that take place in the country.
The holder of this title not only represents one of the most powerful countries in the world but also makes decisions on behalf of it.
We would like to think that we have total control over who has the opportunity to hold this title, that our votes are the deciding factor in this decision, however, this is not entirely true.
In reality, we have a lot less power in this decision than we are led to believe. The first step in understanding this inadequacy is to understand the process of the electoral college itself.
How does it work?
The Electoral College starts in the selection of electors. As individuals vote for their preferred presidential and vice presidential candidates, the candidates that receive the majority of the votes in that respective state, win their electoral votes.
This means that the political party that those candidates are affiliated with has the responsibility to select the electors that represent their state.
The process of this selection varies from state to state, however, more often than not, these individuals are prominent political leaders and state-elected officials. The electors of all the states make up a total of 538.
Once this process is complete in all the 50 states, the electors vote as representatives of their respective states. The candidates who receive the majority of the electors’ votes are sworn in as President and Vice President on January 20 of the following year.
The citizens’ votes do not count for the electoral vote, but for the popular vote. This essentially indicates that the citizens’ votes do not directly determine who becomes president and vice president, but determines who represents their state in that decision.
Can electors vote against their states preferred candidate
According to the National Conference of State Legislature, out of the 50 states, only 30 have created legislature to encourage electors to vote for their states preferred candidate.
However, in most of these states, the penalty for defying this legislature is a measly fine. Although this is not a common occurrence, it does allow for situations where an elector could potentially “highjack” the election by voting against their state.
Flaws in the system
Creation of a binary
The system of the electoral college heavily favors the prosperity of a binary, one between Democratic and Republican. This system makes it extremely hard for any independent party candidate or less popular party to gain any votes.
George Washington remains the only President in the US to be elected as an independent and the country has not had a President that was not a Democrat or a Republican since 1853. This creation of a binary often means that many Americans do not have candidates that promote the same political views as them according to CNN Politics.
In addition, this binary forces Americans to choose between Democratic and Republican even if they do not completely align with either.
Power of electors
The lack of legislature stating that electors must vote for their states’ preferred candidate means that electors can vote against their state’s decision.
In other words, an elector is under almost no legal obligation to heed of the choices of their state, their personal preferences are legally allowed in their voting decision.
Although this situation is not extremely common, there are quite a few instances where electors have ‘highjacked’ the electoral college process by voting against their state, according to The LA Times.
Even the possibility of the occurrence of such a situation attests that the decision made by 538 people can override those made by all the citizens of the United States.
Their votes are the ones that decide who becomes the president and the vice president of the country, the votes of the people that reside in it are treated as a suggestion.
Many states in the United States have the reputation of being predominately Democratic or Republican, and this is what makes swing states so important. Swing states are states that are closely politically divided, according to Share America.
Since presidential and vice presidential candidates expect to receive votes from the states that support their political party, swing states are extremely important since they can tip the scales in their favor.
This is so because winning over of these states could mean their victory in the election. Candidates often scramble to gain the support of swing states such as Arizona and Florida since their votes might mean they win the majority of electoral votes.
This, however, creates swing state bias. Swing states are repeatedly given more importance during the elections due to this bias, and this can be seen in their campaigns and speeches. In other words, the votes of those in swing states matter more than those of a non-swing state.
It is of no importance by how many votes Democrats win in California or by how many votes Republicans win in Alabama because regardless, swing states decide in which direction the votes tip according to the Brookings Institute.
Popular vote vs. electoral vote
The existence of electors and the system of the electoral college creates the possibility of a disparity between the popular vote and electoral vote. The popular vote is determined by the votes of the people while the electoral vote is determined by the votes of the electors.
This creates situations where one candidate may win the popular vote but lose the electoral college vote, or vice versa. There are many instances of this, the most recent being in the election in 2016.
The New York Times reports that although Hillary Clinton received 2.87 million more votes in the popular vote, Donald Trump was sworn in as President due to his victory in the electoral vote. This means the decisions made by the 538 electors completely ruled out those made by the 65.8 million people who voted in favor of Hillary.
The debate between supporters and critics of the electoral college system has been raging on since the creation of the system and still rages on today.
According to the Pew Research Center, 58% of the US adult population is in favor of popular vote over electoral vote while 40% prefer the current system in place. Although this is more than half the population against the electoral college, it is unlikely that this system will change anytime soon.
The votes of all the citizens of the US should count equally no matter of social status and political power. However, in this system of the electoral college, this may not be the case.