Election system creates disillusionment

Jeffrey Tangney | Copy Editor

I am something of an oddity. I was lucky enough to vote two weeks after my 18th birthday, and have voted in every election save one, primary and general, since then. However, I have felt for some time, and will continue to feel, that the election process in America is outdated and contributing to the problems we are facing.
My biggest problem is the winner-take-all Electoral College system. Not only has it led to people being elected despite receiving less than 50 percent of the popular vote, it has created a system where only two candidates are viable, in that they are the only ones who will receive electoral votes, no matter how many actual votes other candidates get. For instance, in 1992 Ross Perot received 19 percent of the popular vote, yet he received zero electoral votes. In other words, our system allows a candidate to receive nearly one in five votes, yet he gets shut out in the votes that count. To say that you can get 20 percent of the people’s votes and 0 percent of the votes that matter is counterintuitive to a democratic system.
My second problem with the winner-take-all system is that it disregards the true split in the popular vote and enables the simple, two-party system we have in place. I feel the two-party system discourages voters from learning the candidates’ views on issues and further inhibits the representation of parties that lie in the spectrum between the two main parties. I am somewhat conservative on economic issues and mostly liberal on social issues. Yet there exists no viable candidate who would represent me. I am forced to choose a candidate who represents only one half of what I believe. I think parties should be eliminated entirely, and candidates should run as a name only. This would make the voters learn the candidate’s position, eliminate bias from party names and give third-party candidates the chance to make a difference.
Another problem that our current system encourages is the complete disregarding of most states in the nation. A look at USA Today shows a focus on 11 or 12 “swing states,” meaning that the other 75 percent of states are ignored because the outcome in those states is a foregone conclusion. Kansas is such a state. We have six electoral votes and vote roughly 65 percent for Republican candidates. However, all the electoral votes will go to that candidate, meaning he gets 50 percent more electoral votes than he would based on the popular vote. In essence, despite all the naïve empty words that your vote matters, the fact remains that any vote for a Democratic candidate in Kansas matters about as much as a grain of sand matters to the Sahara desert. Changing the system from winner-takes-all to a percentage based Electoral College can make all the states matter, but it is unlikely to happen, at least not in my lifetime. It is a sad commentary on the citizens of this nation that we call this democratic.
The Electoral College and the winner-take-all system is unusual in western democracies, and, though many Americans like to say that our country is the best and our way of doing things is the right way, I can’t help but feel that we are stuck with a system that undermines the goal of giving every citizen a voice. Are we really only allowed to pick between an apple and an orange? Are we truly stuck in a system where a candidate doesn’t have to receive a majority of the people’s votes to take office? Why, then, are we satisfied with a system that undermines the basic principles of a democracy?
If I had my way, the election system would move to a percentage-based voting system, without parties, where the candidates must campaign on their own issues and beliefs. There is no “winner” in each state; rather, candidates get electoral votes based on the percentage of the popular vote they receive in each state. This would allow more viable candidates into the system and force voters to research the beliefs of individual candidates. Further, if no candidate got a majority of the electoral votes, something I think would be common, then they would have to compromise with third- and fourth-party candidates on issues until they reached a common ground and the third- or fourth-party candidate ceded their votes to the main candidate. Is that a perfect system? No. However, it is a far better system than the one we have. When our current system puts people into power who receive 40 percent of the popular vote, and eliminates third parties from realistic contention, then it is time to review and overhaul our current system into something that more accurately reflects the goals of our democratic nation. Only when such changes are made will all citizens truly be a part of a democracy.

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