A Republic Becoming More Democratic

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Dale Schlundt Professor
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The Presidential Election of 2016, along with previous elections, lends itself well to understanding how the election process contradicts the perception held by many in regards to the degree of influence one’s vote has on the ultimate outcome. The overarching question one should always ask is if we as a society are becoming more democratic? In terms of the Electoral College and the winner take all system, practiced by the majority of the states and D.C., our republic has continued to stagnate.

The debate over the correct course of action continues today. When individuals, who voted on or before November 8, 2016, state that their votes will select the next President of the United States, how does one reply to these patriotic citizens? It is difficult to state that this is only a relative truth for two reasons. Neither leave the voters with a feeling of achievement in carrying out their civic duty.

Firstly, the final vote for the presidency was not when the majority voted. Rather, we voted for someone else to vote on Dec 19, 2016. We voted for electors. The populace’s vote is hinged upon the hope that weak sporadic state and party regulations, along with the elector’s pledge, results in their vote for the candidate specified by the people. The majority of electors will do so as has been the historical precedent, primarily based upon the fact that rarely do they have sufficient reason to vote for the opposing party. Although, one should note that faithless electors are present throughout many elections. Ultimately there is no federal law, nor Constitutional requirement, that stimulates electors vote based on the electorate’s voice. Long story short, unless you are an elector, you have never elected a president in the “land of the free”.

The Founding Fathers set up the Electoral College for multiple purposes. At its core it awarded a limited, rather than an extensive involvement to the public. Of course, in giving the power to the states to determine how electors would be chosen, an element of democracy was effectively awarded to the people. As it evolved into the popular vote that choose the electors casting the final vote. Hence, in choosing your electors, you do have a role in the outcome of presidential elections. While democratic ideals are evident, its framework disconnects the masses from legitimate vote. Thus, arguments are prevalent this month trying to sway pledged electors to alter their vote on Dec 19th. The goal is to send the election to the House of Representatives and change the outcome. It is undoubtedly a fruitless effort in this election. Nonetheless, the potential for electors to do so illustrates the fundamental problem. Perhaps more problematic in terms of its symbolism, rather than any concrete effects. It does lead one to evaluate the state’s role in promoting or inhibiting the democratization of the process.

The winner takes all system practiced by the majority of the states including D.C. (with the exception of Nebraska and Maine) is the second unfortunate aspect, which does a disservice to the popular vote’s true potential influence. Once again, how does one tell the young voter that if they voted for a party that did not receive the plurality in a state, their vote from that point on would have no influence on the outcome? Unless you live a swing state or voted for the winning candidate in your state, this long time practiced state system does exactly what electors do for the entire country. It limits our connection and influence on the public office. Only the winner take all system has greater and real ramifications in every election. As is well known, this is illustrated by Democrats winning the popular vote and losing the presidency in the 2016 election, a result of this repressive framework.

While many call for a Constitutional amendment to dispose of the Electoral College entirely, others promote states simply altering their process to award electors in ways that closer reflects the popular vote within their states. There are several proposals as well as examples in regards to the aforementioned. While there are indeed certain drawbacks to these changes and several reasons why specific individual states oppose such, there are none that would negate their consideration if we are to stay true to the fundamental vision many hold of our republic. Yet, we are far from any consensus. The Union fought the Civil War on the premise that we are a nation first and individual states second, making secession illegal. Related opposing arguments have also been used to both defend and discredit the Electoral College. The question that many have posed, which is at the center of this context is not any legality or illegality, but whether the presidential vote should be based on the individualism of states or on one national identity? Perhaps more pointedly, the power of states or the power of individual voters?

More to the point, this is a discussion that needs to permeate social media, conventional media, and other formats to a more significant degree. The historic precedent for advancing political structures has always been lengthy and never all encompassing. For instance, it takes over a century for the 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913, requiring states to hold a direct election for U.S. Senators. (An agenda the Populist movement called for much earlier and ultimately bringing that public office closer to the control of the populace.) Technology in this age gives us a platform to examine our knowledge of the election framework and an analysis of its deficiencies. While the 2016 election focused on contrasting ideologies, it as always, culminated in what many suggest is an exclusive and outdated political process. The Founding Fathers did not believe the general public held adequate political knowledge or understanding to have any further involvement than they awarded us at the time. Let us prove that concept no longer holds true through creating awareness and a dialogue, thereby enhancing our republic’s democratic structures.