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The American system lacks representation

The American system lacks representation

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Since the dawn of our democratic experiment, U.S. citizens have been concerned with representation. I’m sure you know the slogan “no taxation without representation.” So why are we using a system that doesn’t give every citizen an equal voice?

Let’s start with the age-old punching bag: the Electoral College. This rusty, old electoral method, which was originally a means for political elites to prevent the victory of a demagogue, has become obsolete. Very few electors cast their votes differently from the way the people voted, and in this regard, the system has become more democratic than the founders intended it to be. The founders wanted political elites to filter the choices of the people, but it has become customary for electors to obey the public’s choices.

The Electoral College has been hugely problematic, however, because it can produce a winner who did not win the popular vote. This problem has been extremely pertinent in the last few election cycles. Two of the last five presidential elections produced victors who did not win the popular vote.

Although a big problem with our electoral system is owed to the founders’ decision to make elections winner-take-all, which allows candidates to receive all of the votes of a state even by the slimmest of margins, perhaps a bigger problem is the fact that the founders chose to represent the states instead of the people.

Our country has a bicameral legislature—a House of Representatives based on each state’s population and a Senate composed of two senators from each state. Each state’s contribution to the Electoral College is the sum of the members of the House of Representatives and the two senators each state receives. Each state receives at least one representative, no matter the population.

The Senate is the main reason why our electoral system is so undemocratic. States with smaller populations have the same power in the Senate as more populous states despite having far fewer people. The votes of people in low population states like North and South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming matter more, proportionally, than the votes of people in high population states like California and Texas.

Another topic of high concern is the status of Puerto Rico. People that live in Puerto Rico are American citizens. They can be drafted to serve in the military and have done so before. Around 20,000 Puerto Ricans were drafted to serve in the First World War. And yet, they cannot vote in federal elections. The absurdity of it all reaches a tipping point when one realizes that the population of Puerto Rico is over 3.5 million, more than six times as many people that live in the state of Wyoming.

To wrap it up: the Senate is inherently undemocratic, and Puerto Rico should become a state or at the very least receive representation in federal elections. It’s a glim outlook, though, for why would low population states give up the disproportionate power they receive?

One Comment

  1. The current winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes is not in the U.S. Constitution. It was not debated at the Constitutional Convention. It is not mentioned in the Federalist Papers. It was not the Founders’ choice. It was used by only three states in 1789, and all three of them repealed it by 1800. It is not entitled to any special deference based on history or the historical meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution. The actions taken by the Founding Fathers make it clear that they never gave their imprimatur to the winner-take-all method. The winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes became dominant only in the 1830s, when most of the Founders had been dead for decades, after the states adopted it, one-by-one, in order to maximize the power of the party in power in each state.

    Unable to agree on any particular method for selecting presidential electors, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method exclusively to the states in Article II, Section 1
    “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….”
    The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”

    Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation’s first presidential election.

    The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding a state’s electoral votes.

    States have the responsibility and constitutional power to make all of their voters relevant in every presidential election and beyond. Now, 38 states, of all sizes, and their voters are politically irrelevant in presidential elections.

    The National Popular Vote bill is 61% of the way to guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency in 2020 to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes.

    All voters would be valued equally in presidential elections, no matter where they live.

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