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?