The Scotsman

Henry Mcleish: Why Amer­i­can democ­racy is not work­ing

- Henry Mcleish US Elections · U.S. News · US Politics · Politics · Elections · Republican Party Politics · Henry · Electoral college · U.S. Electoral College · United States of America · Republican Party (United States) · Donald Trump · Congress of the United States · United States Senate · Texas Rangers · Washington · Columbia · Maine · Nebraska · Hillary Clinton · Wyoming · California · Barack Obama · Huey Lewis & the News

The Elec­toral Col­lege lies at the heart of Amer­ica’s dys­func­tional democ­racy. Writ­ten into the US Con­sti­tu­tion in 1787 by the found­ing fa­thers – cer­tainly in a dif­fer­ent era – the now in­fa­mous and anachro­nis­tic Elec­toral Col­lege un­der­mines the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of democ­racy, gives the Repub­li­can party a per­ma­nent elec­toral ad­van­tage, ex­poses Amer­ica to the tyranny of the mi­nor­ity and de­stroys the idea that all votes have equal weight in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. MSNBC pre­sen­ter Chris Hayes has de­scribed the Elec­toral Col­lege as “wildly per­verse and ut­terly in­de­fen­si­ble”.

In the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion sys­tem, in­stead of a na­tion­wide vote to de­ter­min­ing the out­come, the pres­i­dency is de­ter­mined by votes cast by elec­tors of the Elec­toral Col­lege.

Il­lus­trat­ing the ab­sur­dity of the sys­tem is the pos­si­bil­ity that a can­di­date could con­ceiv­ably win with 24 per cent of the vot­ing-age pop­u­la­tion as Trump did in 2016.

His­tory could re­peat it­self in 2020. A toxic mix of a coun­try no­to­ri­ous for its low turnouts, with about half of the pop­u­la­tion vot­ing, and half of that num­ber vot­ing for Trump as in 2016, dis­torted by the Elec­toral Col­lege, in the con­text of the chaos and the spread­ing of doubts and fears about the elec­toral process could de­liver a sec­ond term for Trump.

The Elec­toral Col­lege is the body of elec­tors which forms ev­ery four years for the sole pur­pose of elect­ing the pres­i­dent and vice-pres­i­dent of the United States.

Ar­ti­cle II of the Con­sti­tu­tion de­ter­mined that the num­ber of elec­tors in each state is equal to the state’s mem­ber­ship in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the Se­nate. The US Elec­toral Col­lege com­prises 538 elec­tors – rep­re­sent­ing 100 Sen­a­tors, 435 House Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and three from the District of Columbia (DC) – and a ma­jor­ity of 270 elec­toral vote is re­quired to win the elec­tion. In DC and in 48 of the states, ex­clud­ing Maine and Ne­braska, the winner re­ceives all the elec­toral col­lege votes.

Cer­tain states do not re­quire their elec­tors to hon­our the elec­tion re­sults, which has led oc­ca­sion­ally to the phe­nom­e­non known as the “faith­less elec­tor”.

The main weak­ness of the Elec­toral Col­lege is that it un­der­mines democ­racy by re­ject­ing the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of one per­son, one vote and vi­o­lates the core tenet of democ­racy, that all votes count equally. The con­se­quences were dra­matic in 2016, when Trump won the Elec­toral Col­lege vote even though Hil­lary Clin­ton won the pop­u­lar vote by nearly three mil­lion. This has hap­pened on four pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions in US his­tory.

Be­cause each state – re­gard­less of how many vot­ers live there – gets two elec­tors for their two sen­a­tors, the Elec­toral Col­lege gives an ex­tra edge to less pop­u­lous ru­ral states which are Repub­li­can stronghold­s.

By the winner in each state tak­ing all the elec­toral col­lege votes, large ma­jori­ties count for noth­ing with a ten­dency to fo­cus all cam­paign­ing ac­tiv­ity in the eight to ten bat­tle - ground states to the ex­clu­sion of a proper Us-wide elec­tion.

The framers of the US con­sti­tu­tion had se­ri­ous con­cerns about the fu­ture of their coun­try and be­lieved safe­guards were needed to pro­tect the in­sti­tu­tion of the pres­i­dency. They were very dis­trust­ful of “fac­tions”, the “mob” or the “masses”, ques­tioned the com­pe­tence of vot­ers to make in­formed de­ci­sions and were de­ter­mined to pro­tect the fed­er­al­ist repub­lic and the in­flu­ence of the states. The Elec­toral Col­lege was a com­pro­mise, re­ject­ing the Pres­i­dent be­ing elected by Congress or a na­tional pop­u­lar vote.

This aim, of favour­ing small states over large states and pro­tect­ing them from be­ing over­whelmed, en­sured US democ­racy was weak­ened and com­pro­mised from the start. After the 2018 Se­nate elec­tions, it had 18 sen­a­tors from nine large states rep­re­sent­ing 50 per cent of the US pop­u­la­tion. In con­trast, the other 50 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion were rep­re­sented by 82 sen­a­tors from 41 states. Two hun­dred and fifty years after this sys­tem was cre­ated, it looks un­fair and ridicu­lous. But at the heart of this elec­toral enigma is the en­dur­ing ques­tion of fed­er­al­ism ver­sus democ­racy. The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives re­flects the pop­u­la­tion and vot­ers of each state. The Se­nate is a prod­uct of fed­er­al­ism rep­re­sent­ing states, not peo­ple, and is un­demo­cratic and po­lit­i­cally rigged and has been since the cre­ation of the US in 1776. The pres­i­den­tial elec­tion gives an added and dis­pro­por­tion­ate im­por­tance to small, white, ru­ral states.

Wy­oming with a pop­u­la­tion of nearly 600,000 gets three Elec­toral Col­lege votes – one per 200,000 peo­ple. Cal­i­for­nia, the most pop­u­lous state with nearly 40 mil­lion, has 55 Elec­toral Col­lege votes – one per 727,000 peo­ple. So peo­ple in Wy­oming have 3.6 times more say over the pres­i­dency than an in­di­vid­ual Cal­i­for­nian.

Set­ting aside the ob­vi­ous un­fair­ness of the Elec­toral Col­lege, it seems in­sane to have a sys­tem that gives the pres­i­dency to the per­son who gets fewer votes. Strangely enough, in 2012 Don­ald Trump agreed, when he mis­tak­enly thought that Obama had lost the pop­u­lar vote. He tweeted: “The phoney elec­toral col­lege made a laugh­ing-stock out of our na­tion. The loser one! [won]”. Changed days!

The Elec­toral Col­lege is un­likely to be scrapped, de­spite pub­lic opin­ion be­ing strongly in favour of its abo­li­tion. In a poll car­ried out in 2018 by Prr/at­lantic Sur­vey, 65 per cent of Amer­i­cans sup­ported se­lect­ing the Pres­i­dent by the pop­u­lar vote.

Un­for­tu­nately, this is where the tyranny of the mi­nor­ity meets an im­mov­able ob­sta­cle. In the par­ti­san world of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, it is now im­pos­si­ble to amend or up­date the con­sti­tu­tion of the United States.

Achiev­ing a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment would re­quire a two-thirds vote in the House and Se­nate, and rat­i­fi­ca­tion from three-fourths of the states. This is tech­ni­cally dif­fi­cult. Some would say po­lit­i­cally im­pos­si­ble.

One glim­mer of hope is a group called the “Na­tional Pop­u­lar Vote Com­pact” who have come up with a plan to by­pass a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment in which each state would award all of its elec­toral col­lege votes in line with the na­tional pop­u­lar vote. If enough states signed up to this agree­ment to reach the 270 ma­jor­ity, the can­di­date who gained the most votes na­tion­wide would also win the pres­i­dency: this has real pos­si­bil­i­ties and would avoid the need to abol­ish the elec­toral col­lege or pur­sue an amend­ment to the con­sti­tu­tion.

Dan Pfeifer, in his new book, “UnTrump­ing Amer­ica”, says, “Elim­i­nat­ing the Elec­toral Col­lege would give ev­ery­one a say in who is pres­i­dent. No mat­ter where you live, no mat­ter how red or blue your state, your vote will count. More peo­ple would feel like a part of our democ­racy”. Un­for­tu­nately, this will not hap­pen be­fore 3 Novem­ber and Amer­ica will re­main a democ­racy in name only.

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 ?? PIC­TURE: EVAN VUCCI/AP ?? 0 Don­ald Trump lost the pop­u­lar vote to Hil­lary Clin­ton, but still be­came Pres­i­dent
PIC­TURE: EVAN VUCCI/AP 0 Don­ald Trump lost the pop­u­lar vote to Hil­lary Clin­ton, but still be­came Pres­i­dent

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