If you’re like me, sleep during the week of election was scarce. My eyes were glued to my computer as my constant stream of CNN would promise me new vote counts that were only “minutes away” which would always seem to come after about an hour. A lot of metaphors were used for this election as well, many referred to it as “on a knife edge,” “a nail biter,” or “a victory for democracy.” A victory for democracy it definitely was. With President Donald Trump set to lose the Electoral College vote, one of the most present threats towards our nation’s democratic institutions will be out of governmental power in a short time. Trump, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. If Americans wish to maintain and expand what we have as a democracy, there should be some rethinking of the current way we choose who serves in the highest office.
As of writing this, President-elect Joe Biden has won the popular vote over Trump by over five million votes and most of those yet to be counted are from blue states. That alone should be enough for a mandate in favor of democracy. But this is not the case in America where a vote of 270 by electors is necessary to win the presidency. Due to this oddity in our electoral process, two out of the last five presidential elections have gone to the candidates that did not win the popular vote. Our current electoral system favors the Republican party as their voters are more spread out across the country in rural areas, improving their odds of winning the presidential election in more states. Those who have recently voted for the Democratic party represent a larger share of the U.S. population but are increasingly more concentrated in urban areas within specific states. This creates an unnecessary hurdle for them to cross to hold the executive office despite having won the popular vote in four out of the last five elections.
One may ask, why don’t Democratic candidates work to improve their appeal in the states they are losing? The issue with this is that these voters would still have a disproportionate effect on U.S. policy despite being a political minority no matter which party they were attracted to. It is not about which party wins elections, it is about allowing for whoever gets the most votes to take office. For instance, despite evidence of it causing short and long term environmental damage through methane emissions, both major candidates this past election were in support of fracking. According to Pew Research, the majority of Americans think the government should be doing more to fight climate change. The obvious decision for anyone running to attract the majority of Americans to their campaign would at the very least signal discomfort with fracking. But because there were twenty Electoral College votes at stake in Pennsylvania where fracking is an important industry, neither candidate was willing to oppose this harmful practice. Obviously this is not the only reason it has been so hard for our country and others to transition away from dirty energy, but it definitely hurts the cause.
This system prioritizes states interests over our national polity. The states that most benefit most from this are also disproportionately white. I haven’t seen a more succinct analysis of this injustice than a tweet from former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich which reads, “Wyoming is 92% white. California is 37% white. A Wyoming voter has nearly 4x more influence than a California voter.” This is just one example, but Wyoming has a population a little under 600,000 while California has a population a little under 40,000,000. Voters should have equal influence over elections. Any country worth respecting would fix this imbalance.
Now, a Republican may read my argument and think, this is just an argument to marginalize Republican and conservative power. It is not; it is an argument to decrease the influence of a political minority that is holding back the wishes of the majority of voters. The Republican party is still very popular. While they would have to change some messaging to appeal to a few more million voters, winning the national popular vote is not something that is out of reach.
I am also not saying the rights, desires, and beliefs of political minorities should be ignored. They are just as much citizens as those in the majority and institutions should be in place for their voices to impact and challenge legislation. This is why institutional checks and balances such as the courts, constitution, and the house and senate are also important for democracy to succeed. But political minorities should not be able to have this much power in any nation that wishes to call itself a democracy. Allowing a party that attracts a minority of voters to continue to have this much influence spits in the face of democratic governance.
The responsibility is now on the Biden-Harris administration along with those committed to liberal democracy in both major parties of the U.S. to move the country away from the Electoral College. This would not be an easy task as to get rid of it would require a constitutional amendment. It should still be a priority of those who care about democracy anyway. Every citizen is given the promise that for local and state elections the winner will be the candidate with the most votes, why should that same standard not be applied nationally?