During each presidential election cycle, various pundits and civics experts complain about the system that relies on the Electoral College to determine the outcome of the race for the White House.
University of California – San Diego student Kelvin Noronha proves an assessment, which includes the tendency for the system to drive a “two party government” and its negative impact on voter enthusiasm.
The recent torrent of voices on Library Walk urging students to register to vote has revealed a recurrent problem: Many UCSD students are indifferent toward the elections and their roles in deciding our government.
This stems from the reliance of the American political system on the Electoral College, an institution that helps breed collective apathy growing among young people. Ideally, there would be a movement toward a direct election system, which would level the political playing field and mobilize potential voters, ultimately marking a progression toward the basic values of a democracy. But since such a radical change is unlikely, it is important for people to do their part in the political process and not feel entirely hobbled by the Electoral College.
In the Electoral College system, each state’s “electors” are allocated to the candidate who wins the majority of the public’s votes in each state. For example, when the public’s votes in California go to a presidential candidate, that candidate will be awarded all 55 electoral votes from California. A similar “winner-take-all” system is practiced in all states except Nebraska and Maine.
There have been several well-catalogued flaws in this method since its inception. Criticism goes back to the 1824 presidential election, when John Quincy Adams triumphed over Andrew Jackson. In that case, Jackson’s majority in the popular vote was overridden by a vote for Adams in the House of Representatives after Jackson failed to attain a majority in the electoral college vote. In more recent history, the 2000 presidential election was decided by the electoral vote, giving President George W. Bush a victory even while 540,000 more voters chose Al Gore. These misrepresentations of the population’s intentions have, in effect, disenfranchised significant parts of the American population.
In California, for instance, the winner-take-all system essentially nullifies Republican votes, while leading Democrats to question why they should bother voting in the first place. Here, Democratic candidates have won by sizeable margins in every election since 1992, handing all of California’s 55 electoral votes to the Democratic candidate. Since 1992, Democratic victories have been foregone conclusions. Similar circumstances occur in states such as Texas and Massachusetts, where a victory for a certain party is all but assured. As a result, disenchanted voters end up staying away from the polls, distancing themselves from the political system.
The unbalanced focus on swing states means that each candidate will pledge unwavering support for Iowa’s corn industry, New Hampshire’s dairy farms and Virginia’s shipyards. Along the way, issues that affect the country as a whole become inconsequential, and campaign expenditures stream almost unilaterally to contested states.
Both President Obama and Gov. Romney have made the majority of their campaign stops in states such as Virginia, Ohio, and Florida. California, a state with a population greater than that of all three states combined, has been largely ignored. This fuels the perception that presidential candidates will pander to swing states rather than catering to a wide audience of prospective voters. The same process that makes many votes irrelevant ensures that only “battleground” toss-up states and their voters will be targeted by campaigns. While the aforementioned battleground states have been lavished with upwards of $367 million in campaign spending, the Democratic and Republican campaigns have spent a combined $16 million in California.
Perhaps most relevant for UCSD students is the electoral system’s tendency towards a two-party system. Unlike in nations such as Great Britain, where governmental positions are proportional to the number of votes obtained by each party, the American system effectively supports a binary party system. The lack of options has led people who don’t approve of either party’s candidate to skip voting altogether. The historically activist student demographics, such as the enthusiastic hundreds that turned out for a May UCSD appearance by Libertarian Ron Paul, are being turned off politics as they cannot find a match within either party platform for their specific values and ideals.
The Green Party and Libertarian Party, traditionally more popular among impassioned young voters, have been starved of electoral votes and representation in government by the winner-take-all system. A report by survey firm JZ Analytics pegs Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson’s support at fewer than 5.5 percent of likely voters. In a system where political power is confined to solely Democrats and Republicans, people who would vote for a third-party candidate are stymied by the lack of opportunity and democratic choice that the Electoral College affords them.
With a voter turnout barely topping 60 percent, the United States can ill afford to alienate and disenfranchise those who still have a vested interest in the political process. Low voting rates, much like a survey with a small sample size, are hardly conducive to true Democratic representation. While the Electoral College does tend to temper extremist views and encourage politicians to moderate their beliefs, the consequent evisceration of democratic choice and political efficacy is depriving the country of a sorely needed electorate.
Loss of the Small People in a Big State: The Inadequacy of the Electoral College (The UCSD Guardian)