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Switch from Electoral College to popular vote

BY MATT HEINZE | OCTOBER 27, 2011 7:20 AM

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The United States is a democratic republic. Or at least, I think it is. Ever since I was a wee boy in social studies class, that's what I've been told over and over again.

Yet, lately before I fall asleep at night, I find myself contemplating the oddities present in our process of selecting our commander-in-chief.

You see, in America we don't embrace the notion of a popular vote. Instead, we opt for the overly complex Electoral College, a system in which proxy electors stand in for American citizens in an elaborate illusion to true democracy. Recently, Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley and Gov. Terry Branstad said they'd like to keep it that way, which is somewhat abhorrent.

If there's one thing that's immediately apparent about the Electoral College, it's that it's an asinine system to use for a country so engrained in the ideology of democracy. Our election cycle shouldn't have to be this complicated or unfair. Instead, we should embrace the idea of democracy more precisely by moving toward a national popular vote.

The current Electoral College, as many may well remember from their high-school American government classes, allots a set number of "electors" to each state based on the number of Congressional representatives and senators each has. These "electors" then vote for the candidate for which the constituents voted (though they're not always legally obligated to), with most states giving all their "electors" away to a single winner. This means states such as California or Florida end up being extremely important to a candidate because of the winner-takes-all structure.

Unfortunately, this system also proves to be extremely problematic. Over the course of our unique history, we've seen numerous candidates win a plurality of the nation's votes yet still fail to become president. Andrew Jackson, Grover Cleveland, Samuel Tilden, and Al Gore all won the popular vote yet failed to garner enough votes in the Electoral College to win. (Oh, and that last guy losing left us with the overly competent President George Bush Jr. to lead, so there's that.)

So let's think about this for a moment: In our screwy democracy, if a majority of Americans want to elect a certain candidate, that person can sometimes remain unelected. Worse still, under our winner-takes-all structure, if I voted for a candidate in my state but a few hundred more people voted for the other, my representation (and thereby, support) is passed onto the candidate for whom I never voted.

Thankfully, the National Popular Vote campaign, so-called for obvious reasons, has seen immense success pushing for a revision to our electoral system. Though not enabling a direct popular vote, the system would forego the process by garnering enough Electoral College votes to render a plurality of influence. The campaign itself is already halfway there.

Under this policy, a majority of state electors in the Electoral College would be forced to follow the example of the national popular vote, thereby guaranteeing a national majority decision. This would provide much better representation than our current structure because of its simplicity and inherent fairness.

While this system would certainly constitute an improvement, it's still not perfect. The presence of the Electoral College, in any capacity, still too highly favors a two-party system. If a shift to a true popular vote were to occur, it would give independents and other less-populist party candidates a much greater voice and chance to compete, thus providing for an even greater democracy.

Still, perhaps most important to note throughout any revisionist discussion is that if the United States moved toward a popular election, it wouldn't create some monumental wave of disapproval. Currently, the Electoral College system is almost universally panned by Americans, with the majority of both Republicans and Democrats in favor of replacing it with — you guessed it, a popular vote.

So it appears the time is ripe to give the American people the opportunity to directly vote for their head of state. To argue otherwise is completely out of line with American principles.

And to those who may believe that American voters aren't to be trusted with this endeavor: Perhaps you aren't a true Stars and Stripes believer after all.


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