Why the United States Election Process is Flawed
This election will probably have the greatest voter turn out in many a year. The ripple effect of ‘firsts’ will change the face of many elections to come. For all its excitement, there are some serious flaws that keep an educated man from truly rejoicing in democracy. Let’s take a look at some of the inherent built-in flaws of our United States election process:
1) ELECTORAL COLLEGE & Representative Democracy: Still the biggest complaint about ‘indirect’ elections that keep democracy from being a pure democracy. Voters do not elect the President themselves; rather, they cast votes that are cast FOR them by Electoral College members. The number of EC members per state is exactly the number of Senators and House of Representatives in US Congress. For Indiana, for instance, there are a total of 11 US Congressmen, therefore there are 11 Electoral votes and 11 Electoral members. Each member is required to vote the way their demographic area voters voted EXCEPT that this is a winner-take-all proposition. If Candidate A wins by 1% of the popular votes, then he gets ALL of the Electoral College, thereby completely disregarding the other 49% of the votes cast within that state. In 2000, Al Gore defeated George W. Bush in the Popular election numbers, but lost the election due to Electoral Votes. Large states have a disproportionate number of power since they command so many total votes, and therefore command so many Electoral Votes. A 49% ‘miss’ is translated into a 49% bonus of extra Electoral Votes for the winner of that state. The impact of the loss of electoral votes in that state far outweighs that of a smaller to medium sized state in the 10-15 million population range.
The founding fathers in Article 1 & 2 of the Constitution setup the Electoral College (although that term wasn’t really an official term until 1845) as a way of ensuring that corruption did not influence key areas. There wasn’t mass communication back then, and word of mouth and newspapers were the chief methods of voter education. The fathers were afraid that a political party would pay off voters, literally, in huge blocks. The indirect method of electing the President using the ‘representative voter’ method became the norm. Therefore, the United States does not have a ‘pure’ democracy (direct democracy.) It has a Representative Democracy where we have people who vote thru proxy FOR us, even though we have cast our own ballot.
An amusing anecdote: today a friend of mine went into political battle in her office today. She off-handedly said that the popular vote doesn’t really elect the President anyway, so what was the purpose of voting in the Presidential Election. Every person in that office, an educated degreed technician, argued with her that ‘the Electoral College’ doesn’t elect the president! They were all 100% wrong, and didn’t know it. They thought the College was only used in the case of a tie or dispute. Amazing, but true story, and one that is doubtless repeated among the educated and non-college degreed voters out there.
2) Too Many Votes Not being Counted – in 2000 and 2004, the United States experienced the naivety in believing that the technical era could streamline the voting process. Boy were they wrong! Diebold vote tabulators had myriad problems, and were completely overhauled for the 2008 process. Voter purges are often wrought with errors in judgment on ‘who’ to exclude from voting registration sheets. Traditionally, felony convicts and undocumented immigrants are exempt from voting in the election. Also, people that have recently moved may have many difficulties in casting votes. Some people have no photo ID, and are thereby not able to prove who they are on election date: and can’t vote. In every election there are isolated cases (usually not conspiratorial) where voter suppression of various forms takes place. A very common form is the use of a caging list where the opposing political party mails a registered letter to an address. If it comes back as ‘undeliverable’, then the party may request that this address be taken off voter registration lists. The request is called a caging list.
3) Fixed Primaries & the Two-Party System- A main complaint among voters is that they don’t like either candidate. This seems to be a frequent complaint in every election. The problem? We have two political parties, and only two that really rock the election votes. Certain candidates very loyal to their party get paid back by the party by getting disproportionate political clout. There are very few underdogs who arise within a party, practically unvetted, and get on National election nomination ballots. Many states actually prohibit voters from voting in the Primaries UNLESS they register as either a Republican or Democrat! Independents cannot vote in most state primaries, so again there is heavy emphasis on the 2-party system. A primary that allows independent primary voting is said to be an ‘Open Primary’ and one that does not allow independent voters is said to be a ‘Closed Primary.’
The Democrats further poison their own well by having ‘super delegates’ cast vote for their voters, much like the Electoral College. They often vote their own mind, breaking the vow of keeping the voter’s interest first. Republicans elect their nominees using plurality. Often, the Primary nominee is chosen more for their centrist views, then their actual record, which greatly homogenizes and pasteurizes the candidate choice.
Many political scholars that a Two-Party system doesn’t offer us enough choice, especially if the Primary system does not give us the best candidate. It also is prone to bad mannered politics in an ‘us or them’ mentality. Libertarians have struggled for the past 20 years to make a mark and may have an inside track on becoming a possible viable third party, but people hug onto to their political parties like a warm woobie.
4) Incumbents Win 95% of the Time- Okay voters, hang your head in shame. YOU are responsible for this debacle. Straight Party ticket voting virtually ensures incumbents will win most of the time due to the gerrymandering (political setup of a voting area). Currently the Congressional approval rate is 10%, and yet, individual voters directly elect their Congressmen and fail to accurately assess their own local candidates’ performance.
Said differently, out of 20 seats voted on, only ONE will result in a name change.
I think if voters were more aware of the Electoral’s system and the incumbent winning ratio, they would be a bit more careful. It would be difficult to give a better governmental election edge to any other country’s method, but the United States’ system is very flawed, and needs to be changed to become more of WE THE PEOPLE and not by proxy.
(C) 2008 Jeffery Feezle