Why Popularity Should Matter

Hillary Clinton is joining an exclusive list that baffles many people: she won the most votes across the country, but lost the presidency.

Votes are still being counted across the country, but early reports from Associated Press numbers are showing Clinton has amassed 59.16 million votes, whereas Donald Trump had only 59 million. Infuriating as it may be, this isn’t the first time this has happened. Clinton is the 4th victim of this flawed system:

  • 1876 - Samuel Tilden lost to Rutherford B. Hayes
  • 1888 - Grover Cleveland lost to Benjamin Harrison
  • 2000 - Al Gore lost to George W. Bush

If you’re unfamiliar, here’s a quick recap of how this happens.

The United States election process is supposed to lead to fairness and equal representation, but it doesn’t--primarily because they idiotically rely on an outdated system. Don’t get me wrong, other nations have it even worse, but let’s dissect the American electoral college first.

America is composed of 538 “electors”. Each state has at least 3 electors, or votes, to cast in the presidential race. This creates an unequal distribution of votes, as not all states have the same population. Ideally, the number of votes should reflect a population, but in the electoral college, they do not, creating these “swing states” so widely discussed and polled to predict their outcomes. The fact that the country’s political future can be decided by a small number of states should disturb everyone- but of course that would detract too many people from email scandals and #SpiritCooking.

The next flaw is the added step of the actual electoral college. When the general public heads to the polls, they are voting to choose the electors for their state. Larger populations in certain areas get more electors, as that particular area will be sending more representatives to the hill--this is where 538 comes from (435 representatives, 100 senators, and 3 from the District of Columbia).

In all but two states, the candidate who receives the majority of the votes wins the state’s electoral votes, which are then counted in the presidential election. This is known as the “first past the post” system, or FPTP. This is where the problem lies. In this system, voters choose their candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins; all other votes count for nothing. So even if someone only has 40% of the vote, they will be declared the winner, even though 60% of the folks in that state did not support them. This candidate then has the power to cast the electoral votes for their presidential choice. The electoral is summarized, and it is declared in favor of a particular candidate. A perfect example from Nov 8 is how, in the state of Florida, any votes cast for Clinton do not count toward the Federal count. The state as a whole is counted as a win for Trump.

That’s right: even though people may select a presidential candidate on the ballot, they don’t actually get to vote for them. They essentially vote for a representative who then votes for them. There is no trust that the American people can choose their own leader.

Perhaps there is some merit there, as George Carlin once famously said, “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.” But this electoral college is a Frankenstein of a system that is just fucking ridiculous. It makes millions of Americans’ votes irrelevant to the outcome because they don’t live in competitive states. Overall, it just ensures that Americans technically never have the right to choose their president. It’s built into the Constitution, making it highly unlikely to change since it would involve an amendment. That would require two-thirds support in both the House and the Senate which, both happen to be GOP-controlled now. All previous attempts to overhaul the electoral college and FPTP over the last few centuries have failed miserably.

Defenders of this system argue that it “normally” works just fine. But this is small comfort to the Democrats who have now lost two of the last five elections. Two of the last five. The majority of Americans voted for both Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, and yet neither of them became Commander-in-Chief. Let’s take a moment to absorb that: the American people voted for someone, and their representatives will now elect a different person who does not stand for the values they believe in. NPR sat down and did the math: someone can win the presidency of the entire United States of America with just 23% of the vote.

Power to the people indeed.

If we are interested in having a true democracy, the electoral college has to go. Its primary function seems to be to curb the control people have over their government. This is impossible with the current American system. The House and Senate have next to no accountability for their choices.

In fact, this is such a terrible system that Trump himself called for the dismantling of the electoral college back in 2012. As the president-elect stated himself: “The electoral college is a disaster for democracy.” Never thought I’d agree with a man who cannot handle his own Twitter account, yet here we are. Someone explain to me how Trump can hold a 1.1-point lead in Pennsylvania, 1-point lead in Wisconsin, and 0.3-point lead in Michigan, yet still receive all 46 of those electoral votes? How does this accurately represent the population’s desires?

It doesn’t.

Remember when I mentioned the FPTP system applied to all but two states? Maine, full of vastly more intelligent fishermen, implemented a different system in 1972, with Nebraska following in their footsteps in 1996. Both these states employ what is called Congressional District Method, allowing them to diverge from the winner-take-all method of electoral vote allocation. Although it’s not perfect, this allows them to split their electoral votes - two to the winner’s party, one to the next highest voted candidate - and therefore more accurately represent their population.

Why isn’t the rest of the country doing this? Oh right: it would not benefit the Republicans. FPTP is ideal for a partisan system like the US, because it allows cyclical changes between parties. But it is an inefficient and undemocratic method that dismisses the majority of votes. As much as Trump’s supporters claim to be anti-institution and anti-establishment, this system promotes political conformity. We’re never given another option, because voting outside the two major parties ends up as a thrown-away vote. And it’s typically the left that suffers. As they are primarily composed of diverse groups and minorities, which end up compromising.

Unfortunately, it compromised last night, and now Trump and his Republicans find themselves in an interesting position. Having won all branches of government, they now have no excuses for inaction, for obstruction from the Democrats, and most of all, no accountability to the people. They can act on their own personal interests, on behalf of their corporate masters, or for the working class American people.

We all like to claim that we’re past the popularity contests of high school, but shouldn’t there be some reflection of what the general public wants in the government body? With Clinton possessing the support of the people, it means Trump was not, realistically, elected by the citizens of the country he will be running. Who do you think he’s going to be work for then?

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