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Flaws Of The Electoral College – Why America Votes How It Does

by Prisha Anand
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The presidential candidates, Joe Biden (Democrat) and incumbent president Donald John Trump (Republican) were at crossroads regarding various issues ranging from the Iran Nuclear Deal or climate change to Obamacare and addressal of pre-existing conditions. Additionally this year, the Vice Presidential candidates Kamala Harris (Democrat) and Mike Pence (Republican) also played a crucial role as for the first time both the Presidential candidates are above the age of 70. 

History was made as Biden became the oldest President the US has ever had and also the fifth candidate to defeat an incumbent president. 

How U.S. votes 

The electoral system in the US is different from the one in India. In the US they follow a system called the Electoral College. Here, each state is allotted a specific number of ‘electors’ proportional to the population of the state. Each state gets as many electors as there are members of US Congress (It comprises of the Senate and the House Of Representatives) from that state. 

The electors are the people who will be voting for the President. This method of voting was adopted because the nation’s founders were sceptical about the ability of the people to make such an important decision. They believed that not all citizens would be equipped with sufficient knowledge to undertake a responsibility of such magnitude. 

It was actually a compromise. According to the Virginia Plan, the Congress was to vote for the President but then they felt that it would threaten the balance of power as the President would now be beholden to the Congress. Hence, they decided to endorse the Electoral College method.

There are two types of votes in the US – National Popular Votes and Electoral Votes. Ultimately, it is the Electoral Votes which decide who becomes the President. A candidate might have secured more popular votes but might still not become the President. For example, in 2016 elections, Hillary Clinton secured 2.9 million more votes than Trump, giving her a 2.1% margin over her opponent. Yet, Trump emerged victorious. 

Popular votes refer to the number of votes the people cast for a particular candidate. With the exception of 2 states, all the others follow a winner takes all policy wherein all the Electoral Votes from that state go to the candidate who acquires majority of the popular votes i.e., majority of the votes cast by the people in that state. 

The flaws of Electoral Votes 

For example, California has 55 electoral votes and all of them go to the candidate who secures majority of popular votes there. The states of Maine and Nebraska follow a different principle where two electoral votes go to the candidate who secured more votes in the entire state and one electoral vote each to the candidate who emerges victorious in the various congressional districts. Lately, a number of people have spoken out about the loopholes in this system of voting. This is where we encounter the concept of vote weight. Now, the number of electors assigned is based on the census which takes place every 10 years and records the population in a state. 

But what this does not take into account is the fact that the population in a region is not equal to the voter turnout. So, as a result a candidate will now be able to able to secure all the electoral votes in a state even if only 60% of the people voted! To understand how this affects the system better, let us assume a hypothetical situation where 100 people in state 1 (say it has 3 electoral votes) vote and out of that 90 vote for candidate A. So candidate A gets all 3 electoral votes from state 1. Now in state 2 (say it has 55 electoral votes), 200 people vote and out of that 102 vote for candidate B. So candidate B gets all 55 electoral votes even if he won only by a small margin. In total (of two states together), candidate A secured 188 popular votes while candidate B secured only 112. So naturally we would expect candidate A to have benefited in these two states alone but that is not the case. In the US, the electoral votes are what constitute the deciding factor. So as a result, candidate B who has 55 electoral votes has an edge over candidate A who only secured 3. 

The second flaw with this system is the concept of labelling states as ‘Red’ and ‘Blue’. Traditionally some states are always seen to favour the Republicans and they are called the Red states while some others favour the Democrats and they are called the Blue states. The candidates tend to focus more on certain states called the battleground/swing states. These states have the potential to change the direction in which an election is headed. So candidates tend to base their policies along the lines of what people in these states favour.

The third flaw is the fact that the vote weight varies from state to state and from year to year. It depends on the voter turnout. So if in state B the voter turnout is higher than state A then the value of an individual’s vote in state B is lower than that in state A. So the impact of a single person’s vote on the decision regarding the president of his/her country is not the same throughout. Many people argue saying that this is not in accordance with the one person, one vote policy that a democracy stands for. 

The US presidential election is of grave importance to all countries because under the Trump administration, the US embarked upon several measures that a Biden administration can completely alter. 

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