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The Electoral College is about to decide the fate of the Election - will it get it wrong again?


BY: Rhys Wallis



When America woke up on the morning of November 9th 2016, the President Elect was Donald Trump. He had a clear margin of victory in the electoral college (winning over 50 more electoral college votes than the required winning post of 270, taking home 327) and the vanquished foe, Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton, was a distant second in the low 200s. But all was not well in American Elections. The winner of the Election and the President-Elect had not won the most votes in the nation, and by somewhere in the region of 5 million votes. The "wrong" candidate won. This might seem like a modern thing, but this is the fifth time this has happened since the US was formed. Not many, but still, arguably, 5 too many. 



In 2016, 2000, 1888, 1876 and 1824, the Electoral College has misfired, each time crowning the Candidate with lower popular support than their main rival the commander in chief. In the 2 less notable incidents (only in terms of electoral phenomena), George W Bush benefited from this (amongst other things such as hanging chads) to make him the 43rd President against Al Gore, and Grover Cleveland was made the only President to serve non-consecutive terms after Benjamin Harrison beat him in 1888 - and then there is 1824. Called one of the most corrupt electoral pacts for the President in US History, Andrew Jackson won the popular vote, but in a crowded field of 4 major candidates, John Quincy Adams won the "contingent" election - decided by the House of Representatives as per the US Constitution - to become the nation's 6th President, and following in the footsteps of his father, John Adams (the first VP and second POTUS). Don't feel too sorry for Jackson though, he would become the 7th President, beating Adams in 1828 and serving for 2 terms. 



If we look at the distribution of Electoral College Votes as proportional to votes won in each state, we see the same problem of representation occurring nationwide. California hasn't been Republican since the 1980s, and the last Democratic Candidate to take Texas was Jimmy Carter back in 1976 - yet if you looked at their state legislatures, gubernatorial races and who they elect to Congress, you might be surprised to find out that both of these states (traditionally cast as the bluest of the blue and reddest of the red respectively) have significant cross-party support within their state lines: we just never see it on election day. But the problems of the major parties pale in comparison to the plight of the minor ones, and Independent candidates. The last Presidential Candidate to win an Electoral College Vote in their own right, after having won a state, was George Wallace, the segregationist former Governor of Alabama, in the election of 1968. Other Candidates since then have been awarded Electoral College Votes through the quirks of a system called "faithless electors" since '68, but Wallace was - and remains - the most recent candidate to win one outright, winning several southern states and nearly doing enough to force a contingent election.



Plenty have tried to win votes since then. Ross Perot in 1992 came closest, winning 19 million votes and just shy of 19 percent nationally, but taking home no Electoral College Votes to show for his efforts. Green Party candidates, Libertarian Party Candidates, Constitution Party Candidates, Reform Party Candidates and Independent candidates have tried since then, as they did before, but all to no avail in terms of winning the Presidency. This time around, a Birthday Party Candidate in the name of Kanye West will give it a go, and he will probably - I stress probably because if the last 5 or so years have taught us anything, it's not to take anything for granted or to make predictions - win no Electoral College Votes, and go down as another challenger to two party hegemony with fantastic wealth and assets who found it impossible to break the mould. If the system was different, we might see scores of minor parties compete and win votes, to truly put across the views of the nation, rather than have to choose between the same old Blue or Red Nominee - an actual choice, rather than the illusion of one, as Spike Cohen (Libertarian Party Vice Presidential Nominee, and recent interviewee of mine) put it. 



These 5 incidents may seem trivial, but these are just the ones where the "wrong" person won and we acknowledge it. Wrong representations are given in almost every single election. The 1984 Map for Reagan v Mondale looks like a sea of Republican Red. Reagan won everything except The District of Columbia and Mondale's home state, Minnesota. But Mondale got nearly 30% of the vote. Not winning totals, but not a complete wipeout. The same for the Carter-Ford election in 1976. Despite losing, Ford did admirably in defending an administration and party haemorrhaging trust and confidence - yet the history books put it down as a historic loss, and the same for beleaguered President Herbert Hoover (although less of an admirable job from him, his Electoral College numbers belie his actual popular support). By artificially inflating the winning margins of successful Presidential Candidates time and time again, the nation - so often divided by the Presidential Election - can go one of two ways. It could unite itself behind a winning candidate, seeing them take a lead of hundreds of Electoral College Votes (perhaps), but more commonly, the supporters of one candidate can point to the flaws in the system and say "Not My President". A real worry. And these are just the high profile problems plaguing the major parties. 



If we look at the distribution of Electoral College Votes as proportional to votes won in each state, we see the same problem of representation occurring nationwide. California hasn't been Republican since the 1980s, and the last Democratic Candidate to take Texas was Jimmy Carter back in 1976 - yet if you looked at their state legislatures, gubernatorial races and who they elect to Congress, you might be surprised to find out that both of these states (traditionally cast as the bluest of the blue and reddest of the red respectively) have significant cross party support within their state lines: we just never see it on election day. But the problems of the major parties pale in comparison to the plight of the minor ones, and Independent candidates. The last Presidential Candidate to win an Electoral College Vote in their own right, after having won a state, was George Wallace, the segregationist former Governor of Alabama, in the election of 1968. Other Candidates since then have been awarded Electoral College Votes through the quirks of a system called "faithless electors" since '68, but Wallace was - and remains - the most recent candidate to win one outright, winning several southern states and nearly doing enough to force a contingent election.



Plenty have tried to win votes since then. Ross Perot in 1992 came closest, winning 19 million votes and just shy of 19 percent nationally, but taking home no Electoral College Votes to show for his efforts. Green Party candidates, Libertarian Party Candidates, Constitution Party Candidates, Reform Party Candidates and Independent candidates have tried since then, as they did before, but all to no avail in terms of winning the Presidency. This time around, a Birthday Party Candidate in the name of Kanye West will give it a go, and he will probably - I stress probably because if the last 5 or so years have taught us anything, it's not to take anything for granted or to make predictions - win no Electoral College Votes, and go down as another challenger to two party hegemony with fantastic wealth and assets who found it impossible to break the mould. If the system was different, we might see scores of minor parties compete and win votes, to truly put across the views of the nation, rather than have to choose between the same old Blue or Red Nominee - an actual choice, rather than the illusion of one, as Spike Cohen (Libertarian Party Vice Presidential Nominee, and recent interviewee of mine) put it. 



The Electoral College is not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, and many would argue it has had its day: but what to replace it with? Straight up popular vote, largest total wins? Republicans would bolt at such a suggestion, because the metropolitan, densely populated areas with high voter turnout and engagement are mainly Democrat held. The Electoral College found a "solution" to this, by trying to counterbalance the large votes of the more populated states with blocks of votes for small states - gaining the map we know today of Electoral College Vote totals. All that meant, however, that a voter in Wyoming has three times the amount of away with their vote than a voter in California, because it takes three times as many votes to win an Electoral College Vote in urban California than it does in rural Wyoming. So is the choice to ignore the votes in the small states to focus on the big states versus the ignorance of the voters in the big states in favour of the small states? If so, how can we call that a choice? 



There are other ways: award the Electoral College Votes under the Maine System (so named because Maine used it first, followed by Nebraska) where votes are distributed based on congressional districts. You could also just award all states' electoral college votes based off of their popular vote - not disadvantaging the small states, they still get to case their warped number of votes - but making the apportionment fairer and more representative of the actual votes cast in each state: purple state solutions, rather than devoutly red and blue. 



Or perhaps there is no way to solve it. Perhaps the US is stuck with a system where it only takes 11 States to win the Presidency (CA, TX, FL, NY, IL, PA, OH, MI, GA, NC and NJ). Perhaps the US is stuck with a system where - on a technicality - candidates can win the 26 least populated states and no others, and still win the Presidency: that works out as having won somewhere in the region of a quarter of the votes cast, depending on how it is calculated. Perhaps the US is stuck in a system where people always find a way to shout "Not My President". It certainly is for 2020, and it will be an election to remember, although for which reason, we don't yet know.




*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.

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