America’s Voting System

Source: The Guardian

Source: The Guardian

On November 7, 2020, the 46th President of the United States was elected with Joe Biden’s (D) victory over Donald Trump (R). Regardless of the final result, one thing became very clear; the inefficiency of the American voting system. Election night was on Tuesday, November 3rd, mail-in ballots were known to have been pouring in for several weeks prior to election night, and yet no clear winner was declared until four days later– an unacceptable amount of time to count a nation’s ballots. This year’s inefficiency and delay when it came to counting votes was the central concern regarding the Electoral College, yet other gaps and flaws in the methodology designed by the modern world’s first democracy have become clear and perhaps even abundant. These problems include the Electoral College system as a whole;  state, not federal, voting laws and their relation to the delay to count votes; and optional voting as opposed to compulsory voting.


A major weakness in the American voting system is the Electoral College itself. A nation that prides itself on being a true democracy ironically does not have the most purely democratic voting system. Given the nature of the Electoral College, it allows for the possibility of a candidate with the lower popular vote to win the election, meaning the president-elect would have minority support but still be in office the following year because they won the 270 electoral votes. Take Donald Trump in 2016, for example. Three million more ballots were cast in favor of Hillary Clinton– nearly the equivalent of Nevada’s entire population– thus tipping her to win the popular vote, but still, President Trump ended up moving into the White House. Those who favor the Electoral College say that it’s meant to protect the smaller states, such as Montana and Arkansas, and make them important when a race is very close. This was crucial when the 13 colonies first gained independence from Great Britain. However, in two of the closest races in the past four decades, where George W. Bush and Joe Biden came out as victors, it was not the small states that decided the race. In the former’s case, it was the Supreme Court that had the final word. For Biden, states with more significant electoral votes, such as Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania were the key to victory.  Employing a system that allows for a president with a minority of popular votes to be elected is completely irrational and borderline undemocratic, yet it’s the way the United States does it. On the other hand, some argue that the Electoral College system is fine since candidates know from the get-go that they must strategize and pick their battles wisely, not to win the popular vote, but to win key states. Notwithstanding the validity of this argument, it continues to be trumped by the fact that in no democracy should people’s voice not be heard to their fullest extent, including the expression voice takes in people’s votes. Moreover, the Electoral College system dissuades citizens from voting, especially in solid Democrat and Republican states. What is the point of a Republican going to vote in California, or a Democrat in Texas or Mississippi? The final result will not matter since the state’s electoral points will go entirely to one candidate or the other. Thus, we can see that the Electoral College process is outdated, allowing for a disregard of the popular vote, and stifling larger voter turnouts. 


Another major flaw in the United States’ electoral procedure is the fact that every state has the ability to pass its own voting legislation, meaning that for one election there are 50 different kinds of voting laws that must be integrated into a web of logistics. The delay to count votes in some of the key swing states, such as those on the Rust Belt, were due to the fact that absentee ballots could only be counted after in-person ones, even though the former had been available for counting much earlier than the latter. This not only made the counting process in 2020 more inefficient in and of itself, but it also sparked a number of voter fraud allegations that have not been sustained but merely speculated due to the inconsistency of state laws. Secondly, some states do not have electronic voting available to those who deposit their ballots on election day, meaning that millions of ballots must be counted manually– a tiring and long process. The lack of uniformity regarding voting laws can confuse inhabitants of different states, and dissuade them from voting, thinking a conclusion to the race has already been reached when in fact their vote still counts. Simply put, a national election should be ruled by federal laws– as it concerns a federal office– rather than various state’s legislation. 


My final critique is voluntary voting. I do not believe that voting should be an option, but that it should be compulsory. In a democracy voting is the most important right to have, and thus not exercising it is unthinkable. Still, many Americans choose to do so. For example, in the 2016 elections of the 230,931,921 eligible voters, only 59.2% turned out, approximately 136,700,000 citizens. Hence, nearly 100 million eligible voters did not cast a vote. One has the right to protest and dislike a government, but when one did nothing to prevent that government from rising to power, e.g. voting, their protest becomes considerably less significant. As discussed previously, optional voting within the Electoral College is not characteristic of true democracy, as casting a ballot is arguably the most symbolic statement and the hallmark of democracies. A country where a President can be elected with the minority of the votes, votes that represent only a bit more than half of the eligible voter population, is definitely a country where democracy is bound to stumble. Again, we turn to President Trump to see a living example of this. He won over 66 million Americans out of the possible 230 million eligible voters, about 29%. How can a nation that claims to be democratic be ruled by a candidate that has the official approval of only 29% of the population? Add to that a bipartisan system that fuels polarization and separation, and we arrive at the United States we have now. 


The visible flaws in the voting system combine to form a confusing, unjust, and slippery-slope in the decline of democracy, where political rivals can be seen as enemies rather than assets. The procedure must change, and the sooner the better.