It’s Time to Give Democracy a Chance
In most democracies across the world, the winner of an election is the candidate who gets the most votes. In the United States, when it comes to electing the highest office in the land, we are accustomed to a somewhat less democratic system called the Electoral College. In the Presidential election in the year 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote by 540,000 votes but lost the election. While letting the loser win had always been a potential outcome of the Electoral College, it hadn’t happened since 1888 and in 2000 this seemed to be just one of many odd happenings in a very odd election year. Fast forward to 2016 when Hillary Clinton won by more than 2.8 million votes and this quirky system starts to seem a bit less charming. According to the non-partisan Cook Political Report, Clinton has now won, I mean lost, the 2016 election 48.2% to 46.1%.
Why do we allow losers to win Presidential elections in the United States? Defending the interests of the small states against those of the big states has been one reason offered. By giving the small states more electoral votes than they would have based solely on population, theoretically this could make Presidential candidates spend more time, attention and money on them. This hasn’t worked — in 2016, two-thirds of campaign events were held in just six states, according to FairVote. 94% were held in just 12 states (the so-called “swing states”). By and large, the other 38 states have very little impact at all on Presidential elections.
The Electoral College can even affect policy as a side-effect of politicians pandering to small interest groups in swing states. This can be seen in the embargo of Cuba, which has been ongoing for over a half-century because of the disproportionate influence of the Cuban-American vote. Unfortunately, changing to a more democratic electoral system would be essentially impossible in today’s political climate because it would require a Constitutional amendment. Or would it? Not according to National Popular Vote, a bi-partisan group that wants every American’s vote to count, and count the same, in Presidential elections. The National Popular Vote bill can be passed by each state individually and has already been passed by 10 states plus the District of Columbia. Once enough states equaling at least 270 electoral votes have passed the bill, it would set up an interstate compact requiring all participating states to give their electoral votes to the candidate winning the popular vote. This guarantees the winner of the popular vote would win the Presidency without needing to change the Constitution.
In Georgia, our legislature has already been discussing the National Popular Vote bill. In 2016, it was introduced in the state Senate (SB 376) and passed in committee by the state House (HB 929), supported by the powerful and unlikely duo of Earl Ehrhart (R) and Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D). Given that more than 70% of Georgians want the winner of the popular vote to win Presidential elections according to one poll, perhaps it’s time to give democracy a chance. Hopefully, the Republicans in the Georgia legislature will understand that the shoe might be on the other foot next time around and that either way, continuing to use this crazy, archaic system harms our democracy.
Will Georgia join the 10 states that have already passed National Popular Vote? If you’d like to give the Georgia legislature some encouragement in that direction, contact our state senators and representatives!
Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert (firstname.lastname@example.org, 404-463-1366)
Senator Frank Ginn (email@example.com, 404-656-4700)
Representative Regina Quick (firstname.lastname@example.org, 404-656-0220)
Representative Spencer Frye (email@example.com, 404-656-0265)
Representative Chuck Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org, 404-656-0254)
Athens for Everyone will be watching to see if these bills are re-introduced in the 2017 legislative session, and we’ll keep you informed.
December 20, 2016by