CLASH OF COMMENTS: Should the United States abandon the Electoral College?

2016 presidential election by county svg

Image: Wikipedia

YES – Oscar Bentley

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over a million more votes than Donald Trump according to the latest count, yet Trump won the election. This is due to the US’ Electoral College system, where the candidate who wins the most votes in each state is awarded the entire Electoral College votes for that state, which varies from state to state based on its representation in congress.

The problem with the Electoral College in the modern day is that the founding fathers specifically designed it to prevent a figure like Trump assuming power. Alexander Hamilton (currently enjoying a surge in popular culture due to the hit musical), stated that “the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

Put simply, it was put there to prevent the people (who cannot be trusted with true democracy, according to Hamilton) electing a populist figure who is unqualified to take the mantle of President. The Electoral College has done exactly what it was designed not to do. Hillary Clinton’s popular vote win is unprecedented. She’s won the popular vote by more ballots than any other candidate in history who did not become President. The fact that she won more votes than Trump and has not claimed the presidency is an affront to democracy. This election has proved the archaic nature of the Electoral College. It is not like other countries don’t directly elect their leaders; Russia, France, and Brazil all do and, in system such as theirs, Hillary Clinton would currently be President-Elect.

The Electoral College has not only proved to be greatly unfair for candidates, but it also turns whole communities away from politics. Residents of safe Democrat or Republican states know that their vote won’t make a difference to the overall result, disenfranchising them. It is only residents of key battleground swing states who decide the election. That’s not democracy. Democracy is not when the fate of 320 million people is decided by a few million voters in swing states. It’s the same as the first-past-the-post system used to elect MPs in the UK, another system which means that only small parts of the population decide the overall result. Policies are aimed at these particular voters, not for the good of the country as a whole.

To top it all off, Trump himself isn’t even a fan of the system that put him in power. In 2012, he called it a “disaster for a democracy”, before changing his tune post-election and labelling it “genius”, saying that if the President was elected directly he would have changed his campaigning strategy and still won. This is fair; it’s a scenario in which we won’t know whether he still would have succeeded, but at least it would have a finality that is hard to argue against, compared to the limbo we are in now.

In my own terms at least, Trump lost the election. He got fewer votes than Clinton: that should be a loss, and that’s why the Electoral College needs reform.

NO – Izzy Moore

Victory at any cost? Is that the type of politics that the world is forced into pursuing? Challenging the Electoral College system on its democratic merits is admirable. Challenging the system in light of an unpopular election result is less than ideal. The need to address the sense of grief at Trump’s victory is understandable, but trying to avoid his presidency through this ‘back-door’ method will only lead to a greater and more painful divide in the American people. This campaign is not about voter reform, it is a last dying effort of the Democrats to win, to prevent the apparent apocalypse. But would any Democrat challenge the system in light of Hillary winning? Undoubtedly not.

What needs to be recognised is that Trump won. He convinced the swing states. People reached such a fever pitch of desperation and disillusionment that they were willing to believe Clinton was a symbol of the establishment, while ignoring Trump’s place within that establishment. The alt-right arose from the deep corners of the web into every Facebook comment section.

The use of hate speech and intolerance became a secondary concern to a chance of returning to a golden imaginary past – one where the last eight years of the Obama Administration never happened. This is the real issue, not ‘the system’ but those functioning within that system. Calling for electoral reform is a superficial attempt to solve this problem. It is an uncomfortable truth that intolerance didn’t matter to a large portion of the American people, but it cannot be ignored by claiming that Clinton won the popular vote by blindly denying Trump’s victory, and by putting off the real challenge of combating this intolerance.

You won’t calm the fevered cries of ‘Trump!’ by proving everything his supporters believe about the system to be right. You can’t change the minds of 61.2 million voters by doing a presidential swap. Trying for electoral reform now is within the wrong circumstances, and it won’t be enough to slow down the momentum of his presidency – it’ll only be a distraction.

This is not about supporting or accepting Trump. This is about retaining political integrity, dragging politics out of the sensationalist lying dirt it’s been left in. Debate and discussion are the tools of democracy, not what appears like a political coup d’état.

As Michelle Obama said, “when they go low, we go high”. The anger at this election needs to be used to improve the Democrat party, not to descend to Trump’s level. The moral high ground simply cannot be lost. Lose that, and you lose the ability to criticise Trump’s policies and character.

It is not naive to hold yourself to a higher standard than your opponent. When the Democrat party slips into an identity crisis, it cannot sacrifice the core value of democracy for the short term or further contribute to division. In light of this election, they need to concentrate on knocking walls down.

Not building them up.

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