After former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the White House to rival Donald Trump, protests over the 2016 electoral map results have once again drawn national attention to a controversial system. Established in 1787, the Electoral College was initially created as a compromise between a Congressional election, where the president would be chosen solely by members of Congress, and a popular election, where the president would be chosen by eligible citizens. A similar situation also occurred in 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the electoral map results to George W. Bush.
U.S. elections are held on a state level, and candidates are awarded electors that represent the state’s population. The number of electors per state is equal to the state’s total number of elected officials from the House of Representatives as well as from the Senate. There is a total of 538 electors, with 270 electoral votes needed to win. Because of this system, the weight of an individual vote varies from state to state. This allows smaller, less populated states to have a voice in the election, but it also means that, occasionally, the winner of the popular vote may not win the overall contest. Another interesting aspect of the electoral map results is that they can theoretically be overturned by faithless electors that vote against their state’s chosen candidate. While this has yet to happen in any U.S. election, should this situation ever occur, it would unquestionably undermine the idea of a free and fair election.
There is currently debate over whether the 2016 electoral map results should be overturned in favor of the popular vote result. This seems unrealistic, since both candidates campaigned knowing that the electoral map results would be a deciding factor in the election, and both campaign strategies took the electoral map results into account. Going forward, abolishing or reforming this process is certainly a valid discussion, particularly concerning the idea of faithless electors. However, it’s also important to recognize that the integrity of U.S. elections face far greater challenges than this arguably antiquated system put in place by our founding fathers.
The 2016 Democratic primary was marred by accusations of manipulation, media blackouts, undemocratic superdelegates, hidden debate schedules, allegations of fraud, closed polling locations, purged voter lists, skewed exit polls, and fundraising schemes that resembled money laundering. By focusing solely on the perceived unfairness of the 2016 electoral map results without examining the bigger issues leading up to Clinton’s ultimate loss, it’s easy to create a narrative that suggests Clinton was robbed of the presidency after winning the popular vote in the general election. However, this assumption ignores a much bigger threat to democracy — that Clinton was not disqualified for her part in the highly unethical behavior of the DNC during the Democratic primary. Instead, despite the leaked emails that resulted in the ousting of high-level DNC officials and a public apology to Senator Bernie Sanders, the manipulated results of the primary went unchallenged, and Clinton was allowed to become the nominee amidst much public protest.
On the Republican side of the primaries, the world watched as Trump badgered his way through a crowded field of candidates. Initially dismissed and mocked, Trump received millions of dollars of free advertising and media coverage, thanks in part to the Clinton team instructing media insiders to elevate him as a “Pied Piper” candidate. This media attention ultimately legitimized Trump’s campaign and played a large part in his nomination.
— Obama STOP TPP NOW!! (@ObamaStopTPP) November 27, 2016
For all the outcry regarding the unfairness of the 2016 electoral map results, the Democratic primary was far more riddled with injustice against democracy. Superdelegates, for example, are elected officials, party insiders, and lobbyists who each possess the equivalent of 10,000 votes. The majority of the 712 superdelegates in 2016 pledged to support Clinton before a single primary vote was cast, giving her an enormous advantage over Sanders from the get-go. In many cases, the superdelegates voted against the will of the people, allowing Clinton to win more delegates in states even when she lost the popular vote by double digits.
Electoral college, BAAAAAD! Superdelegates, GOOOOOD!
Honestly, I can’t keep all the the ironies of this election process in my brain at once pic.twitter.com/nk9CFdM2z7
— Robert Davis (@rwdcsw) November 18, 2016
Similarly egregious is the threat posed to the electoral map results by the faithless elector, who in some states hold the power to undermine the voters they represent. For better or worse, the rules of the election were set before the votes were cast, and despite the seeming impossibility of it all, Trump emerged victorious. There’s room for debate as to whether the Electoral College should be abolished, but at the very least, the ability of electors and superdelegates to overturn votes from the state they represent should be eliminated. The 2016 electoral map results may seem unfair at first glance, but the greater threat to democracy is allowing a handful of representatives to undermine the results and erase the very voices they purport to represent.
[Featured Image by razihusin/ThinkStock]