Elephants vs. Donkeys: Our Flawed Voting System

When I began writing this article, I wanted it to inspire more people to vote because of how pathetic voter turnout has been (57.5% in 2012). Midway through writing the article, I realized something was wrong: voter turnout is not the problem. The voting system is. In the mix of all the complex issues our country is facing, there are only two views you can have politically: conservative or liberal. American democracy today is simply not working. With only two powerful groups in DC, leaders are stuck. If they try to cross party lines, they are shunned and probably won’t get re-elected. But if they don’t, problems do not get solved, and there is political gridlock. The root cause of this gridlock we have in DC is how our leaders are elected.

One organization that has taken a stance against our current voting system is FairVote. FairVote is a group that has done extensive research on election history and has now proposed a few fundamental reforms to make voting truly fair once again.

The first reform that is called for by FairVote is called “Choice Voting/ Proportional Representation.” This reform is based on the principle that a free government should be grounded in the consent of the governed. That is why our founding fathers made sure every member in the House of Representatives was directly elected and regularly had to face the voters. In the words of John Adams, “The House would be an exact portrait of the people.” However, today this is not the case. For example, In 2012 Democrats won the most votes; however, Republicans won the most seats. The root cause of this is not simply gerrymandering done by the Republicans, but it is because most elections in the United States are winner-take-all elections. Therefore, instead of representing all of the voters, legislators are only representing the strongest and largest groups leading to underrepresentation from women and minorities. To fix this, FairVote has proposed plans for states to make districts bigger with multiple winners per district while using a ranked-choice voting system. This system would allow larger groups to elect their candidates, while also allowing smaller groups to make their vote count. This video shows how this system works and allows everyone to make their vote count: Multi-Winner Ranked Choice Voting.

The next fundamental reform needed is to have a national popular vote to elect the president. Our current system with the Electoral College leads to presidential candidates focusing their resources on only a handful of swing states, resulting in voters in other states being undervalued. There have been now four times when a candidate has won the popular vote but lost the election. With this reform, that would not happen again. Making the popular vote the winner may also increase voter participation. Because some states will historically go red or blue, people residing in those states may not even go to vote. However, with the popular vote the deciding factor, every vote will count, no matter where a voter lives.

Another fundamental reform being pushed by FairVote is for there to be a universal voting registration system. Nearly a third of eligible voters in the United States are not even registered to vote. With FairVote’s opt-out system instead of an opt-in system, voting registration would not have the surges of demand near an election period that cause errors of duplication, lost applications, and even fraud. With universal and automatic voting registration, the United States would be able reach goals of enhancing security of registration and furthering accessibility to vote.

Lastly, FairVote is pushing for an amendment for the right to vote. Believe it or not, there is nothing in the constitution that allows people the right to vote. Without the right to vote, states and local government set their own rules on voting restrictions. The US Supreme Court has upheld many state restrictions on the right to vote. 15 states have even passed new restrictions to be in effect for the 2016 presidential election. There are also issues with voting rights for felons and people who are incarcerated.

In America, we the people should have the right to vote and make our vote count in a fair, open voting system, and with these basic reforms we could be on the way to achieve justice in our voting system.

Cover photo: Tom Arthur via Wikimedia Commons

About the author

Gordon Granger is a senior at Collegiate