As we deal with the fallout of the election of 2016, the question on everyone’s mind is: what went wrong?
Is this the result of a cultural issue? A social one? Did the “Bernie or Bust” supporters screw us over by not coming out to support Hilary? Or did the “Never Trump” conservatives screw us over by changing their minds and coming out to support Trump? Was it our fault?
Or was it maybe the system itself?
I’d say it’s all of the above. Personally, I like to think (maybe optimistically) that we’ve been progressing towards a more accepting society. There are holdouts, of course, but I think the general trend has been up. But, our two party, one vote, electoral system makes it so that our politics don’t always follow our country’s social climates. Sometimes they can get left decades behind.
The issue isn’t that enough people didn’t show up for Hilary. It’s that enough didn’t show up in the right places. The Electoral College system, in which the states each get votes for president proportional to their representation in Congress, values the votes of states more than the votes of the people in them. It’s winner-take-all, so people in red or blue states sometimes don’t even bother to vote if their party isn’t the one in control of their states, because they feel that their vote doesn’t matter. Plus, one electoral vote in a state like California accounts for 700,000 residents, whereas one electoral vote in Wisconsin accounts for 500,000. It’s completely disproportional, since it goes by representation and not population. Wisconsin’s electoral vote packs more punch for less people.
And then there’s the problem of the one vote, two party thing. We’re usually forced to choose between two less-than-ideal options for representation. Plus, the people running often aren’t even listening to their voters. They just have to focus on making their opponent sound like the anti-Christ, and voters will turn out for them anyway so that the other side won’t win. As a result, candidates are more loyal to their parties than their constituents, and votes in Congress are practically always on party lines. There’s no one in the middle to think things through and vote based on their conscience or what their voters are saying, and neither party is really interested in what we’re saying anyway, because they know they’re all we have. What are we going to do, vote third party and risk splitting the vote? That’s how elections like this happen. Our Democrat-Republican trenches have been dug so far into the ground that it’s almost impossible to leave them. We’re stuck.
But what can we actually do about all of that?
Organizations like FairVote are mobilizing to put the National Popular Vote and Ranked Choice Voting into action. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement between states that they’ll award electoral votes based on who won the national popular vote, currently has half of the electoral votes it needs to come into effect, and it’ll be voted on in several states this year. Ranked Choice Voting, which makes it so that instead of picking one candidate you rank the options from favorite to least favorite, was recently passed in Maine, and will go into effect for their Congressional elections in 2018. Ranked Choice makes it so that candidates that aren’t at least tolerable to a majority of voters cannot be voted in. This encourages them to be more moderate and to listen more to their voters constituents instead of focusing all of their energy on bashing the other team, and makes it easier for third party candidates to be voted in, thus destabilizing the two party system. Several other RCV groups are cropping up around the United States, and the hope is that their movements will gain momentum and make Ranked Choice Voting a national standard.
For all that this country is a mess, I truly want to believe it’s getting better. The problem is that the game is rigged against us. But, there’s a chance that if we fix the rules, we might be able to all win.