Voting in America. Shifting Tides.

Americans have reached a new high in support for having presidential elections based on the popular vote instead of the Electoral College. As Americans, we expect our voices to be heard, our views to be respected, and our votes to truly count. It’s easy to see that something is broken in American politics.

Julianna Truesdale

Americans have reached a new high in support for having presidential elections based on the popular vote instead of the Electoral College.

While most Americans – 70% in a recent Pew Research Center survey – say high turnout in presidential elections is very important, the U.S. trails many of the world’s developed nations in participation at the polls.
THE NUMBERS
This year, the Pew Research Center ranked the U.S. 26th out of 32 countries for voter turnout based on the voting age populace, among the mostly democratic nations that are a part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Only 53 percent of eligible voters in the U.S. cast ballots in 2016. Only about 64% of the U.S. voting-age population was registered in 2016, compared with 91% in Canada.
WHY AREN’T PEOPLE VOTING?
In 2016 alone, at least 14 states installed restrictive voting laws, including limitations on voter registration, photo ID mandates and narrower time periods for early voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. According to interviews with research institutions, advocacy groups and legislators involved in those efforts, restrictive voting laws in some states discourage the electorate from registering to vote. Additionally, they said gerrymandered districts cut across party lines reducing the number of competitive races and interest, and disgruntled citizens, fed up with the contentious nature of politics, may be choosing not to participate.

How do we make our votes count?

As outlined by the Constitution and currently practiced on a state-by-state basis, each state awards all of its electoral votes to the U.S. presidential candidate who wins the most votes in that state. Because of these state winner-take-all statutes, presidential candidates have no reason to pay attention to the voters’ concerns or issues in states where the statewide outcome is a foregone conclusion. Two-thirds (273 of 399) of the general-election campaign events in the 2016 presidential race were in just 6 states (Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, and Michigan). 94% of the 2016 events (375 of the 399) were in 12 states (the 11 states identified in early 2016 as “battleground” states by Politico plus Arizona). This fact validates the statement by former presidential candidate and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin on September 2, 2015, when he said that “The nation as a whole is not going to elect the next president. Twelve states are.” State winner-take-all statutes also adversely affect governance. “Battleground” states receive 7% more federal grants than “spectator” states, twice as many presidential disaster declarations, more Superfund enforcement exemptions, and more No Child Left Behind law exemptions.

What can we do?

The most popular idea is for states to coordinate to assign their electors to the winner of the national popular vote. Amending the constitution to change the way we elect the president would be difficult. It requires a two-thirds vote by the House and Senate and support from three-fourths of state Legislatures. However, improving the way the Electoral College works does not require a constitutional amendment. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an effort that is gaining steam, is an agreement among several U.S. states and the District of Columbia to award all their respective electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the overall popular vote. The total number of electors is 538, so once states with a total of 270 electoral votes (a majority) join the compact then the next presidential election will be determined by the popular vote, not the Electoral College. Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia — which add up to 172 electoral votes — have passed laws to join the compact. So, 98 more electoral votes are needed before it can go into effect. The compact has been passed by blue states, and some experts say it is unlikely that enough red or purple states will sign on to get to the required 270 electoral votes. Battleground states such as Florida might be the most disinclined to join something because they are heavily courted under the current system. Our voting system should not be about states in close races getting better treatment, more financial assistance or even raking in money on all the campaign events. This bill ensures that every vote, in every state, will matter in every presidential election while still preserving the Electoral College and state control of elections.

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