Thursday, November 26, 2020

U.S. Electoral College is not popular way to elect

All’s fair in love and war, but as this election proves, definitely not in politics. Since Tuesday, I have been trying hard to figure out if I have been observing a presidential election or a small town beauty pageant where the least talented contender wins because her mom paid the judge. I am still not sure, because Vice President Al Gore, the man who deserves to be our next president, will likely lose because of nothing more than a technicality.

On Wednesday morning I woke after a mostly sleepless, emotional night to a nation holding its breath in anticipation. The basic word behind the repetitive news programs was that while Gore hadn’t quite lost Florida, he probably would, and George W. Bush would slither into the winner’s circle, smug smirk and all.

I knew I took politics pretty personally, but even I was very surprised at how much the events of this election meant to me. I actually cried, and not just a sad movie, eyes glazed over cry, but rather a “my dog just got hit by a truck” cry.

I cried somewhat out of genuine concern for our country under a Texas Gov. George W. Bush presidency. I am still trying to get over my annoyance at the half of the people of the country who could have been dumb enough to vote for such an uninspiring, unprepared empty suit. If Gore had lost to Arizona Sen. John McCain, for example, I would have simply shrugged my shoulders and said something like, “Oh, well. We’ll get ’em next time.”

But what really affected me was the unfairness of it all. People of this country spoke, but somehow, the voices of the people in 49 states are insignificant, while the votes of a few hundred in Florida are enough to put an idiot into office.

I am still stunned by the irony of it. On one hand, this election is a civics lesson brought to life. “It’s just one vote - why does it matter?” used to seem like a legitimate and logical excuse, but after this election, one vote seems pretty important. After all, only a few hundred will determine the outcome of this election. Bush supporters claim that he may win the popular vote as well when all is said and done, but with Gore’s somewhat significant lead, it seems unlikely.

But, on the other hand, it is easy to feel like our votes really don’t matter. Only the votes of the Michigan’s 18 electoral votes are significant - the election pointed out this baffling flaw in our outdated and pointless system.

After hours of debates about this system and repetitive reports of election drama, the most refreshing commentary about the election has been from the news programs of other countries. The United States, supposedly a model government, not only seems to lack the mathematical ability to accurately tally votes, but does not even elect the person that wins the majority of those votes.

The Electoral College system was created because the founders of our country rightly believed that a presidential candidate could not get in touch with the entire country. There was no way for voters to make an informed decision, and so electors from each state were chosen to vote for the best interests of the people in each state.

Newspapers, radio, television and now even the Internet make it easy for every citizen in this country to learn about each candidate, from his or her position on abortion to his or her favorite childhood book. The Electoral College is an unnecessary formality, one that wasn’t even well-known or understood until it tripped up our would-be president on his way to the White House.

I would like to believe electors are supposed to be the most informed, unbiased citizens in a state, who would choose a candidate based solely on merit. Now, though, electors are chosen by their party to cast a vote if their party wins the popular vote in their state - besides the very few who have deviated from their party. Their duties are nothing more than an outdated formality.

Proponents of the system claim that it prevents less populated states from being ignored, forcing candidates to campaign there and take their interests into account. But today, candidates are more concerned with the interests of demographic groups, such as women or seniors, than individual state issues, which are difficult to determine.

Candidates campaign mostly in heavily populated areas, and would continue to do so with or without the Electoral College.

Whether that son of a Bush takes office or somehow Gore ends up in the White House, the purpose and effectiveness of the Electoral College must be closely examined. Doing away with it would require a constitutional amendment, which seems unlikely, especially when our Congress is Republican and a Republican will be elected because of the Electoral College. But I hope our government will look at the legitimacy of a system allowed to cause one of the biggest mistakes in our nation’s history. Bush supporters will dismiss my ranting as nothing more than informed whining. And make no mistake about it, I do want Gore to win. But I don’t know how Bush supporters can ever wholeheartedly defend his presidency knowing that he was the winner by default - I know I couldn’t.

Voting is the cornerstone of a representative democracy and our government is not really representative if the person sitting in the office does not represent the true will of the people of our country. The masses are no longer uninformed, and the vote should no longer be taken out of our hands.

Jessi Phillips is the State News opinion writer. Her column appears every Monday. She can be reached at phill241@msu.edu.

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