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The popular vote: How the Electoral College system disenfranchises Americans

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September 19, 2012

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The popular vote: How the Electoral College system disenfranchises Americans
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Al Gore recently stated that he believes “our country would be stronger and better if it went according to the popular vote.”  Gore, who won the popular vote during the 2000 election, lost the Electoral College and, thus, lost the election to George W. Bush.  At the time of his loss, Gore supported the Electoral College as “it knits the country together, prevents regional conflicts, and it goes back through our history to some legitimate concerns.”  But as Former Vice President Gore seems to have realized, any system created to manage past concerns may become antiquated due to technological, economic, or social changes in a country.

In all but two states, Electoral College votes are allocated on a winner-take-all basis, meaning that the candidate that wins the plurality of votes in one of those 48 states will receive all the electoral votes from that state.  This means that a vote for a Republican candidate in Massachusetts and a vote for a Democratic candidate in Alabama are essentially meaningless, while the votes of certain influential demographics in large swing states are disproportionately important.  For example, black voters will be extremely important in Ohio during the November election, as nearly all of Ohio’s 1.5 million eligible African American voters are expected to vote for Barack Obama.  With Obama currently leading Romney by only 3.5% in Ohio polls, the voting turnout of African Americans in Ohio will be more crucial than any other demographic in deciding which candidate receives the state’s 18 electoral votes.

As a result, the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature has enacted voter identification laws, which require Ohio residents to show valid identification before casting a vote.  Though the law will not have a significant effect on the majority of white voters, roughly 370,000 eligible black voters will be essentially disenfranchised, as around one quarter of eligible African American voters do not currently have valid identification.  Ohio, however, is not alone in its voter identification laws.  Other large swing states with Republican-controlled legislatures, such as Pennsylvania and Virginia, have also enacted their own voter identification laws that are projected to discourage black and minority voting.

Republicans in the Ohio legislature have stated that the purpose of the voter identification law is to curtail voter fraud, but since 2000 there have been only ten cases of documented voter fraud in the entire country.  In other words, hundreds of thousands of people are being denied suffrage in order to prevent the incredibly unlikely and largely insignificant possibility that an illegitimate vote is cast during the election.

In an election determined by a popular vote, one vote would never be more valuable than another; an African American vote from Ohio would be no different than a white vote from Nevada.  Thus, the near disenfranchisement of a minor voting demographic, such as black citizens without valid identification, could not drastically shift the outcome of an election and would be considered an act of willful discrimination, rather than just a slimy political strategy.

There was once a time when the Electoral College was a practical solution to some of the many problems created by issues such as the inaccessibility of information, the three-fifths compromise, and transportation time.  Fortunately, we live in a decade where information about presidential candidates is easy to come by, everyone has a right to vote, and travel is exceedingly fast.  Designed to manage problems that are largely nonexistent in the 21st century, the Electoral College now serves only to tarnish the integrity of our electoral system.

America was founded on the principle that all people are created equal; it is time that all votes be created equal, as well.

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About Author

David Markey

David Markey

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David Markey is the Editor-in-Chief of BB&N’s Point of View Magazine. Since 2011, he has been in charge of the editing process for the POV, along with magazine design/production and website management. He also writes the “Editor’s Page” column for the POV. In his spare time, he runs PopVote, a campaign for the National Popular Vote compact. Markey currently lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts and attends Buckingham Browne & Nichols School, where he is a senior.