Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Popular Vote Winner Should Be President

America elected both of these people-why weren't they president?
One of the things that is frequently pointed out by Democrats and the media that I don't think people quite grasp properly, because it feels more like a "that's the way it is" rather than something that should change is the fact that the popular vote winner doesn't, in fact, win the election, but instead it is a group of arbitrarily selected people in a room weeks after the election who do so, usually (but not always) acquiescing to the choices of how their state voted.  We have done this since the dawn of the Republic, and the goals of it have been somewhat lost to history (if the goal was to stop a madman from taking the White House, I don't know that that we can claim that anymore after this past election).

But the fact remains-minority rule happens in America.  Not just plurality rule, but minority rule, and I think it's time for us to focus on this as it's a very scary reality about our political system.  On January 20th, next Friday, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States despite the fact that 2.8 million more American voters came out on November 8th and voted for his opponent Hillary Clinton.  That is more than the entire population of the city of Chicago.  Millions of people stood in line, picked Mrs. Clinton to be their president and yet we are ignoring them because of a hundreds-year-old tradition and arbitrarily drawn lines that were more etched across our geography to satisfy slave owners than anything else (not in all cases, but in more than you're probably realizing).

That feels wrong because it should feel wrong.  In American society, we value our democracy and the "majority-rule."  Frequently we hear the phrase "the people have spoken" as a way to end an argument coming out of an election, but here the people spoke and we just didn't listen to them.  More people wanted Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump.  It is an inescapable fact.  And it's one that I find myself more and more uncomfortable with because it increasingly is something that hurts Democrats far, far more than Republicans.

One could argue that campaigns, were they to have to go toward the popular vote rather than the electoral vote, would campaign differently, and you'd be right, though I'd argue that Donald Trump may have done worse, not better, under this model.  Hillary Clinton would have gone to places like Los Angeles, Washington DC, San Francisco, and New York with far more voracity, than she did in 2016, as running up her numbers in dense, liberal urban centers would matter far more than getting the voters of the Philly suburbs out.  One could argue that Trump would have had an easier time in getting suburban voters in this scenario, as they would still matter greatly and cumulatively (if the Democrats learned anything from their shock losses in Wisconsin and Michigan, it is that no one likes being ignored), but Clinton would be able to cover more physical territory faster, both in campaign stops and in how her campaign is run.  Democrats tend to live closer together since they are more urban, and so it would be easier for door-knockers, to, say, hit 500 doors for Democrats than Republicans.  That's true today, but more urban centers would matter in the future than do today, and more value would be placed on the broader electorate, rather than pockets of voters in Ohio or Florida.  That would intrinsically help Democrats, particularly since the game would focus on national turnout, rather than regional turnout.  A voter in North Carolina knows they will be a deciding voter in the election-in the popular vote system, everyone matters the same so being a "swing state" voter will matter less, and make the "your vote could make the difference" argument that campaigners have to sell that much more believable.

This is likely why Republicans have not gone away from the electoral vote-in the past seven elections, they've won the popular vote only once, and one could argue under this system that John Kerry probably could have bested George W. Bush if the focus was strictly on the popular vote by jacking up his numbers in New England, New York, and California.  But it's also worth noting that just because it would affect you negatively doesn't mean it isn't the right thing to do.  The reality is that the US government and democracy in America is a fragile thing, and one of its guiding principles is that majority rules.  If that is thrown asunder regularly, people will become disgusted with the process and angry because their vote doesn't matter...or at least doesn't matter as much as their neighbor's

This is also an issue because, as I stated above, this has in recent years come to effect Democrats far more than Republicans.  While historically all winners of the popular vote who lost the presidency have been Democrats, it's worth noting that it's happened twice now in just sixteen years (with Al Gore in 2000 and Clinton in 2016).  It's also worth noting that in 2012 the Democrats won the majority of the votes for US House seats, but still lost the House thanks to the way that congressional apportionment is drawn in the United States.  The same thing happened to the Democrats in 1996.  In fact, the Republicans have not won the House popular vote and lost Congress in over twenty years, after the shift of the South toward the GOP, again proving that our current method favors specific parts of the country.  And of course there's the fact that states are technically gerrymandered in terms of the Senate.  Kansas, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Nebraska combined still don't have as many people as California does, but California only gets two Democratic senators to those other states' 14 Republican senators.  That might be how it's always been, but it's wrong.  Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein don't get 7x more voting power, but they have more constituents than anyone else.

There are no easily viable solutions here.  Fixing most of these issues would need to be done through constitutional amendment, and in an era where issues like Freedom of the Press and foreign powers meddling in our federal elections have inexplicably become partisan issues, I suspect that the era of the constitutional amendment is out the window.  But it's still very, very wrong.  The people chose Hillary Clinton to be their president, just like they chose Al Gore to be their president sixteen years prior.  The fact that neither of these two people took the Oath of Office is an ugly scar on our democracy-we ignored the will of the people for at best, the sake of tradition, and at worst, because we valued certain citizens more than we valued others.  That is wholly un-American, and something that shouldn't get lost as we move past the events of the past year.

No comments: