How many times have you heard disappointed and disgruntled voters comment that they dislike the Presidential candidates of both major parties? How often have you heard voters defend their choice of candidates, not on the basis of his or her strengths, but as the lesser of two evils? And what causes widespread and deeply-felt public dissatisfaction with both national parties? Oddly, but in truth, a major cause of these three alarming signs of voter disillusionment is a little recognized but increasingly damaging defect in the way we elect our President.
You may ask how can the rules governing our choice among Presidential candidates affect how parties choose their nominees and how the country views the two parties. The current system for electing Presidents, except in two states, neither incentivizes nor rewards candidates who run campaigns that seek to appeal to voters nationwide. Under the current system, 48 states allocate all their electoral college votes on the basis of who won the election in their states even when the votes are nearly evenly split between the two major-party candidates. In turn, candidates in both 2012 and 2016 focused their campaigning efforts almost exclusively on the states where they expected the narrowest results. This feature of our current system means that the last Presidential election was decided by three closely contested states with less than 10% of the nation’s population. As a result, in choosing their Presidential candidates, parties give little weight to how well a candidate will be viewed by voters nationally and serve the country as a whole. This mindset opens the door for candidates who appeal to the most zealous and partisan wings of their parties and disadvantages candidates who are more centrist and more receptive to voters nationwide. This fact may bring to mind another frequently heard comment: “I want a President who will put country above party.”
Various proposals address the problem which dishonors our most hallowed principles like one person, one vote and “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” One of these curative proposals is the seemingly fanciful constitutional amendment approach of abolishing the electoral college -- fanciful because that effort has failed numerous times despite long-standing majority support for the principle that, as in all other elections in the country, the candidate who earns the most votes wins the election. Other proposed remedies embrace that principle, but seek to enact it by methods deemed more likely to succeed than a constitutional amendment. Still other reform proposals would approach that principle but would not equate it.
How, then, would a reform that adopts or approximates the popular vote principle rebalance more fairly and representatively the parties’ nomination process that currently rewards candidates who are reflective of the more ideological, unbending and probably minority elements of their respective parties? Clearly, national parties want to succeed in the election for the country’s highest office. If the general election system were reformed to reward the candidate who is most successful in earning votes nationwide, the parties will gravitate toward nominating candidates best suited for this task. This shift may occur over a couple of election cycles but, like the rules of supply and demand in economics, ineluctably, the nominating process in both parties would move toward less partisan candidates who are more representative of and more responsive to voters everywhere. There may be exceptions now and then that will usually be penalized by rejection at the ballot box.
Making Every Vote Count’s national and state educational efforts this fall and beyond aim to make citizens fully aware of the threats posed by our current election system and to engage our citizens in urgently demanding reform. In short, voters must energize their elected officials who are supposed to listen to them. The way to do that is for voters to get mad.