Removing the Least Democratic Part of America’s Elections

Voting in America is not easy. You first have to register. You have to find your polling place. In most states, you have to take time before, during, or after work to get to your polling place. You have to wait in line, sometimes for hours.

In some states, you even have to prove you are who you say you are.

And then, after all that, in the vote for president at least, if you don’t happen to vote for the candidate who happens to win in your state, your vote is worth nothing. It counts for nothing in selecting the next president — just because of where you happen to live.

This they call the “winner-take-all” system.

In 48 states, the winner of the popular vote — even by just a single ballot — gets all the Electoral College votes from that state. The other votes just don’t matter.

In the 2016 election, 52 million Americans overcame the obstacles we place in the path of voting, but in the end, the votes of those 52 million Americans meant zilcho.

There are a lot of words for a system like this. “Democratic” is not one of them; “fair” isn’t either. It is a clear violation of the principle of “one person, one vote.”

In 48 states, the winner of the popular vote — even by just a single ballot — gets all the Electoral College votes from that state. The other votes just don’t matter.
Lawrence Lessig

But aren’t we stuck with this system because it’s in the Constitution?

No, we are not.

While the Electoral College itself was established by the Constitution, it left it up to the states to determine how they allocate their electoral votes, consistent with the Constitution. To gain more power, states started using winner-take-all to get more attention to them and their causes.

But once all but two states (Maine and Nebraska) went to winner-take-all, no state was getting anything. Candidates started focusing only on states that were “in play.” As a result, our elections are now contests to win a handful of swing states, instead of a national referendum.

Look at the 2016 election. There were 14 “battleground” states up for grabs, so the Clinton and Trump campaigns focused the majority of their energies there. Those 14 states saw 99% of the ad spending, and 95% of candidate campaign stops, during this election.

Four states alone, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, saw 71% of the ad spending, and 57% of the appearances. The rest of the nation was effectively ignored.

14 states saw 99% of the ad spending and 95% of candidate campaign stops during the 2016 election.
Lawrence Lessig

Even worse, five times in U.S. history winner-take-all has given us a president who lost the popular vote. Two of our last three presidents took the oath of office after being outvoted. And experts tell us we are trending toward this happening more often, not less.

The most obvious solution to this problem would be to give up the Electoral College by amending the Constitution. That’s not going to happen.

The next obvious (and quite genius) solution is for the states to agree to allocate their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national election. This is the National Popular Vote initiative. They’re making progress, but even their most convinced allies believe victory is many years away.

This leaves a legal challenge as the only effective solution that we can push right now. If the Courts recognize our equality claim, they will require that states allocate their electors proportionally.

This one change could change everything. Presidential candidates would make their case to all Americans. Every American would know that their vote mattered. That would encourage turnout in states that don’t matter now — like Texas or California.

It will lead the candidates to speak more to the issues that matter to all of America, not just the 35% in the battleground states. And proportional allocation is much less likely to select a candidate who has lost the popular vote.

My organization, Equal Citizens, is going to bring the lawsuits on behalf of voters to prevent states from using winner-take-all to allocate their electoral votes. We intend to press our case to the Supreme Court in time to make a ruling that could eliminate winner-take-all in time for the 2020 election.

Voting in America is a right, and a privilege. It is also a chore. By abolishing winner-take-all, we can guarantee that those who step up as citizens will have their vote counted, regardless of where they happen to live.

For more information on how to get involved, visit the Equal Votes website and check out their video:


Photo Credit: Reuters / Charles Mostoller