The past presidential election was one of the most emotionally charged events in recent history, with many people passionately lobbying for one side or the other. As a result, voter turnout was the highest it has been since 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon ran against each other. This is definitely something to celebrate. The United States had for a while been slipping into indifference and apathy with regard to politics, and its voter turnout has consistently lagged behind many other countries.
But there is one aspect that could show why our voter turnout has been so pathetic. According to the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, turnout increases were greater by almost 2 to 1 in battleground states this election. Turnout in swing states increased by 6.3 percentage points, while turnout in other states increased by only 3.8 percentage points. This clearly shows that in states where people perceived their vote as being more significant, they were more likely to vote.
This fact makes sense. Many people are not going to spend time driving to the polls, waiting in line and filling in ballots if they do not believe their votes will actually do anything. In states where it seems obvious to whom the electoral votes will go, people who disagree with their state’s position may feel discouraged to vote, and people who feel the same as their state may believe that they do not need to bother with voting because the election is already in the bag.
But in battleground states, where the outcome is not as clear-cut, people realize that by voting they are directly influencing the result in their state. If we want to further increase voter turnout — even when it is not a polarized election like this last one — then we need to modify our current system so that everyone can feel that his or her vote counts, not just those in swing states.
Changing the way the Electoral College works and perhaps modeling it after the systems set up in Maine and Nebraska could do this. The Constitution says that each state is allowed to set up its electoral system however it chooses, and the number of votes each state has comes from the combination of the number of senators (always two) and the number of representatives it has.
Most states allot all their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote in the state. This means that even if there is only a slight majority for one candidate, that person could still win all the electoral votes in the state, which basically negates any opposing votes, however many there may be.
In Maine and Nebraska, however, their system is a little more complicated but does help better represent the votes of the people. In these states, the winner of the popular vote receives the two electoral votes from the senate and the remaining votes are decided within each district. This means that if there is a more conservative district within a liberal state, this district could still win an electoral vote for the candidate of its choice, even if the majority of the state went to the other candidate.
If all states set up a system like the one mentioned above, then each district would become a kind of mini-state, and a state majority would not drown minority votes out.
Another advantage to this system would be an increase in campaigning by the candidates in more states. In this election and the election in 2000, campaigning was limited to 18 states, which leaves 32 other states and the District of Columbia out of the action, except for newscasts and televised debates. With a revised system, candidates would probably be more willing to go into states in which they have minimal support because there could still be a chance that they may win some districts and electoral votes.
The Electoral College is not a completely antiquated system, but it is in need of some revisions so that on Election Day, people all across the nation can say that their votes counted.