American Elections and Right to Vote

There are many different processes that keep the United States from being truly democratic. Originally the founding fathers wanted the U.S. to have elements of a republic, an oligarchy, and a democracy to balance the powers of government, making sure there would be no leader in too much power. This system however, fails to represent the voters properly with many loopholes that can make politicians influence the outcome of an election. Whether it be the voter suppression tactics of early America by simply denying right to vote based on race, religion, or sex, to more modern suppression tactics like manipulating district lines, canceling early voting, and not allowing same day voter registration. After 2 incidents in the past 18 years of the electoral college coming into question (2000 & 2016 election) it is safe to say that our current voting system should either be debated, revised, or replaced.

The United States has had an ugly history when it comes to racism and a superiority complex. The original U.S. Constitution said “All men were created equal…”, but never specified who could vote. This obviously led to many in a position of power (mostly at the time white males) to deny voting rights to African Americans, Native Americans, and women. Just a mere 81 years after the signing of the U.S. Constitution, the 15th Amendment was put into place prohibiting the denial of someone’s right to vote based on, “race, color, or previous condition of servitude…” That’s a whole 81 years where our country was not fully represented by the people. The U.S. would not grant women the right to vote until 50 years (1920) after people of color were given that same right. Suffrage was delegated by state before the 19th Amendment, so while some states allowed women to vote, others only in the presidential race, some in only statewide elections, and some states denying suffrage overall. Finally the 26th amendment came into effect in 1992 giving persons of 18 years of age or older the right to vote, and preventing the government from discriminating on voters “based on age.” The biggest issue that caused the 26th Amendment was that 18 year olds could be drafted into the army, and were considered adults, but were not allowed to vote.

Many of the issues with voting laws nowadays stem from the government trying to restrict most people from going to the polls. There has been an increase in laws doing so; due to the increase in voter turnout over the past couple elections. There was a 10% increase in ballots cast before election day from the 2004 election to the 2008 election. In that same timeframe, states such as Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia passed laws cutting the number of days for early voting by nearly half. In Georgia (2008) the amount of days for early voting was 45 days, but by the 2012 election, it had dropped to 21 days. 21 days for early voting is still a generous amount of time given, but still may restrict some people from making it to the polls. In the states where these laws were passed, African Americans were more likely to take advantage of early voting like Florida, where 54% of African American voters were subject to early polling. Although it is important to prevent voter fraud and keep proper documentation of voters, voter ID laws also prevent a portion of the population from voting. Many Americans (roughly 1 in 10) do not have a state issued photo ID. When it comes to African Americans, 1 in 4 have a picture ID. That leaves out a whole 25% of the African American population restricted from voting, and roughly 10% of the U.S. population who cannot register for the ballot. Same day voting is yet another issue brought forth by politicians who want to suppress voters decisions. Many states have gotten rid of same day voting, which only hurts a citizen’s chance to vote if that day happens to be their only day to make it to the polls.

Many laws to make sure that voters receive representation in whatever area they lived in were put into place, but do not properly protect U.S. citizens from a practice known as gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating district boundaries in order to gain a political advantage against the other party. Laws that; keep communities of interest (such as large cities) in the same district, measure districts based on population density, and prevent districts from not having contiguity keep voting balanced to some degree. Without enough laws in place to discourage and prevent future gerrymandering, it is a process that will continue to hurt the integrity of the voting system in our country.

The founding fathers wanted to find a middle ground between the “popular vote” and the “congressional vote”, so the electoral college was born. The electoral college is yet another issue that must be reformed in the country. There are some pros to this process like its ability to give people of different lifestyles no matter the population a voice, but there has been an issue that has surfaced in the past 18 years. That is whether the president should be picked through the electoral college, or the popular vote. In the election of 2000 Al Gore would have been the winner if our system voted based on popular vote, but George Bush won due to the electoral college. The same issue arose in the 2016 election where Hillary Clinton won by the popular vote, but Donald Trump won based on the electoral college. If over 50% of the country votes for one person, should that person become president? The answer is no. All that a popular vote would do for the country is overrepresent major cities such as San Francisco and New York, many fearing that large cities breed like-mindedness and a popular vote would not represent smaller, more rural portions of the country. On the other hand the electoral college can elect a president with a minority of the vote, and can be manipulated with gerrymandering. In order to find a balance between the two systems, serious reformation must be done. One solution to be looked at would be like the electoral college, but on a larger scale. Instead of doing it state by state, there would be large districts that would be as large as a few states and would roughly represent different areas of the population. Then, each district would receive the same amount of electoral votes, evenly representing each voter. Another reform of the electoral college would be instant runoff voting. IRV would allow everyone to pick more than one candidate and number them from their top choice, to their least pleasurable choice. This system would prevent voter misrepresentation across the country with people picking the best candidates for the country. It would also give more of a chance to newer or less talked about parties, turning the 2 party race we know to well into maybe a 4 or 5 party race. Proportional allocation of electoral votes would also be a good revision to the current system. This would keep the electoral college, but if 45% of a state voted for one party, then that candidate would receive 45% of the electoral votes from that state, not 0% like in the current system. This would not only help represent more rural areas of the country, but evenly match them with larger more liberal leaning cities.

Issues regarding the voting system in America have been an issue and topic of debate for roughly 20 years now. Laws that politicians put in place over photo ID’s and early voting restrictions skew the accuracy of who is really wanted in office. If the people want to be heard, major reform for laws regarding gerrymandering and the electoral college must take place. Simple reform such as proportional allocation could fix the electoral college system, or functioning systems such as instant runoff voting could easily replace the electoral college and represent the country equally. Currently every American’s vote is not measured equally. Major reform or replacement has to happen in order to accurately depict who the citizens want as their president.