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How the spokesperson of the “silent majority” was elected by the minority?

As we are writing those lines, the Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton has obtained around 2,5 millions of votes more than her Republican opponent Donald Trump at the last presidential election, so in a democracy she should be the 45th president of the United States right? But that hypothesis does not include the existence of the Electoral College, which has allowed several times in history candidates to win without the majority of the popular vote in 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016. You could think that the flaw of electing a president with the minority of the votes would have led to serious rethinking about the Electoral College. But it is not the case at all, no major political figure is asking for a new way of electing the president. Why does the Electoral College so important in American Democracy? Why hasn’t it be abolished or reformed since its creation in 1787? We are going to see that if the Electoral College has indeed serious flaws, it has survived for so long also for objective reasons and not just to help the “establishment”.

Indeed, the flaws of indirect election and Electorate College are well known, the most important in my opinion being the possibility of electing a minority president and so on to disrespect the choice of the majority of the people. So such elections seem to be against what is supposed to be the American democracy as define by the Republican president Lincoln “the government of the people, by the people, for the people”. But in reality, it is a credible possibility that the Electoral College has been implemented precisely because restricting the importance of the majority: the first rulers of independent America feared that too much democracy would lead to anarchy or to the tyranny of the majority. So in that case, the Electoral College is indeed a limit to democracy. Moreover, the Electoral College has also been created to limit the political offer in the name of political stability which encourages the hardening of the political offer, thus this lack of renewal explain that a lots of American citizens are “trapped” with one party like it is pointed by John Gaventa in Power and Powerlessness: quiescence and rebellion in an Appalachian valley. And it is this lack of change that provokes the rise of candidates perceive as outside the establishment. In those views, a reform appears necessary in order to bring a more modern political system that could be the first step to re create interest of the people for the elections.

However, it appears that with the recent election the American people is divided about the Electoral College, 47% of them supports its existence in 2016 versus 35% of them in 2004. Indeed, an important proportion of GOP’s supporters realize that without the Electoral College Hillary Clinton would have won the election! This is sharp division of the people that make difficult any reform at the short term, a division that has worsened since the 1960s according to McAdam and Kloos in Deeply Divided (Oxford University Press). This popular division is probably even worse at party level, it is unlikely that the Republican party would end an institution that brought it victory in the past 16 years. But abolishing the Electoral College could bring as many democratic problems as it could solve some, because contrary to what the anti College pretends this institution was not created only to restrict the power of the people. One of the key objective of the Electoral College is to elect a president that represents the entire nation and not just the most populated area. This purpose may have been corrupted, nevertheless it remains a noble principle and asks what matters most in a federation: the people or the states that make the Union? That’s why in my opinion, America would be better inspired to choose the middle way between direct and indirect elections, because the choice has not to be one of the other like it is illustrated by the Maine – Nebraska system. In this system the presidential electors would be elected on the district level and elected by putting in common the totality of the votes at the state scale, thus uniting popular vote and College vote.

An abolition of the Electoral College appears unlikely at short term, due to the difficulty of reaching a broad consensus at the political level, especially when one of the two party is aware that 2 of its recent victories were possible only thanks the College. Moreover, it is not certain that a full direct election would solve every democratic problem that America is facing today. So, America should find a system that would give the same importance both to the states and to the people because the two are the foundation of the nation. That’s why the Maine – Nebraska system is a possible way of reform, at least an idea of what a better political system could be.

Gildas • December 13, 2016

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