Growing up, politics was a subject rarely talked about in my family. Having lived in China for all of their lives, my parents are ingrained with the belief that issues concerning the government are left to the hands of experienced politicians who have dealt with similar issues in the past: issues that common people would not understand — a political norm promoted by the fear of chaos and propagated by centuries-old thinking.
Coming to America at a young age, I was both shocked and amazed by the way my peers talked about politics and by how freely they expressed their stances and debated issues concerning national policies.
To me, America’s political strength revolves around active participation in the politics of the people, particularly those who do not shy away from expressing their beliefs to help the country keep up with the fast pace of the world. Thus, with the upcoming 2020 election rapidly approaching, it is more important than ever to reconsider the process in which we elect our next president: the Electoral College and what it stands for.
Controversies surrounding the electoral college arise from whether or not the system under-represents the majority, especially given the chaos around the 2016 election that marked the pinnacle of partisanship in America.
In the status quo, candidates can win all of a state’s electoral votes by plurality, not the majority. Trump, for instance, managed to convert several traditionally blue states to red, collecting more electoral votes than predicted and winning the presidency without the popular vote. The result of this has led to people who do not live in swing states to feel disempowered because, as much as one vote counts, there will be places where others’ votes count more.
I will say this: the system may have worked in 18th century America, but it no longer fits into the polarized political climate that currently dominates the country. Having a “winner-take-all” system in America accomplishes nothing but discouraging conservative Californians and liberal Texans to vote. However, just simply talking about reforms without addressing the deep-rooted misrepresentation of the people by how we vote is simply not enough. Finding a way to address that is the hard part.
The divide in American politics stems from its fixation on the polarized parties that control the voices of the people. In an ideal world, opposing sides would work together to reach a middle-ground that reflects the needs of the people and pass legislations that get things done.
Yet the reality is this: parties are not united by one cohesive dogma, and even within the parties there are drastic ideological differences. The Democratic Party, for instance, suffers from the extreme division of its moderate and progressive constituents. And as the party moves further left with no end in sight, moderate Democrats are left behind, feeling ostracized within their own party.
Words such as “left” or“right” and “blue” or “red” are thrown around to characterize ideas and group people, splitting the country between the two parties. The ideals of modern liberalism, for instance, are often conflated with the ideals of the Democratic Party and the ideals of conservatism are often conflated with the ideals of the Republican Party.
While the conservative and liberal ideas tend to overlap significantly with their respective parties, these words lack the precision necessary to describe someone’s entire ideology in depth.
Furthermore, the status quo provides no incentive for uninformed voters to vote and apathetic voters to cast their ballots in favor of the party with which they are affiliated without fully understanding what their candidate stands for. Voters often lack understanding of what exactly it is that their parties represent, let alone a candidate’s set of beliefs.
To truly understand a politician’s agenda, voters must educate themselves on individual candidates rather than make generalizations based on party affiliations. The current electoral college hinders this because independent voters, who are far more sparsely located throughout the country than either Democrats or Republicans counterparts, stand little chance of winning any elections—further perpetuating the idea that there is no point in voting Independent. Other independent voters regard voting as throwing away one’s vote, and thus are unlikely to vote for their preferred candidate because of this. In turn, they are also less inclined to learn about a politician’s agenda, feeding into the cycle of lack of understanding and apathy in voting.
The crazy thing? Independents make up 42% of the United States population.
Rather than bringing people together in both their agreements and arguments, the current political environment promotes a sense of “self” against “other.” People vote for the sake of voting for their party amid a polarized political arena.
But there is something we can consider.
Ranked-choice voting—also known as instant-runoff voting—is a possible election method that can reinvigorate democracy. The voting process allows voters to rank candidates in an election on their ballots.
If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The second choice votes are then distributed to the appropriate candidates. This process is repeated until one candidate reaches a majority.
Ranked-choice voting is more democratic than the current plurality system of the electoral college where it encourages voters to vote for the candidate they dislike the least rather than for the candidate they want, which may be a marginal third-party candidate.
Ranked-choice voting also requires presidential candidates to appeal to a larger part of the population and allows voters to support marginal third-party candidates without worrying that their vote won’t matter.
However, I recognize that ranked-choice voting can be logistically complicated. Maine implemented the ranked-choice voting system for its Congress election, and it was put up to test when the votes had to be recounted.
Nonetheless, if ranked-choice voting is used in the 2020 presidential election, it could push a moderate, centrist, broadly appealing candidate into office.
I am not an expert on politics, nor do I think that ranked-choice voting is the only solution to this issue. However, I do believe that if we hope to come together as a country rather than cater to parties that do not properly represent the people, we need to find a way to address the polarization affecting our government.
At Deerfield, we strive to mirror the real world in numerous ways and yet sometimes we fall into the trap of closing in our beliefs. As the upcoming election approaches, I invite the Deerfield community to consider how we talk about the candidates and see for ourselves the person behind the party they represent.
As President Obama famously quipped, “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.