Dr. Ifj. Lomnici Zoltán
Dr. Ifj. Lomnici Zoltán alkotmányjogász

Democrats before 2020 - America’s Electoral System might be reformed, or even abolished

Angol nyelvű tanulmány az amerikai választási rendszer visszásságairól

The Electoral College of the United States is a body currently consisting of 538 electors, which officially selects the President of the United States.  In reality, however, electors – with a very few historical exceptions – always vote based on the votes cast by voters in their state, and do not have the legal right to make their own decisions.  The number of electors in each state is equal to its number of representatives plus the number of senators.

The candidates must achieve 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. The number of electors each state delegates is equal to the sum of the number of its representatives in congress and the number of its representatives.  If neither candidate attains an absolute majority on the basis of electoral votes, the House of Representatives must vote in an immediate session to select the president.  In this session, the House of Representatives must vote among the three candidates who attained the most electoral votes.  In this session each state gets one vote, and the choice of which candidate each state selects is based on the representatives of that state, by majority.

The above is repeated – if necessary – until one of the candidates achieves more than half of the votes, currently meaning the votes of at least 26 states.  The House of Representatives has had to choose a president twice, in 1801 and in 1825.

In the 2016 presidential election, the need to reform the electoral system again came up.  The election system of the United States is built on the idea of one person, one vote; however, due to the Electoral College system enshrined in the Constitution, the swing states or battleground states – or more correctly the votes of the voters in those states – have a much larger influence on the final result than the votes of voters in other states.  As numerous experts have pointed out, this in itself raises constitutional concerns.

Moreover, reforming the Electoral College system is necessary according to political scientists and lawyers, because the governments of individual states are supposed to balance the power of the federal government, and under today’s conditions, a disproportionate amount of power has gone to less populated rural areas.  For this reason many people have suggested abolishing the Electoral College and constitutionally providing for the direct election of the President.  After all, the basis of the electoral system more than two hundred years ago was the idea that the American population was not sufficiently informed to make a decision, and people would just vote for the candidates from their own states, which would undermine the Union of the states. In some ways, the direct election of the President is a proposed solution in search of a problem.

With the exception of two states, Maine and Nebraska, and Washington, D.C., electoral votes are cast on “winner takes all” basis, so that whichever candidate gets a majority of votes in that state receives all of the electoral votes from that state.  This kind of system results in candidates turning their attention to winning the vote in the larger states, since they have more electoral votes.  This aspect of the system could also use revision.

In a piece published by foreign policy analyst Christian Caryl in Foreign Policy, he says that a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral Collegewould require ratification by 38 states”.  This is about the same number as might be interested, since under the present system, they are at a disadvantage compared with other states. The above mentioned problems should be abolished in the case of the election of the President of the United States.

It is now apparent that the democratic nature of the electoral system is complex. Let us turn our attention to an another aspect.

Based on their arguments after 2016, some Democrats wanted to abolish the electoral system. However, the Democrat’s Joe Biden is likely to win the 2020 election (beyond popular votes) thanks to the electoral system and the July 6, 2020 decision of the Federal Supreme Court.

Neither the U.S. Constitution nor federal laws made it clear whether electors could vote on their own beliefs in a presidential election. In July 2020, the U.S. Federal Supreme Court, which also played a role similar to the constitutional courts of other countries, confirmed unanimously that U.S. states can oblige electors to follow the will of the people and cast their vote for the winner of the election.

The 2016 presidential election saw the most faithless electoral votes in the history of the U.S. presidential elections, which was significant despite the fact that the votes of the electors who voted in this way were ultimately not decisive. In the case of the election four years ago, there were a total of seven faithless electors, and the Supreme Court’s decision this year tries to prevent this, but it cannot rule it out.

It is inseparable from the issue of electoral voting designed to reflect popular will, which current President Donald Trump (the 2020 Republican candidate) mentioned: the fact that he said Republican observers were not allowed into polling stations in some states. He also said Republicans were kept so far away from the ballot papers that they could not look at them and thus determine if the election was lawful.

Unfortunately, in light of the above, the opinion of many experts that the 2020 presidential election has hurt idealized American democracy cannot be considered an unfounded claim.

In the next few years and decades, America’s election system might see significant reform, if it is to answer some of the new challenges the era of modern democracy has raised.