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“I’m not sure when this ‘it’s my right’ ideology crept in, but the United States has never treated voting as a ‘personal right.’… even in the early days of America, when voting was a privilege only afforded to landowners, there was a direct correlation between responsibility and privilege.”
-Ambra Nykol, Freelance columnist
After at least a year of forgetting and procrastination, today I finally picked up my voter registration form, filled it out, and put it in the mail. I have mixed feelings about voting. We’re taught that it is our “civic duty” as American citizens to “rock the vote” and help decide the nation’s future, but learning about the failures of the Electoral College has left me feeling a bit defeated.
In case you didn’t know, the government website very happily states that the Electoral College is “a process, not a place.” It consists of the 538 electors that come to decide our future president. Electoral votes are distributed roughly in proportion to state populations. As such, California, Texas and New York have more votes than say, Vermont and New Hampshire. 48 of the states (except for Maine and Nebraska) follow a winner-take-all system, meaning the candidate that wins more than half of the votes in the states where it really counts can become president.
But there’s more. Each state begins with at least 3 votes, even the District of Columbia. Larger states have to give up votes to smaller states, so while Rhode Island should probably only have 2 votes, it ends up with 4 while states such as Indiana and North Carolina have to give up votes. New Yorkers give up 5 of their votes to smaller states.
When candidates campaign around the nation, they focus on “swing” states such as Ohio, Florida, Virginia and New Hampshire. Candidates don’t waste time on states where they already have a clear win, like Illinois in the 2008 election with Barack Obama. This offers no chance for rival and third-party candidates to have their say in those states. Residents are left feeling that they’ve been ignored as candidates spend thousands trying to win over those who live in swing states.
And then, up to 4.4 million Americans living in the island territories have absolutely no say in the presidential elections. If a citizen moves from the United States to a territory, they lose their right to vote. How is it that American astronauts can vote from space, but Americans living in territories cannot vote?
It’s clear that the Electoral College does not represent any form of democracy. Our “founding fathers” drafted the plan to ensure that smaller states would have their say in the election just as much as the larger ones. While states like Wyoming and Vermont do receive more votes to compensate for their smaller populations, they get widely ignored by candidates in presidential races. Romney and Obama are much more concerned about the “swing” states that could determine the final results and bypass states that they’ve already “won”. Shouldn’t a future president be interested in the vote of each American?
Each and every single vote should be equal. The vote itself has been historically difficult to attain for minorities. Poll taxes and literacy tests have been replaced by felony restrictions and id requirements; 5 million Americans who have been convicted of a felony are not able to vote, half of them being Black or Hispanic. Showing a photo ID is a requirement in at least 34 states, which places older African Americans and young students at a disadvantage. In Texas, a proposed law would make it so voters could show a concealed handgun permit but not a college ID; luckily, the Justice Department shut down the law.
The battle for the right to vote has endured for decades with no end in sight. The right, which I also see as a privilege, is still unavailable to the millions of convicted felons in the United States and new laws are making it increasingly difficult for Black and Hispanic voters to perform their “civic duties”. Voting itself is already out of reach for so many, why can’t those Americans who can vote make a direct decision for the presidency?