America never shied away from shouting about its democratic virtues throughout the whole world ever since the 2nd World War. Since then it attained the status of a ‘superpower’ in the world arena. The combination of these two is a vicious cocktail of authoritarianism which no country can dare to ignore and, in fact, had to grudgingly follow.
Let us look at the democratic status of America. American democratic practices are sharply on focus now throughout the whole world. In just about two weeks’ time, America is going to exercise its so-called ‘democratic rights’ in the local and federal elections. The most important of which is the election of the US president through the electoral college.
The election of the president through electoral college is a very convoluted and dysfunctional process in the so-called democratic system. In this process, the voters only choose their candidates (president and vice president) on the ballot paper, but their votes only go to support the candidates they choose. The voters’ choices on the ballot papers help to form the electoral college – a body of 538 electors from all 50 states and Washington DC – and this electoral college will, in turn, select the president and vice president of the country for the next four years. When a presidential candidate with the associated vice president gets 270 votes in the electoral college, he is declared as the winner.
The number of electors from a state in the electoral college is allocated as one elector for each member in the US House of Representatives (which has a total of 435 seats) from that state and on the number of Senators (2 from each state). The additional 3 electors come from the Washington DC. The number of House of Representative seats in a state is not allocated strictly on the basis of one-man (or woman)-one-vote system. It is on one-man-one-vote basis if only white population is considered. Back in the days (late 18th century) when American constitution was drafted, black slaves were not eligible to vote and hence they were not counted.
But then complications crept in. In the southern states, there were few white men owning large number of slaves. If only whites were counted for federal representation, then they would be very weak at federal levels, and at the same time they did not want slaves to be at par with the white masters. So, a compromise was reached that a slave would be regarded as equal to 60% of the white person! On that basis, population was estimated and House of Representative seats were allocated.
Subsequently when Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in 1865, the system and the status of blacks (no longer slaves) remained unchanged. In the south a large population (with low number of whites) has a smaller representation in federal level than in other white states. This status quo helps both the major parties in the US. The Republicans and white supremacists feel satisfied that they have authority higher than the blacks; whereas Democrats feel that any untoward issue on race would divide the nation and may cause termination of funds from white fund holders to the Democratic party.
It may be noted that American elections are nothing but painful display of mud-slinging, deceitful advertisements, billboards, party meetings, election propaganda etc all requiring millions and billions of dollars. Saturated advertisements, brain-washing, direct and indirect handouts to interest groups etc are rampant, which badly corrupt and may even destroy the very semblance of democracy. Multi-millionaires and billionaires find elections as their playground to extract their self-interests and covert promises from candidates. National Rifles Associations (NRA), pharmaceutical companies, petrochemical industry, tobacco industry, building industry, media and banking industry all have their strong lobbies dragging candidates to their swamps. If that is regarded as democracy, then mafia groups can be called human rights groups!
Apart from such blatant abuse of democratic rights using money, there are structural inadequacies in the system. The constitution says that all men are created equal. It should also hasten to add that the exception is that blacks are only 60% equal to whites. The constitution also says, in God we trust. What happens to those who do not believe in God, or believe in other or rival form of God? Are they going to be excluded from the state? Also, by brazen submission to so-called God, America is encouraging religiosity and creationism. America is the only advanced country where over 60% of the population believe that God created the universe and evolution is just a myth or a lie!
Setting aside American intellectual deficiency among the general public, America has serious democratic deficiency. The electoral college had produced over the 244 years of its history five presidents who lost the majority popular votes nationwide but won the presidency – John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, George W Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. Donald Trump lost the popular vote by as many as three million, but still won the presidential election by collecting 304 electoral votes.
One may ask, what is the problem with the electoral college? The answer is systemic. A candidate may win some states by a large majority and lose large number of states by a whisker. Even when a candidate loses the popular vote in a state by a small number of votes, the whole of the electoral college votes go to the winning candidate. Thus, there is a mechanism whereby a candidate can bag electoral college votes winning each state by a whisker by this system of ‘winner takes it all’.
If the Proportional Representation (PR) system would have applied in the election of each state, then the electors would represent the popular votes in that state. When all the electors from all the states are collected for the presidential candidates, then there would be no disparity between the electoral votes and popular votes. The system would work perfectly well. The electoral college had been changed three times in the past via Constitutional amendment – but it would require broad majorities in Congress. It may be noted that since World War II, the electoral college, as it stands, had almost always opposed by the majority of the American people.
– Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.