Verbum Ultimum: Outdated and Dangerous

The Electoral College significantly limits our right to vote.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 10/14/16 12:30am

In the weeks leading up to the election, we as potential voters are bombarded with a constant stream of messages and calls to action. From electing the proper presidential candidate to stave off impending doom to making sure that we vote on the newest amendment to “preserve family values,” every election comes with a tidal wave of contradicting directions from both sides of the aisle. One message it seems that everyone can agree on, however, is that everyone who can register to vote should do so to make sure that they can cast a ballot on Election Day.

Politicians, voter outreach groups like Rock the Vote and even celebrities constantly remind us that we have the right, privilege and duty to make our voices heard. On campus as well, groups like the College Democrats, Collis Governing Board, NextGen Climate and others have been doing their best to get students to register to vote. This is a worthy cause; whatever your political beliefs, we can all agree that we’re fortunate to live under a political system over which many of us can exercise influence. However, for many students, it would make a good deal of sense to register to vote in New Hampshire instead of their home state. The reason why is troubling.

Despite being surrounded by mostly blue states on all sides, New Hampshire has historically been known as a swing state. Because of this tendency, one could argue that a student’s vote in New Hampshire would be worth significantly more than a vote in their home state. Of the 2018, 49 percent of students come from only seven states, with as many as 25 percent coming from only two states: California and New York. Yet not even one of those seven states made it onto Politico’s list of swing states for the 2016 election.

Essentially, this means that the presidential election votes of nearly half of the student body “wouldn’t count” if students voted in their home states. Our presidential elections have gotten to the point where the majority of American states are written off, and a massive portion of each candidate’s time and resources are spent on a few states that end up deciding the fate of the entire nation. The concept of “one person, one vote” no longer applies when a person’s vote is basically considered a wash. This issue can be traced back to one of our country’s most befuddling institutions: the Electoral College.

When it was established, the Electoral College made sense. Without modern technology there was simply no way that most Americans in the 18th century could have made informed decisions about candidates, many of whom they may have never heard of before Election Day. In 2016, however, this institution is incredibly outdated. It is naïve to believe that the entire electorate is well informed enough to make the best decision, but information is now accessible enough that they theoretically could be.

The extra degree of separation between the electorate and the election itself is not only outdated — it is potentially dangerous. Political affiliations aside, one has to consider what the world would currently look like if the 2000 election reflected the popular vote instead of the Electoral College. If the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee Al Gore, who won the popular vote, had become president, would we be as involved in the Middle East as we are now? It may be a hypothetical thought exercise, but it wouldn’t have to be if presidential elections were based simply on popular vote count.

As it stands now, the options for Dartmouth students who don’t live in swing states are limited. They could register in New Hampshire and have their voice represented in the presidential election, but then they could lose the right to vote on various other issues. Nobody should have to sacrifice the right to vote on important issues like congressional elections or constitutional referendums just so they can have a say in the presidential race. The only other option is to vote in their home state and essentially give up their vote for one of the most powerful positions in the world. The necessary change wouldn’t be difficult to implement: keep the registration system in place so eligible voters can still have a say in local issues that pertain to them, while deciding the presidential election by popular vote. After all, our elections are supposed to reflect the will of the people — not just the people in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

The editorial board consists of the editorial chair, the opinion editors and the opinion staff.

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