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LAWS OF LIFE | US polls and the electoral college

As of 1:00 p.m. Philippine time, 5 November 2020, the winner of the 2020 United States Presidential election between incumbent Donald J. Trump of the Republican Party and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden of the Democratic Party remains undetermined.

The former has claimed that thousands if not millions of mail-in ballots are a source of potential fraud, while the latter is only a few electoral votes away from clinching the highest office of the land. The system is being tested and stretched, with a conclusion seemingly far from anyone’s train of thought. These are unprecedented times for the United States of America.

THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE: WHAT IT IS

In other presidential systems, the head of government is elected by direct popular vote, meaning that whoever gets the highest number of votes from the voters of their country wins the mandate to serve as chief executive. The United States is no stranger to such elections, however their Constitution provides for the citizens of each respective state to vote for electors, who are then given the task of electing the president. This feature is a holdover from the British parliamentary system, wherein whichever party gained the majority in the House of Commons, thenceforth would be appointed by the monarch a prime minister who can command confidence from his peers.

The Electoral College of the United States is a unique system of electing its President and Vice President whereby the candidate with the largest number of popular votes in any given state takes the entirety of the electors assigned to represent it, whether such number is a majority or plurality.

The number of electors each state gets varies and depends on their population, not necessarily taking into account their wealth or development level. These electors are constitutionally vested with the role of actually voting for the President and Vice President after winning the mandate of their respective state.

Although much criticized for being obsolete, outdated, and not reflective of the overall nationwide popular vote wherein a candidate may lose it but still win election to office through the Electoral College, it is still a necessary mechanism put in place by the framers of the US Constitution designed to give elections to the presidency a “quasi-parliamentary” status by empowering states according to their population to have more power in terms of deciding whom to elect as President.

This results in presidential campaigns focusing on “swing states”, like Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, away from the large population centers usually situated on the coasts, and has also increased the importance, priority, and attention granted to these polities.

Were the United States attempt to get rid of their Electoral College system without implementing a way for the winner to secure an electoral, popular majority mandate, elections there would then regress into a form similar to ours whereby gimmickry, style, over-posturing, and farcical performances on the campaign trail run rife. Evidently here in the Philippines, we have spent an arduous amount of time and patience trying to keep up with the crassness of our presidential system, an ugly holdover of America’s colonial regime. 

Political scientist Dr. Fred Riggs writes, “Although no constitutional plan can guarantee success for any country, the likelihood that parliamentary regimes will survive is far greater than the prospects for those based on the separation-of-powers. Even the best recipe can be spoiled by a bad cook, but all cooks are more likely to succeed following better rather than worse recipes.”

I would, in light of Dr. Riggs’ statement and his study on the “Problems of Presidentialism & the US Exception”,  and given the country’s size and breadth, much rather the United States adopt a German-style parliamentary system to broaden the deliberative processes in their lawmaking and to allow more diverse voices to join their government, or even implement ranked choice voting, be it with or without the Electoral College, similar to Australia’s system to help candidates achieve stronger and more emphatic mandates should they be elected.

But that is a matter for the Americans themselves to decide.

Gabriel Christian J. Lacson
Gabriel Christian J. Lacson
“Those who look only to the past or to the present are certain to miss the future.” - John F. Kennedy

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