Electoral College system is undemocratic

Dhaka,  Sat,  23 September 2017
Published : 25 Nov 2016, 22:31:39

Electoral College system is undemocratic

Mohammad Amjad Hossain from Virginia, USA
The 12th amendment to the US constitution intends to prevent any repetition of deadlock since the presidential election of 1800 - when Republicans Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr ended up in a tie with Federalist Party's John Adams and Charles Pinckney. Consequently, the US House of Representatives was asked to solve the crisis in the form of a contingency election, although resulting in further deadlock due to equal amount of Republican and Federalist votes for Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr respectively. Federalist Party's Alexander Hamilton, one of America's founding fathers and an influential interpreter of its constitution, had to intervene to overcome the deadlock - this is how the US Electoral College was introduced.

However, Electoral College can manipulate electors chosen by the political parties in presidential elections. Annually, electors from different states cast their votes after the countywide general elections. Historically, such election results had often been torpedoed by the college. In 1824, four candidates - Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay and William H. Crawford squarely secured votes as none received majority votes. As a result, US House of Representatives held a contingency election where the congressmen voted in favour of John Quincy Adams despite Andrew Jackson's lead in both national and electoral votes. Jackson and his supporters criticised the Electoral College as illegitimate and called for its abolition.

Moreover, a disaster occurred after the 1876 election which almost led to a civil war. The Democrats began preparing Tilden-Hendricks Minutemen Club - armed with rifles after their defeat in the Electoral College by one vote. Before, Tilden Hendricks was leading the votes by a wide margin against Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes. In 1888, another crisis emerged when Benjamin Harrison won majority electoral votes defeating Grover Cleveland, who secured majority popular votes. In 1960, Democrat John Fitzgerald Kennedy won the elections with electoral vote margin of 84 against Republican Richard Nixon.

During the US presidential election of 2000, Vice President and Democratic candidate Al Gore won the election by securing the majority of popular votes while Republican Party's George W. Bush was declared a winner in electoral votes. Since the results were not decisive, vote-counting in Florida became disputed. The state's circuit court ruled that Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris could legally amend the certified results while respecting the deadline. Secretary Harris promptly announced that she would enlist late returns only if their delay was justified by each county within November 15, 2000. Having failed to meet the deadline, she announced to reveal Florida's vote-count on November 18. Subsequently, Al Gore sought the intervention of Florida Supreme Court which issued injunction on November 18 - Secretary Harris must allow the counting to finish by each county within November 21. Conversely, Texas's erstwhile Governor George W. Bush appealed against the decision to the United States Supreme Court which expeditiously reviewed the case. By 5 to 4 votes, US Supreme Court declared that the recounting order by Florida Supreme Court was 'unconstitutional'. Therefore, Governor Bush was declared as the President-elect.

       Recently, Republican candidate Donald Trump won the presidential election by the Electoral College which he himself declared as a "disastrous system for a democracy" in 2012. Since 1797, over 700 constitutional amendments have been proposed in US Congress to amend or abolish the Electoral College and countless opinion polls have consistently revealed that most Americans favour direct popular election. Apparently, Electoral College system is considered a detriment of America's democratic institution. On November 16, Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat) has filed a resolution in US Senate to abolish such system. She opined, "Electoral College is an outdated, undemocratic system and it's time we abolish it forever. Such institution does not reflect our modern society, and it needs to be changed immediately."

Since US public opinion is against the college, the US Congress should immediately abolish the system and hold presidential elections under adult franchise in line with democratic norms and traditions - thus, reflecting the words of President Abraham Lincoln: "…government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

The writer is a former Bangladeshi diplomat.


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