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EDITORIAL: We must engage in Electoral College debate

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The United States was not built on freedom and democracy for all, but rather a foundation of democratic values hinged on the ability to adapt and change. Throughout its history, America has amended its constitution and shifted its political direction to move toward the fulfillment of its commitment to freedom and democracy, and it is time to shift once more. 

It is time to once again veer from a path of neglect, and steer toward the path of righteous equality and democratic participation. “America’s future depends on yet another revolution — a movement of people committed to reconstructing democracy,” said Rev. William J. Barber II. 

This nation’s collapsing lungs demand a breath of the fresh air of democracy. The impending 2020 election has brought the Electoral College to the forefront of debate as candidates look to messages of improving democracy in their reform agendas. Time and again the debate surfaces with an explosion of support and then fizzles away, sinking back down, but this election cycle may bring about a different end. 

In the U.S., “65 percent of adults think whoever wins the popular vote should hold the nation's highest office,” according to an Atlantic/Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) poll from 2018. President Donald J. Trump once supported abolishing the Electoral College, as he previously felt it was a "total disaster for democracy." 

The increasingly popular position among Democratic candidates has already spurred legislative proposals in the Senate. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced a constitutional amendment as an attempt to abolish the Electoral College. In a package of election reforms, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) also introduced legislation with a similar goal. 

Pushback against the initiatives is focalized on concerns that these reforms would disadvantage rural voters. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has tweeted: “The desire to abolish the Electoral College is driven by the idea Democrats want rural America to go away politically.” With a similar sentiment, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has said in a statement: “Abolishing the Electoral College would be bad news for Iowa and for the Midwest generally ... The voices of farmers, factory workers and so many others in rural America would be drowned out by city dwellers on the coasts.”

But contrary to these worries, the current electoral system deprives much of America of the opportunity to engage with political campaigns. In the final two months of the 2016 election, 53 percent of campaign events for Trump, Hillary Clinton, Mike Pence and Tim Kaine were only in four states: Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio. None of these four candidates even ventured into 27 states, which includes much of rural America. 

As detailed by a nonprofit advocating for electoral reform, candidates would still have to campaign in a broad array of places if they wanted to secure a majority in a popular vote system. “The population of the nation’s 20 biggest cities represents only 10 percent of the nation’s population,” based on 2010 census data. “The population of the 50 biggest cities together accounts for only 15 percent of the nation’s population.” 

In addition to distorting electoral results, the current system already makes the voices of voters irrelevant. Rather than drowning the “voices of farmers, factory workers and so many others,” electoral reforms can result in the amplification and accurate valuation of these voices by treating them equal to those people who live in high-density urban areas.

Land does not vote, citizens do. A popular vote ensures that democracy forms the foundation of our governing body. Democratic representation is built on pillars of inclusion along with the will and consent of the governed. 

For the representative structure to be stable and uphold fundamental values, it requires harmony between substantive and descriptive representation, broad citizen eligibility for public office, inclusive voting rights, accountable effectiveness and voter influence on policy. The system in which democratic representation acts as an engine of prosperity and progress for all holds these overarching characteristics.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff. 

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