Can presidential elections be rigged?

 

President Trump kept saying during his presidential campaign that the system is rigged. This is one thing he got right. He was indeed elected president precisely because the system was rigged. What follows, however, is not about the election of Donald Trump; it is rather a critical analysis of the American system of electing a president.

 

This is how the American presidential election system is rigged.

 

1. When the result of an election is determined by geography not people, which is what the Electoral College is all about, this means that the system is rigged. The Electoral College gives low-population states a disproportionate share of the vote. For example, Wyoming which has 3 electoral votes needs only 195,369 (out of a population of 586,107) to elect one elector, while California which has 55 electoral votes needs 711,723 (out of a population of 39,144,818) to elect one elector. This means that an electoral vote represents nearly four times as many people in California as in Wyoming. The Electoral College badly distorts the vote. It is not based on one-man-one-vote principle which is the definition of democracy.

 

2. The winner-take-all feature is another indication that the system is rigged. Let us say that X voted for Y, not Z. If Y gets 51 percent of the votes then according to the winner-take-all system, Y will get 100 percent of the votes, which includes even those who voted against him. The winner-take-all badly distorts the vote. If this doesn't qualify for rigging an election, I wonder what will. It is not based on one-man-one-vote principle which is the definition of democracy.

 

3. When money plays a huge role in an election and when money is equated with free speech, then the system is rigged. Presidential elections now can cost well over a billion dollar. The Supreme Court's decision in Citizen United case allows Super PACs (political action committees) to raise unlimited amount of money, often from anonymous sources. In this context, the elections cannot be fair. To have a fair election, candidates must all be on a level playing field.

 

4. One of the cornerstones of democracy is people participation in elections. The larger the number the better. Countries like Australia and Belgium make participation mandatory. I am not advocating that. but I am for making this participation much easier through absentee ballots, longer hours at poling stations, early voting etc. What is unfortunate is this new trend of voter suppression through different means, which by the way is tantamount to rigging the elections. Turnout in this 2016 election was only 56 percent, compared to 58 percent in 2012 and 61.6 percent in 2008. Some expressed the opinion that the reason why Trump won is the low turnout.

 

Yes, Trump was elected president on a rigged system. Does this mean that all presidents were elected on a rigged system. The answer is no, as long as the candidate won the popular vote. The popular vote is the real yardstick because it is based on a one-man-one-vote principle which is the definition of democracy.

 

It is worth noting the increased importance of the popular vote. Prior to 2000, that is, since the inception of the republic, three times, only three times, the winner of the presidency lost the popular vote. As of 2000, that is, within only 16 years, twice the winner of the popular vote lost the election, the last election by a wide margin (almost three million votes). If this trend continues, something needs to be done to have the presidential election genuinely reflect the will of the people.

 

Medhat Credi

November 2017