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Old System, New Tricks: Taking Command of the National Voting Process

In recent years, there has been much controversy about the way the United States elects its president and how ballots are counted. The election of 2000 is an example of how disorder in the election process may cause massive chaos. After months of controversy about how an obstructed chad should be counted, the American public has become frustrated with the operations of the national elections. With Al Gore winning the popular vote but losing the electoral vote, many Americans are forced to question just how democratic the system is. In light of this, the public has requested reform of the voting system, with no Electoral College and no chads on their ballots. These requests, however, are not the answers to the election controversies of the future. Just like when a well-trained dog misbehaves, there is no need to buy a new dog. One should take control of the situation and get things back in order. This same philosophy applies to the national election system. Instead of abandoning the system, one should control the system. The present voting system works, though some parts of the system have “misbehaved.” The citizens should take control. On that note, the United States should not create a uniform national voting system for elections to national office. Doing so would be a violation of states’ rights, would undermine the validity of the current voting system, and can cause inequalities to those who vote.

The United States Constitution was made with several ideals in mind. One of those ideals is that there shall be a system of checks and balances in the government so that no organization can become too powerful. Another one of those ideals is that there shall be a separation of powers between the federal government and the states’ governments (Belz 1992, 264). Indeed, the separation of powers is for checks and balances purposes – so that one entity cannot control all others. With respect to voting, these ideals are stated very clearly. Article I, Section 4 of the US Constitution states “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of Chusing [sic] Senators.” Interpreted, this says that the states have the right to choose when, where, and how they run their voting systems, though Congress can intervene.

If we create a national uniform voting system, this part of the Constitution would be voided. No longer would the states have integrity with respect to national elections. States would be at the mercy of the federal government. The checks and balances system would be lost. One of the efficient parts of the way the United States elects the president is by having an Electoral College. Though there is much debate, the Electoral College provides a way for the states to have partial control over the presidential election. Some may see this as a negative attribute, but imagine if a controversy arose over the election of a president. With an Electoral College, a state can easily bring forth their claims as injustices can be more precisely targeted (one electoral vote out of 538 can be examined more closely than one popular vote out of approximately 118 million votes – from 2004 election) (“ Election Results,” 2004).

What if there are injustices in the system? What if an Elector did not vote for whom the state wanted? These very valid issues can be resolved with the Constitution as well. Because the Constitution gives states the power of election, states also have the power to have their own laws and standards associated with national elections. Many argue that the Electoral College is unfair because all of the states electoral votes go to one candidate. This is untrue. While it is true that most states have adopted (typically by tradition) the standard of having their popular votes dictate to which candidate all of that states electoral votes support, it is not a national law that the states must do this. States can split their electoral votes however they wish. Maine and Nebraska have already adopted methods that are not purely “winner-takes-it-all.” Maine and Nebraska follow the "district system." For that system, two electors' votes are based on the candidate who received the most statewide popular votes and the remaining electoral votes go by congressional districts, awarding the vote to the candidate who received the most votes in each district (Grabianowski). Laws can even be made to be sure that the elector in the Electoral College votes the way the state want him/her to vote. The state is in charge and the state government should be the first to receive complaints if voters are unsatisfied by the way their state votes in the Electoral College.

Not only is a uniform national voting system unnecessary but it can actually cause inequalities in voting. Suppose, for instance, that the United States was going to create a national voting system where they controlled voter qualifications and registration, the operation of polling places, and the machinery of voting. Some voters may not be able to vote because of unfair qualifications, unreachable location, and ability to use the machinery. Consider, for example, the possibility if the federal government made all voting machinery electronic. The elders, and other groups who have not had a lifetime/significant amount of time to become comfortable with electronic machines, are put at a severe disadvantage. The ability to use an electronic device is inadvertently made part of the voter qualifications. Because of this, inaccurate and/or unfair voting practices make the outcomes invalid. Similar arguments can be made if the federal government decides to place polling places at unreachable or inconvenient locations. Such power to an already strong federal government is dangerous. The stronger the federal government becomes, the more difficult it becomes to invoke checks and balances upon it.

The states should control voter qualifications and the like because the states have a great knowledge of the information and characteristics of their own populations. Because the states have the most information and experience dealing with their population, they are the best ones to decide what the best and most accurate method of voting is for their people. Any claims of injustice can go to the state governments rather than the federal government, thereby lessening the time for actions in response. If a reform was needed to be made, it would be easier for it to be made in a state government, rather than a federal government which would need the agreement from far more citizens than if reformed on a state level.

Those in favor of having a national uniform system may argue that the states have shown there fallibility in the past. Only 40 years ago the federal government passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which focused on correcting the previously unsuccessful anti-discriminatory voting laws by enacting new, stronger legislation. The Act “applied a nationwide prohibition against the denial or abridgment of the right to vote on the literacy tests on a nationwide basis” (“Introduction to Federal […]”). This act was created due to discrimination of minorities using literacy tests and poll taxes to qualify citizens to vote.

Though the voting system may have had problems in the past (Engstrom 2004, 688), current legislation is currently updated to uphold the Constitution and the rights that it preserves. As the current system presently operates, the federal government should continue to act as a “watchdog” over the states and be sure that the states are also allowing the Constitution to prevail. If any state discriminates against a certain religion, race, sex, etc., then the federal government has an obligation to step in and assure the integrity of the nation’s laws and prevent unfair voting requirements.

The regulation of voter qualifications and registration, the operation of polling places, and the machinery of voting should be controlled by the states. With the exception of only a few elections, federal voting has gone very smoothly. The few exceptions may very well have been cleared if the states adopted a method of voting in the Electoral College that suits the ideals of the state’s population. The Constitution was setup so that if reform was needed, it can be done precisely, accurately, and efficiently. Good dogs are hard to come by. Everything is misbehaved at some point, even the national voting system. Rather than replacement, education and control is needed to make a more harmonious relationship. With the proper actions, dogs can be well-behaved, tamed, and well-trained, and national voting systems can be accurate, efficient, and prosperous.

Works Cited

Belz, Herman. May 1992. “Liberty and Equality for Whom? How to Think Inclusively about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” The History Teacher Vol. 25 No. 3, 263-277.

Engstrom, Richard L. December 1994. “The Voting Rights Act: Disfranchisement, Dilution, and Alternative Election Systems,” PS: Political Science and Politic, Vol.27, No.4, 685-688.

Grabianowski, Edward. “How Swing States Work.” [web page] [Accessed 15 Feb 2005].

“Introduction to Federal Voting Rights Laws.” United States Department of Justice. [web page] [Accessed 29 Mar 2005].

“ Election Results.” [web page] 2004; [Accessed 15 Feb 2005].

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