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What Realistic Paths Do We Have Toward Electoral Reform?

Not all ideas for change are likely to be adopted.

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It has been a tough week. Many of you out there are looking for answers. Now that it’s been a week since Election Day’s cataclysmic result, it might be time to talk about the things we can’t do. This election is over. Donald Trump has walked into the White House and shaken hands with Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton will likely never run for electoral office again. These are the facts on the ground.

That being said, after the dust has cleared, it is obvious that this country needs serious electoral changes. Twice in the last 20 years a presidential candidate has won the popular vote but lost the electoral college. Four times since 1992 the president failed to get more than 50 percent of the vote. That is a travesty and it needs to change. Let’s take a look at some strategies that are being pursued to reform this country’s electoral politics and how realistic those plans actually are.

Ranked Voting System

A proposal that actually could gain some traction in the near future is ranked choice voting. In one of the few bright spots on election night, Maine narrowly passed a measure that will allow ranked choice voting. A ranked choice ballot allows you to rank your candidates. If a candidate is shown to have the least first place votes, that candidate is eliminated, and votes for them go to whomever that voter ranked second. You continue that process until a candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote.

This initiative is particularly feasible in states in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest, where third party candidates often play the role of spoiler. It remains to be seen how far this initiative could go in states that are solid blue or solid red, but many experts believe this results in a fairer voting method.

Realistic? Yes, depending on the state

Abolish the Electoral College

One of the negatives about being one of the oldest democracies is that our electoral machine is pretty rusty. As we all know, the electoral college was put into place to keep the interests of white, wealthy landowners the main priority of our government. If you look at the electoral demographics, it still serves that purpose. While most of America believes the electoral college isn’t fair, there are a number of reasons we won’t be getting rid of it any time soon.

Why is the issue on non-starter? First off, small states have as many votes as larger states in the Senate. Amending the Constitution requires Senate approval. Small states have no incentive to give up power. The last time electoral reform was seriously considered, it was tied up by Nebraska and South Carolina, states with few electoral votes.

Electoral reform is also a slow process because it requires people to continue caring about the election well after the election is over. Also, the winner rarely has an interest in it, as it kind of feels like rubbing salt in the wound of the loser, or it is a change that would have cost them the election (as is the case this year).

For the Electoral College to be abolished you would likely need the Democratic Party to control the House, Senate, Presidency, and Supreme Court, get small states on board, and have won that control by a comfortable enough margin that the move doesn’t seem vindictive. Needless to say, today ain’t that time.

Realistic? No

Weekend Voting

The two proposals above are the major reforms floating around aimed at changing the way elections results work, but there are a number of proposals aimed at changing elections themselves. You’re likely familiar with the ongoing row over voter ID laws. Generally, conservatives like them because they suppress minority turnout and liberals are against them because higher turnout advantages them. One issue that gets a little less national coverage but actually seems like an easier sell for both sides is weekend voting or making Election Day a holiday.

The reasons behind Tuesday voting don’t really apply today (as John Oliver recently pointed out). Farmers travelled long distance to the polls in the 1800s and the Sabbath was a no-go because you can’t vote on a day of rest. Yet, despite the decline of agriculture and religion in this country, we are still voting on the second day of the work week. The organization Why Tuesday? is aimed at changing this. Others are looking at making Election Day a holiday, which would also increase turnout.

As with Voter ID laws, a higher turnout favors liberals, so a sweeping change in Election Day would likely have to come with a Democrat-controlled government with a mandate. Again, not happening in 2016.

Realistic? No. It is much more likely that the 14 states without early voting or mail-in voting would shift to a new model first.