Morgan Park Academy
High School, 12th Grade
2016. I was watching intently at the television screen that pictured an outline of the United States, painted with blue and red. “There is no way he could win,” my brother said, walking away. “Hillary Clinton has the most popular votes.” Based on the opinions American citizens had on Donald Trump and his controversies, this was what I expected.
When it dawned on me that Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, I was utterly confused. The final count for Hillary Clinton’s popular vote had a lead of 2.8 million votes over Donald Trump. Despite this, Hillary still lost the election because of the Electoral College’s majority vote for Trump. This was the pinnacle moment that lead me to question the validity of the United States’ legitimacy of democracy, and if one’s vote ultimately matters in the end.
In order to approach this question, we must understand the basics of democracy. In such a system, laws are set to protect the right of all citizens to vote in elections. Additionally, the fundamental rights of citizens, such as freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion, are upheld. It is the duty of all citizens, regardless of ethnicity, background, or sexual orientation, to contribute through their votes and elect leaders who would pursue their goals of improving the country. This allows there to be a majority decision among the country regarding the individuals who are placed in positions of government and avoids problems with unfairness or discrimination when it comes to electing leaders. The separation of powers in the government promotes the system of checks and balances, where no one branch of government--Legislative, Executive, or Judicial-- is able to overpower the others; this prevents instances of dictatorship and inequality. Other government systems that lack the ability to inhibit such instances include authoritarian regimes, where citizens do not have the freedoms of speech, press, or religion, and have a miniscule input, if any, to the choosing of their leaders and the laws that are created, and consequently, not many people would view it as legitimate. Democracy’s idea that individuals have a protection of rights and are able to contribute to the choosing of leaders and decisions of law is most beneficial for all citizens of the state. It is evident that this system of government has become increasingly popular and legitimate throughout the world, with around 120 countries currently classified as democratic countries. Although it is apparent that democracy is important to the fairness and rights of individuals in the state, the main problems with the system of government--which pertain to all countries who identify as democratic but hold true especially for the United States of America--are citizen participation and representation.
The United States of America is one of the most known countries for having a democratic regime. However, according to Business Insider, it appears lower on the list in terms of voter participation, far behind countries such as Norway, Iceland, and Sweden. Although every American citizen has the right to vote, there is still an overall lack of citizen participation when it comes to elections. When analyzing the data of the election voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election, no state had a voter turnout of 100%, and some states even had turnouts of under 50%. This is a significant problem in the systems of democracies and is especially prominent in the United States; there are still citizens who do not choose to vote for an election that determines the leader of their country. One may ask, then: why is the voter turnout significantly low if all citizens over 18 years old have the right to vote? Disregarding the technical issues of the voting process--whether it be corruptions in the voting ballot systems or miscounts--the low number of voters can be caused by issues involving the motives of the people who are eligible to vote. A study was done by NPR to find explanations for such issues, and it was found that there are individuals who do not feel as if their voice matters, individuals who are not educated enough to understand the government and thus cast their vote with purpose, and individuals who are young nonvoters that do not believe that the voting system is efficient. For example, hesitation towards voting can be due to living in a state that is predominantly of the opposite political party of that individual. This being the case, it is apparent that the problems of democracy go beyond the basics of the system of government and the citizens’ ability to vote, and rather towards the personal concerns of the individuals.
Our country must work towards solving the doubts and questions that individuals have towards voting in order to strengthen the system of democracy to its full potential by achieving a higher voter turnout percentage. In order to do this, all citizens must be educated on the process of voting and be aware of the overall impact it has on the elections and decisions made. Citizens would then have the ability to critically analyze the state of the government, identify the changes that need to be made, and cast a vote that would fit their best interests for the country. Additionally, people are able to promote voting through social media and rallies in order to target younger nonvoters specifically and hopefully influence them to take action. This is shown to be effective when analyzing the high voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections, which included candidates of minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. With the increase of popularity and support for such groups in the current society and the help of the social media hashtags relating to voting, the voter turnout was able to reach a record high. Acts to spread awareness on voting and education on the system of voting will maximize the potential of democracy in the United States and promote citizen participation.
Referring back to the 2016 presidential election, one may question if popular votes truly matter if the Electoral College has its own system to elect the president and vice president of the United States. With the Electoral College, citizens who vote are not directly voting for the candidates, but are instead voting for the representatives, or Electors, whose vote in the Electoral College will then determine the winning candidates. Each state is able to send a set number of Electoral College representatives based on their population. This causes issues with representation since not all states have the same amount of members in the Electoral College. States with smaller populations would feel undermined when it comes to the elections due to their smaller number of representatives, hence the people who are in those states would be hesitant to vote in the belief that their vote would not matter. Many citizens reject the idea of the Electoral College and would rather have a direct democracy by the people, but it can also be argued that smaller states would still be at a disadvantage due to the smaller populations and that larger states such as California and New York would be focused on the most. However, Switzerland is a country that uses a direct democracy, where citizens vote directly on laws and leaders without the need for an Electoral College. Despite the 48.4% voter turnout in 2015, according to Idea International, the country of Switzerland is still able to function well with the system of a direct democracy, and it was able to influence other countries such as France to implement a similar system to their country. The United States must trust their people to make the right decisions for the country if changes towards a direct democracy would ever be enforced. However, if American citizens were aware that their vote would directly impact the decisions of the government and the selection of leaders, it would give them a larger incentive to participate politically.
There is no doubt that democracy is important to countries worldwide and contribute to the legitimacy and fairness of the state. However, in order to strengthen the system of democracy specifically in the United States of America, citizens must overcome their hesitations towards voting to maximize voter turnout. It is unlikely that changes will be made regarding the Electoral College, and individuals should vote for reliable electors instead of doubting their vote for not having a direct impact. Democracy ultimately gives the power to the people, but if the people do not use that power to its full potential, then the system of government does fulfill its purpose.