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Our Electoral System Is Broken

Image of I voted sticker.
Image of I voted sticker.

A few days after the election, I went on a short vacation. I looked at social media and the news sparingly. Even so, it was hard to escape the extreme responses from both sides. When my family turned on the news, I was treated to image after image of protestors taking to the streets, declaring that Trump is “not my President.”

I’ll admit, my first thought was, “Get over it. She lost.” But even as I thought it, I felt guilty. After all, the scenes gave me a sense of déjà vu. I remember closely following the protests at the Democratic National Committee in Philadelphia over the summer. I almost went to the protests myself. I, too, felt as though the person who won was “not my” nominee.

It’s easy to point fingers, to say I told you so, and to feel angry at the hypocrisy of others. It’s harder to realize they are feeling the same pain and anguish I felt, but as the days have passed the similarity has become clear to me. I am not saying that the Democratic primary and the general election had the exact same situations and I’m not trying to compare and contrast. I only want to show the similarities and explain why I think we should be focused on working together.

But Hillary Won the Popular Vote

Almost immediately, the first post-election outcry was over the popular vote, which Hillary Clinton won. As of the time of this writing, she was still up over a million votes over President-Elect Donald Trump. Her supporters immediately seized upon this, saying that she was the one who truly won and the electoral college was to blame.

Several petitions sprung up, with over 500,000 people demanding that the electoral college is abolished and another 4.5 million people calling for the electoral college to make Clinton president. There are even some electors who have vowed not to vote for Trump, encouraging others to do the same.

All of this reminds me of the superdelegates in the Democratic primary and the way in which Bernie Sanders supporters railed against their power, calling their weight on the scale unfair and unbalanced. There were many Sanders supporters who urged the superdelegates to change their mind and vote for Sanders over Clinton, even in states where she had clearly won. At the same time, there were also plenty of examples of superdelegates who supported Clinton despite Sanders winning their state.

Audit the Vote

In more recent days, there has been a consistent call on social media to #AuditTheVote and #Recount2016. Rumors have sprung up here and there of voting machine tampering/hacking, the possibility of a cyber attack, and other signs that point toward election fraud in favor of Trump. Some of the rumors seem more plausible than others. One example that is cited often is this tweet from Greg Palast, who is known for his work investigating election fraud and voter suppression:

Exit poll discrepancies outside of the margin of error is a familiar piece of evidence to me. I pointed to exit polls time and again during the democratic primary. Yet, Clinton supporters would repeatedly tell me that I was a sore loser or that election fraud was a conspiracy theory.

Fast forward to the last presidential debate this year, when Trump declared that he might not accept the outcome of the election. Clinton immediately said:

“That’s horrifying. Let’s be clear about what he is saying and what that means. He is denigrating — he is talking down our democracy. And I am appalled that someone who is the nominee of one of our two major parties would take that position.”

And yet here we are, with Clinton supporters refusing to accept the outcome of the election, pointing to exit poll discrepancies and talk of how easily hacked the voting machines are. So, yes, I can’t help but feel resentful toward Clinton supporters for the way they are acting now. They are demanding recounts and vote audits and yet, I don’t see them saying anything about the Democratic primary. A lot of Sanders supporters have taken to saying, “Sure, let’s audit the vote in the general election, let’s do a recount – but only if we do the same thing for the primary.”

Jill Stein Joins the Debate

On November 23, 2016, Jill Stein, the 2016 presidential candidate for the Green Party, joined the discussion surrounding the election and whether or not the results were legitimate. She declared that the Green Party would be filing to request recounts in the key states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, due to the presence of “statistical anomalies.” As of this writing, Trump won these states by a margin of 27,257, 70,638, and 10,704 votes, respectively.

Stein launched a fundraising campaign for the recount, which has so far raised almost $6 million – much more money than she raised for her entire 2016 campaign. I can almost guarantee that little of that money is coming from Green Party voters, but rather it is coming from wealthy Clinton donors that want to see Clinton win.

The move by Stein has sparked discussion among her supporters, with many angry that she would do something to possibly help Clinton win. Still, others are supportive and hope that the move will expose election fraud that harmed Stein and resulted in lost votes for her. Perhaps the recount will reveal that Stein was closer to reaching 5% than it currently seems. Still, others view the move as opportunistic (whether in appearance or in fact), a way to raise money and gain attention without being able to guarantee that a recount will happen.

On November 26, Marc Erik Elias, the general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, wrote in a medium post:

Because we had not uncovered any actionable evidence of hacking or outside attempts to alter the voting technology, we had not planned to exercise this option ourselves, but now that a recount has been initiated in Wisconsin, we intend to participate in order to ensure the process proceeds in a manner that is fair to all sides.

He adds that the campaign intends to participate in any states that have recounts initiated, even though they understand that the margin of votes by which Trump won is unlikely to be overcome by a recount.

We Need To Work Together

I think it’s clear that most Americans question our electoral system at this point. From Trump supporters who grumbled about rigging and voter fraud before the election; to Sanders supporters who marched in protest of what they saw as a stolen election involving election fraud that benefited Clinton; to Clinton supporters who see Clinton’s win of the popular vote, when combined with exit poll discrepancies and potential voting machine hacking (not to mention the repeated nonsensical threat of Russian hacking), as proof that she really won; to third parties who have been fighting against an electoral system that’s designed to keep them down.

Yet, the very process of voting for our representatives is the fundamental basis of our political system, of our much-lauded democracy. Clinton did have a point: If you question the electoral process, you’re questioning our democracy. But maybe that isn’t a bad thing. It’s clear the system is broken and needs to be fixed.

Rather than bicker and be angry about which side is talking about examining our electoral system and fixing it today, we should all join together to come up with solutions. Perhaps we should revise our winner-take-all and first-past-the-post systems or replace them with a ranked-choice system (in Maine a recent ballot initiative was approved that supports moving to ranked-choice voting). There are plenty of alternative election processes around the world that we can look to for inspiration. Perhaps we should also abandon the hackable voting machines that we have in place and go instead to paper ballots. And perhaps we should demand that all elections, big or small, be audited.

I don’t pretend to know what the right solution is, or which ideas are the best. But I do know that the first step is to stop bickering, stop finger-pointing, and start working together.

Image source.

Written by Raven Payne

Recently awakened progressive in pursuit of truth in all things.

Raven Payne is an Editor and Writer for Progressive Army, and a member of its Editorial Board.

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Our Electoral System Is Broken