We as a nation don’t agree on much at the moment, but maybe we can get together on one fact: The winner-takes-all system that we use to elect the President is unadulterated bullshit.
Because of this practice, our national elections constantly escalate into zero-sum warfare. Look at how we describe the closely watched states: There are “battlegrounds.” And in these battlegrounds, a simple plurality of votes is awarded, not just some, but all of the spoils of war. Everybody else is reduced to nothing — casualties of electoral dysfunction.
But all it takes is a slight change in a percentage point to completely reverse these results. Strength in numbers only requires a decimal point.
This is hardly representative. To proclaim a partisan identity for such large, diverse geographic areas — based on the slightest advantage in numbers — is as autocratic as it gets.
What’s weird about this winner-takes-all model: It isn’t even mandated by the Constitution. There are exactly zero references to this nonsense in the Constitution, but yet most of the country follows it.
What the Framers did allow was leaving the decision to the states on how to divvy up their electoral votes. As a result, we have a few laboratories of democracy that have produced divergent results.
For example, look at Nebraska and Maine, where both states allow for the splitting of electoral votes.
Nebraska has five electoral votes: two based on the statewide vote (like the Senate) and three based on congressional districts. One of those districts contains Omaha, which went blue this year. As a result, Nebraska cast four electoral votes for Trump and one for Biden.
Maine is similar to Nebraska, but with one less congressional district. This year, Maine cast three votes for Biden and one for Trump.
In 2016, Maine also split its vote, again sending one lonely elector in support of Trump. This was the first time since 1988 that Maine cast a vote for Republican, giving voice to Maine’s rural communities that reside outside of Augusta and Portland.
(Maine also has ranked-choice voting, which is another interesting model, but a separate rant.)
Obviously, ridding ourselves of winner-takes-all is something that has to happen in a state-by-state manner, with each state adopting its own electoral redistribution through its own state legislature. But imagine how this would change the calculus of campaigning in the future. No state would be fully “safe” for one party. And, as we have learned this year, victory occurs in the margins, so just a few electoral votes can be extremely influential on the end result.
Abolishing the winner-take-all system seems like a decent nonpartisan compromise with redeeming qualities that appeal to both sides of the aisle. It serves conservatives who 1) don’t want to abolish the Electoral College and 2) feel disenfranchised by living in an unapologetically blue state, while also serving progressives who 1) want to see something more proportional and representative and 2) feel disenfranchised by living in an unapologetically red state.
Let’s admit it: We are an extremely divided nation at the moment. There isn’t a lot of common ground in our country at the moment. We have to start thinking of solutions in the spirit of reconciliation, especially ones that give voice to people who feel like they are being ignored. If we don’t take a moment to allow both sides to make strategic chess moves — with each side not making significant concessions in doing so — then we run the risk of the entire board being upended.