By Sofia Eichsteadt
Germantown Academy '22
Ever since the beginning of our country and with the ratification of the Constitution, the system put in place by the founding fathers has had inherent flaws. The creation of the Electoral College and the inclusion of the Senate, the legislative body that is not proportionally representative of the people based on population, shifted political power from those who, as a whole, made up a plurality of the constituency. The founding fathers had an inherent distrust for the will of the general population, so they created a system that was designed to concentrate power in the hands of the already powerful.
America has also had a rich history of attempting to change and improve the political system, universally. The women’s suffrage movement in the early 20th century and the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s are key parts of this pattern. One of the most important pieces of legislation to come out of the Civil Rights Movement was the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The act outlawed discriminatory practices of states that attempted to limit voting rights of Black Americans, calling it an “act to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution.” This law made practices that discouraged Black Americans from voting illegal. The implementation of this law immediately resulted in an increase in Black Americans registering to vote and being able to participate in elections.
However, in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to mandate certain states with a history of voting discrimination to get clearance for any changes they make to their voting system. This meant that stricter policies that made it harder for people to vote could be implemented by states without the federal government being able to intervene. States like Georgia and Texas were able to limit the number of polling places, resulting in some counties having only one polling station that was often miles away from voters. Some states also use a strategy called “voter purging” to further limit who is able to vote during elections. States will purge voters from their registration roles if people have moved to a different state or died recently, but often this strategy results in errors and legitimate voters getting deleted from the records as well. This has resulted in people getting turned away from their polling places on Election Day because they had not been notified that they were no longer registered to vote, and this is often targeted towards populations of poor, Black Americans. This, along with other suppression tactics like voter ID laws and limiting access to polls, results in large swathes of people not getting their voices heard.
Gerrymandering is another strategy that can limit whose voices are represented. This strategy is when a political party in power draws congressional district lines with the intent to give a distinct advantage to their party. Districts are drawn with the intent to seclude a large amount of likely voters from the opposing party in as few districts as possible, giving the other party a better chance of winning elsewhere. Even if a representative system is based on population, this strategy can give a disproportionate amount of power to a certain party depending on how the district lines are drawn.
The electoral college is another unfair system.The way that a president is chosen is ultimately not up to the will of the general public, but rather down to a few million people in a limited number of states. Since only a few states will ultimately decide the election, it does not matter what the overall will of the people is, just the outcome in a few key states. This is why there is often so much focus on a place like Pennsylvania during general elections, but none on a place like New York - everybody knows which political party New York’s 29 electoral votes are going to go to, but not Pennsylvania. The voice of the people in New York when it comes to presidential elections don’t matter, and that is where the unfairness factor comes from.
The unfairness of the system does not just come from widespread disenfranchisement tactics, but from the way a plurality system works. Those who do not vote for the controlling party will ultimately have no voice or representation. This can happen if a specific party gains control of all governmental branches, and, even if it’s by a slight margin, those who voted for people in the other party in practice have no voice. Even though those people are technically represented, if their representatives have no power then their constituents have no real representation when it comes to who is making policies.
There is no perfect way of organizing government. No country in the world has a perfectly fair system, because there will always be voices left unheard. However, America has an especially egregious political system that can be manipulated by those in power to keep their power, even if they are not representative of the people. We need to recognize that, while there is no perfect answer to any of these issues, our system still needs to be improved.
Note: this is strictly an opinion piece