Recounts, Hacking, the Electoral College, and the Spirit of Democracy

How would I feel if I told you that in your county, 15 absentee ballots were left in their envelopes on election day and weren’t counted? These ballots had no significant impact on the election, as the winner in your county won by several thousand votes. If you lived on the west coast, the winner of the election may’ve been called before your precinct had even reported its totals. Those 15 ballots were just part of the margin of error that occurs when counting a large number of votes, and it doesn’t make any difference whatsoever in the long run.

Now, how would you feel if I told you that YOUR absentee ballot was one of the 15 that happened to be left in its envelope? It may not have impacted the election, but I’m sure it’d reaffirm any suspicion you had that your vote doesn’t have an impact. The spirit of elections revolves around the theory that every citizen has a say in choosing our next leaders. Whenever there are inconsistencies in the election process, the validity of that process is called into question. We’ve seen these inconsistencies this year, and it has led many, myself included, to call for reform to the election process. My call for action does not stem from disappointment with the results of this election, but instead from the fear that inconsistencies in the process could break the spirit of our democracy.

A demonstration of the vote counting machines used in precincts throughout the United States.

When Jill Stein called for recounts in three key swing states, Clinton supporters cheered at the prospect of stopping Trump, while Trump supporters lashed out. However, despite all of the drama surrounding the recounts, nobody paid attention to why Stein called for them in the first place. It certainly wasn’t to help Hillary Clinton. A major component of her party’s platform is to ensure the fairness and accuracy of elections. Stein, like many Americans, was concerned that votes weren’t being counted correctly, and she was right. In the Wisconsin recount, it was found that there was a slight error in the initial vote count, meaning that the machines counting the votes made mistakes. The error was not nearly large enough to sway the state’s results, but on an individual level, it proves that some citizens’ votes were not counted. The recount may’ve reaffirmed the results, but it raises serious doubt about the spirit of our elections – that every citizen has a voice.

Another key issue in this election was the CIA and FBI’s determination that Russian state-sponsored hackers attempted to influence the election in favor of a specific candidate. Pundits can debate all day over whether the actions of the Russians actually had an impact on the results, but the fact of the matter is, many Americans believe that they did. The candidate who the Russians tried to help won, and that raised a serious concern about the integrity of our election system. Even the mere prospect of successful foreign intervention in an election is terrifying, as it puts into the minds of many Americans a grim possibility – that our elections could be decided by someone other than the American people.

The 2008 Virginia Electoral College.

The last, and arguably most controversial issue surrounding the 2016 election is that of the electoral college. On the surface, the greatest issue is that the system gives more influence to voters in small states, resulting in a disproportionate appropriation of power that goes against the democratic principle of equal say. However, in the workings of the electoral college lies an even greater threat to democracy. When we vote, we are not voting for a presidential candidate, but instead for electors who will then vote for those candidates in the meeting of the electoral college. The electors’ names are not on the ballot, and most Americans don’t know who they are, yet the next president is chosen exclusively by these 538 people. Although they pledged to vote for their state’s winning candidate, the Constitution technically gives them the right to vote for whoever they want. What could be more of a threat to democracy than giving 538 unknown people the right to overturn the will of the majority of the country?

In the long run, reforming our election system is about much more than who wins any one race. It is about preserving the fundamental basis for a democratic system. If we cannot verify that our votes are being tallied accurately, how do we know that the results that we see are actually accurate? If a foreign state could influence our elections, what’s to stop one of our enemies from using our election system to undermine our government from the inside? And if 538 people can overturn the votes of the entire nation, do we truly have the right to choose our leader? These issues must be solved in order for our election system to work in a truly democratic fashion, where each citizen is given an equal say in the choice of our nation’s leaders. We’ve seen remarkably low voter turnout in almost every election, and part of this comes from a lack of faith in the election process. People will not participate if they do not have faith in democracy. After all, how would you feel if your vote didn’t count?
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