• Steven Heller

The Daily Heller: A Screw is Loose in Our Democracy

And that loose screw is the electoral college. When Americans cast their ballots for the U.S. president, they are actually voting directly for an elector, a surrogate of that candidate’s party that you may never know. There are 538 electors who then directly vote for the president on behalf of the people in their state. It is winner-take-all rather than proportional representation. Hence the promise of "one man, one vote" is effectively annulled.


Five presidents have won the national election without winning the popular vote: John Quincy Adams (1824), Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), Benjamin Harrison (1888), George W. Bush (2000) and Donald J. Trump (2016).


Going deeper down the rabbit hole, each state is assigned a certain number of electoral votes based on the number of congressional districts they have, plus two additional votes representing the state’s Senate seats. Washington, D.C. is also assigned three electoral votes, despite having no voting representation in Congress. A majority of 270 of these votes is needed to win the presidency. The mandate of a president who loses the popular vote but wins the election comes not from the majority of voters, but from the disproportionate make-up of redrawn congressional districts that have traditionally given Republicans an advantage.


The process of nominating electors varies by state and by party, but is generally done in one of two ways. Ahead of the election, political parties either choose electors at their national conventions, or they are voted for by the party’s central committee.


The presidential candidate with the highest number of votes in a state claims all of that state’s electoral votes. For example, in 2016, Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Florida by a margin of just 2.2%—but that meant he claimed all 29 of Florida’s crucial electoral votes. Such small margins in a handful of key swing states meant that, regardless of Clinton’s national vote lead, Trump was able to clinch victory.


For a class I teach at the School of Visual Arts MFA Design / Designer as Entrepreneur program on the use and abuse of propaganda, I ask the students to develop campaigns on issues and ideas near and dear to them -- and critical to others. I require them to build their concepts on the facts. Big truths not big lies. Then, the trick is to work with those facts so they are compellingly designed, informative and expressive calls to action. It is usual that a pair or small group of students will join forces, and this year, Ezra Lee and Shukang Yu tackled the persistent debate in America about whether or not the electoral college should be either reformed or continue to decide the outcome of the national election (in an age of voter interference). Their aptly timed solution, "Abolish the Electoral College," is a viable informational advocacy campaign that brings sharply focused truths to an audience that does not understand the electoral process in the United States. The results below are particularly insightful and sadly revealing of the existential flaws in our democracy.








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