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Issues in American Electoral System

Info: 2629 words (11 pages) Essay
Published: 18th Sep 2017 in Politics

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John Palenschat 

WORST CASE SCENARIO RESEARCH AND REFLECTION PAPER

Like many other Americans, the election of Donald Trump was one of the worst things I could imagine happening. Even now, I am puzzled as to why Donald Trump was elected because a majority of voters view him unfavorably (Pew, 2017). So just how did he get elected? The point of a democratic election is to represent the will of voters in choosing an executive. With so many dissatisfied with the results of the election, one must wonder if our current electoral system is fulfilling its stated purpose. Might there be something wrong with the way elections are held now? [G1][G2]

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I did some research and have come to several conclusions: namely, that our current system of First Past the Post consistently leads to elections for candidates that are generally unfavored by the majority of the population (Pew, 2016). I believe that the United States should, as an incremental reform, generally adopt ranked choice voting: in order to reduce vote splitting, voter disenfranchisement, and to reduce the negativity of campaigning.

Right now, most elections in the United States utilize First Past the Post voting, which is a system of elections in which an individual voter has only one vote and is allowed to vote for only one candidate (Aceproject, 2017). This system has a big flaw. People may vote for a candidate that they may not necessarily prefer in order that they do not “split the vote” in favor of an opponent. In the 2000 Presidential election, Republican George W. Bush beat Democrat Al Gore by less than 600 votes in the decisive Florida election. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader received over 100,00 votes in Florida. [G3]While he may not have spoiled the election, surveys indicate that people who voted for Nader probably would have voted for Gore had they known how tight the race would be (Jones, 2004). This event has had serious consequences for the American people. For example, a Gore administration might not have invaded Iraq in 2003, which destabilized the region and cost US taxpayers over $2 Trillion dollars (Trotta, 2013). Modern voters are cognizant of the results of that election and have adjusted their votes accordingly. As a result, voters now do not necessarily vote for their first choice. There has to be a better way.

As I looked for an alternative voting method to First Past the Post, I discovered a system called Ranked Choice voting (RCV). RCV is a system of elections in which electors rank the candidates in the order of their choice, by marking a ‘1’ for their favorite, ‘2’ for their second choice, ‘3’ for their third choice and so on (FairVote “Instant Runoff”). Although there are other ways (perhaps even better!) of doing RCV, for the purposes of this paper, I will be specifically discussing the form known as Instant-Runoff voting as it appears to be the most feasible to implement in our current political situation. [G4][G5]

In this system, if no candidate has a clear majority of first votes, the trailing candidate may be dropped and the first votes for the dropped candidate are eliminated. Then, the second choices of the voters who voted first for the dropped candidate are distributed to the remaining candidates. This process is repeated until a candidate has a clear majority of the vote.[G6]

The main advantage of Ranked Choice Voting is that the eventual candidate chosen better represents the consensus of voters. As candidates are unlikely to earn the majority of votes in the first round of counting, candidates may moderate their rhetoric in an attempt to earn “second place votes” (Aceproject, 2017); The candidates may tamp down on their own campaign’s negative ads in order to not alienate potential voters, and they would want to appeal to the greatest possible base. Since voting for a third party candidate in this system is less “risky”, a wider variety of interests would likely be represented.

As an example, in the recent election, a person could safely cast their first vote for Jill Stein and their second for Sanders and so on without “spoiling” their vote and splitting the ticket for a more popular candidate that they might agree less with, such as Clinton. As voters would not be forced to vote for the lesser of two evils, one might expect to see a proliferation of more diverse third parties that better represent [G7]the constituent’s desires. I believe that if Ranked Choice Voting is adopted broadly across the United States, voters will feel more satisfied with the results of the election[8]

At first, I though that RCV was just an academic exercise, thought up by some Poli-Sci grad student working on their thesis[G9], but I was surprised to learn that Ranked Choice Voting has already been put to effective use worldwide and has proven to be a reliable system for several decades now[10]. For example, it is used in such diverse races as parliamentary elections in Australia (Paul, Owen, 2013), presidential elections in Ireland (Citizens Information, 2016), and in municipal elections in Minneapolis and Saint Paul (City of Minneapolis). [G11]

Recently, the State of Maine voted to adopt an Instant Runoff system for congressional, senatorial, and gubernatorial elections (Grabar, 2016). According to a study funded by Fairvote, an electoral reform advocacy group, citizens in cities that have adopted RCV report that campaigns are less negative, that the system is easily understandable, and that they believe that it should be adopted more widely (Tolbert, et al). As people realize that the current form of voting isn’t the only choice available, I believe that voters will increasingly demand RCV from election committees.[G12]

However, there are several legitimate issues with Ranked Choice Voting that need to be addressed; Jason McDaniels of San Francisco State University believes that increasing the complexity of voting “is much more cognitively demanding than merely choosing a preference… For some, this may seem like a small change, but for others, it could make the already daunting task of being an informed voter even more challenging. Decades of research show us that when voting is made more complex, it tends to lead to lower participation and more unequal outcomes.” (McDaniels, 2016). However, studies taking place in Californian cities that have adopted RCV paint a different picture. Nearly 90% of those polled reported that they had an easy time understanding how their ballots worked (Tolbert, et al). Perhaps, pre-election day, a city or state could wage a concentrated, multimedia campaign to educate voters on the new system. A multifaceted approach utilizing TV news spots, radio jingles, and mailed reminder cards could be particularly effective. Another possible issue with RCV is that confused voters may simply list their preference by order in which the candidates appear on the ballot, as has been the case in Australia. This problem could perhaps be solved by holding a random drawing each election to determine in which order the candidates are listed on the ballot (AEC, 2016).

In conclusion, I believe that seriously examining the institutions of our society and critically deconstructing their use and origin will help to build “a more perfect union”. It is important to recognize that structural systems have a large impact on our daily life and to realize that they are not unchangeable. Due to the effects of the recent election, I am very cognizant of how our electoral system alienates the very people that it was created to represent. Rather than giving into resignation, I have researched the issue and have come up with at least a very general course of action that could be taken to avoid another divisive election. I hope that I have interested you in the topic of electoral reform and encourage you to research the topic yourself and come to your own conclusions.[13] An informed and active citizenship is the best guarantee for the continuation of the republican ideal.

Work Cited

FairVote (No publication date). “Ranked Choice Voting / Instant Runoff”. FairVote. http://www.fairvote.org/rcv#rcvbenefits. Accessed 19 February. 2017

Minneapolis Elections and Voter services (No publication date). “Frequently Asked Questions about Ranked-Choice Voting”. The city of Minneapolis.[G14] http://vote.minneapolismn.gov/rcv/what-is-rcv. Accessed 19 February. 2017 [G15]

Paul, Owen (2013). “How does Australia’s voting system work?”. The Guardian.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/14/how-does-australia-s-voting-system-work.

Accessed 19 February 2017

McDaniels, Jason. (2016). “What I’ve found researching ranked-choice voting: It makes voting harder, lowers participation”. Bangor Daily News. http://bangordailynews.com/2016/08/20/opinion/contributors/what-ive-found-researching-ranked-choice-voting-it-makes-voting-harder-lowers-participation/. Accessed 19 February. 2017

Aceproject. (No publication date) “Advantages and disadvantages of first past the post”. ACE Electoral Knowledge Network. http://aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/es/esd/esd01/esd01a/esd01a01. Accessed 20 February. 2017

Pew Research Center. (2017). “Early public attitudes about Donald Trump”. People-Press.org. http://www.people-press.org/2017/02/16/1-early-public-attitudes-about-donald-trump/

Accessed 22 February 2017.

Pew Research Center. (2016). “Voter’s evaluation of the campaigns”. People-Press.org.

http://www.people-press.org/2016/11/21/voters-evaluations-of-the-campaign/ Accessed 22 February 2017.

Citizen’s information. (2016). “Proportional Representation”. The [G16]Republic of Ireland.

http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/government_in_ireland/elections_and_referenda/voting/proportional_representation.html. Accessed 22 February 2017.

Grabar, Henry. (2016). “Maine Just Voted for a Better Way to Vote”. Slate.com.

http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2016/11/maine_just_passed_ranked_choice_voting_bravo.html. Accessed 22 February 2017.

Tolbert, Caroline, et al. (No publication date). “Ranked Choice Voting in Practice”. Fairvote

https://fairvote.app.box.com/v/APSA-Civility-Brief-2015. Accessed 22 February 2017

Trotta, Daniel. (2013). “Iraq War cost US more than $2 trillion: study”. Reuters.com

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iraq-war-anniversary-idUSBRE92D0PG20130314.

Accessed 22 February 2017.

AEC. (2016). “Positions on the ballot paper, draw for the Senate and draw for the House of Representatives”. Australian Elections Commission[G17]. http://www.aec.gov.au/Voting/ballot-draw.htm. Accessed 23 February 2017.

Jones, Jeffrey. (2004). “The Nader Factor”. Gallup.com. http://www.gallup.com/poll/10798/nader-factor.aspx. Accessed 22 February 2017


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[8]This is a strong point in favor. Think of all the recent turmoil after the election. If everyone was content with the outcome of the election (even if they didn’t get their first pick), that would be a great motivation to change the voting system. You could probably expound more on this point, or why you believe it to be true.

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[10]This is another strong point. The best predictor for success is past success. Nice!

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[13]Your two most important paragraphs are the first, and the last. In the first, you tell your audience what you’re going to say, and in the last, you tell your audience what you’ve said. The last sentence will likely stay with your reader. After you recap your essay in the last paragraph, leave them with a final “deep” thought or conclusive statement that sums up your argument and/or point. Or maybe something theatrically doomsday-ish. Perhaps, “The election of Trump is a direct consequence of our current voting system; If we don’t take a good, hard look at the way we currently push people into power, the consequences could get even worst.” A bit much perhaps, but it’s your final punch to convince the reader that this is something they need to act on.

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