The Electoral System
Many have asked the question how one presidential candidate could win the popular vote and the other candidate win the election. The answer is that the United States of America is exactly that, a unified group of very different individual states. Some states have big cities and large populations. California is the biggest state with almost 40 million people. Other states are very rural with small populations. Wyoming is the smallest state with about 600,000 people. Balancing the rights of the big and small states has always been a complicated part of our democracy.
When the United States became independent from the monarchy of Britain 240 years ago there was no other democracy to use as a model. So the early leaders, known as the Founding Fathers, had to start from the beginning. Compromise was necessary. Some parts of the new government favored the large states like the House of Representatives, which is based on population. Others, like the Senate, gave more power to the small states since each state gets two senators regardless of its size.
The President is actually elected by the states and not directly by the voters. We vote for our state’s electoral votes. Michigan has 16 electoral votes calculated by adding its 14 members in the House of Representatives and two senators together. The Presidential candidate that gets the majority of votes in a state wins all its electoral votes. The candidate with the majority of electoral votes wins the presidency. All states, with the exception of Nebraska and Maine who divide their votes between parties, use this electoral system.
The United States has changed a lot since the electoral system was set up over 200 years ago. In the beginning only white male landowners could vote. Now every citizen at least 18 years old can vote. Critics have said that the electoral system should be changed to reflect “one person, one vote” because it would be more democratic. However, others have said that if that did happen, the presidential candidates might only campaign in the big cities to get the most votes. The small towns and rural states could be ignored. In the end, we end up leaving things the way they are to try to balance the power between the big states and the small states.
Balance of Power
We have had an election and elected a new President. Looking at things from a historical perspective, we can see the balance of power set in our government.
The one thing the Founding Fathers did agree upon is that too much power in the hands of one person, tyranny, is a bad thing. The new government was set up to balance the power between the President, Congress, and the Supreme Court on the national level, and between the national/federal government and the states.
In our national/federal government the President’s power is limited by our other institutions. The President has a two four year term limit. Once a President has been in power eight years we almost always vote in a President from the other political party. Americans are an optimistic people, and we generally think things can be improved.
All laws must begin and pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate, our experienced legislature that represents all the states. A President can approve a law by signing it or disapprove/veto it. But Congress can override/overturn the veto by a 2/3rds majority making it law. The House of Representatives controls all federal spending and taxes. Presidential appointments, including those to the Supreme Court, must be approved by the Senate. The Supreme Court can overturn or uphold laws by determining if they adhere to our constitution, the document written over 200 years ago that lays down the rules for our government.
Any rights not assigned to the federal government by our constitution belong to the states. This is why many institutions that are run by the national government in other countries, like education and most law enforcement, are run by the states. The power of the states is balanced against the power of the federal government, allowing no body to become too strong. And all that adds up to the robust 240 year old democracy that is the United States of America.