The electoral college badly distorts the vote. American’s care, but quickly forget until the next election.

 Why don’t American’s care?


Protesters demonstrate against President-elect Donald Trump outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia on Nov. 13. The Republican lost the popular vote by about 1 million votes but won the electoral college. (Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Donald Trump won the United States presidency with 290 votes in the electoral college. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote with 62,568,373 votes, as of Nov. 16, to President-elect Trump’s 61,336,159.

The electoral college has overruled the popular vote for the second time in the last five presidential elections. If all votes were weighed evenly, Clinton would have received 259 votes in the electoral college. Trump would have 256. Candidates from other parties would also have received electoral college votes.

The United States has faced this conflict between the electoral college and the popular vote only four times in the nation’s history (five, if you include John Quincy Adams’s election). But it’s happening more and more often.

Here’s why the electoral college’s results are, increasingly, diverging from the results of the popular vote.

The electoral college is designed to favor sparsely populated areas. It was created to strengthen the agrarian elite, offer more federal power to slaveholding states, and counterbalance factionalism and polarization.

But it’s not doing any of this today. Rather, the electoral college values some votes above others, while entirely disenfranchising the 4 million Americans who live in overseas territories.

Every election system has to balance such goals as proportionality, stability and accountability. Elections need to legitimately translate votes into winners; winning parties need to be able to govern effectively; and elected officials need to be accountable to voters.

The United States uses a simple system that is easy to understand, that helps keep the government stable, and that keeps officials accountable to the citizens who elect them. But the results are not proportional to the population. Nationally, parties often fail to win office in the same proportion that they win votes.

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U.S. elections are winner-take-all events. Presidential elections use an indirect, majoritarian system. Winners need a majority of votes within the college, but not necessarily a majority of the people’s votes. In theory, this system brings stable leadership, moderate politics  and coherent opposition.

Why should this keep politics moderate? First-past-the-post elections, in which the candidate with the most votes wins, usually produce two-party systems with big-tent parties, pushing extremists to the margins. Larger parties tend to be centrist, needing to appeal to a wider segment of the population to earn votes — although it doesn’t always work that way.

In practice, the electoral college disenfranchises voters in more populous areas and overseas

The electoral college distorts the popular vote, because small states get more votes than populous states. Each state has the same number of votes in the EC as it has representatives in Congress. Sparsely populated states have a minimum of two Senate seats and one House district, so they have at least three votes. The most populated states have a ceiling, since the number of seats in the House of Representatives does not increase.

That means that even the least populous state — Wyoming, with 586,107 residents — gets three electoral college votes. How disproportionate is that? Consider that California, the most populous state, has 39,144,818 residents and 55 electoral college votes.

That means that in the electoral college, each individual Wyoming vote weighs 3.6 times more than an individual Californian’s vote. That’s the most extreme example, but if you average the 10 most populous states and compare the power of their residents’ votes to those of the 10 least populous states, you get a ratio of 1 to 2.5.

When the electoral college was first instituted, the ratio of vote weight from state to state was much smaller. Direct parallels are difficult to draw, given the distortions in population caused by the three-fifths compromise and the fact that many residents were not able to vote. But in the election of 1792, residents of Delaware, the least-populous state, had a vote that weighed 1.6 times that of residents of Virginia.

Why is the ratio now so much more distorted? It’s because Americans are, increasingly and rapidly, moving into big citiesAccording to the Census Bureau, urban populations increased 12 percent between 2000 and 2010. Cities are growing especially in the biggest states, where each individual vote means the least: in California, New York, North Carolina, Illinois and New Jersey.

And it means the residents of the increasingly sparsely populated Southern and Midwestern states have electoral college votes that are growing in power.

That distortion will be even greater in the 2020 presidential election. Most voters’ votes will increasingly count for less. Or to put it more clearly, the electoral college devalues most American votes.

It also disenfranchises millions. U.S. citizens and nationals in overseas territories that have no congressional representatives have no vote in the presidential election. Roughly 4 million Americans live in the United States’ five permanently populated overseas territories — and they have no voice in selecting a president. That includes Puerto Rico, the United States’ most populous overseas territory, whose population is larger than that of 21 states and the District of Columbia. (D.C., with 658,893 residents, has three electoral college votes, despite its lack of congressional representation.)

The U.S. presidential election system has a legitimacy crisis

In 2000, Al Gore edged out George W. Bush in the national popular vote for president — although he did so with less than a majority, gaining 48.4 percent of votes cast. And yet Bush won 271 electoral votes, while Gore won 266.

This year, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the popular vote — although once again, neither won a majority.

The electoral college was designed to help knit highly varied and independent states into a union. It guarantees legitimacy by ensuring that the president receives a majority of some body’s votes.

But it now distorts the popular vote in a way that disproportionately rewards those who live in scarcely populated areas, and it disenfranchises millions.

More and more, the United States is likely to elect presidents who haven’t won the popular vote — awarding the presidency to a party that has no popular mandate. The compromises behind the U.S. election system are failing at their goals.

Katy Collin has a PhD in international relations from American University’s School of International Service. Her research focuses on the use of referendums in peace processes.

Opinion: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be the first female US president!

After eight years of Donald Trump, Americans will certainly be ready for some ‘radical’ change.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a House of Representatives seat in the 2018 midterm elections in the US [Reuters/Carlos Barria]
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a House of Representatives seat in the 2018 midterm elections in the US [Reuters/Carlos Barria]

Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the 2016 presidential race caused liberals across the United States to question whether the country was indeed ready for a woman president. Since then, there has been much speculation about various female politicians and celebrities running for office, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Kamala Harris, Oprah, Michelle Obama, and others. There have even been rumours that Hillary Clinton might run again.

I, however, don’t see any of these women making it to the White House. I think the first female president of the US will be New York RepresentativeAlexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC as she has come to be known). It may take her another six years to get there, but the youngest woman elected to the US Congress will win the presidency. Here is how and why.

Alexandria is not Hillary

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 election but lost key swing states and, under our complicated and arguably unfair Electoral College system, this meant losing the presidency.

But the biggest political upset in recent US history cannot simply be blamed on the unfairness of the electoral system, under which countless Democrats managed to defeat opponents stronger, and more experienced, than Donald Trump.

Clinton lost the election because she failed to convince working-class voters that she would be able to understand and address their growing grievances. While she started her journey as a young, educated, idealistic feminist believing in social justice and equality, over the course of her life in the political limelight, she (and her husband) madefortune of over $50m, including $21m in speaking fees she was paid by Wall Street businesses and other interest groups. She gradually became an unrelatable poster-child of corporate America’s greed. This, combined with the proliferation of fake news and misinformation provided by Trump’s campaign were the proverbial “nails in the coffin” for her presidential bid.

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Where does the future of the American left lie?

Unlike Clinton and most politicians for that matter,Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rejected donations from corporate political action committees, or PACs. She didn’t take millions from Wall Street and then preach to blue-collar Americans that she understood their struggles. This helped her not to be perceived as a member of the Washington establishment like Clinton and her peers Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, for example.

Moreover, Clinton just offered middle-of-the-road policies that simply promised more of the same. By contrast, Ocasio-Cortez, as an out and proud democratic socialist, advocated for federally guaranteed jobs and “Medicare-For-All,” calledfor tuition-free public colleges and the dismantling of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. With this, AOC made it clear that she offers a different kind of politics that is unadulterated by corporate and lobbyist connections. This is, in fact, what helped her defeat a 20-year incumbent and the fourth-ranking House Democrat, Joe Crowley, in the Democratic race for New York’s 14th Congressional District.

After she was sworn into Congress, she continued talking about progressive policies, calling for a return to John F Kennedy’s 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans and supporting a “Green New Deal”, a proposed economic programme addressing climate change and inequality. If Ocasio-Cortez continues down this path and successfully rejects cooptation by PACs, working-class Americans across party lines would undoubtedly be moved to vote for her.

AOC is also a master of grassroots organising and, while her actions convey that she is in touch with the challenges ordinary Americans face, her greatest asset may be her ability to connect with them in a way that feels genuine and not contrived. Millennials, for example, find AOC more relatable than any other potential presidential candidate. With her 2.37 million Twitter followers and growing, she is a skilled social media user who knows how to connect and communicate with the younger generation and will certainly be able to secure their vote. And in the coming decade, it increasingly seems that it will be the millennials who will become the most important voting bloc within the US electorate.

And finally, AOC was also able to capture the attention of the press and has already shown much skill in fending off public attacks. Even before she was sworn into office on January 3, conservatives had already launched a smear campaign against her, which is indicative of how much she scares them.

First, there was noise about the house she grew up in in a New York suburb; then much discussion about designer clothes she wore during a 2018 photo shoot. Just after her swearing-in, the right-wing news site The Daily Caller posted a fake picture of her in a bathtub. And then the conservative media tried to troll her with video on the internet of her dancing in her college days. But this turned out to be a media boost for the freshman Congresswoman and she trolled them right back by making a wildly popular video of herself dancing into her Congress office.

With the election of Trump and AOC’s rise to stardom, one thing has become undoubtedly clear: US voters are desperate for new politics and fresh faces who can offer real change. And with her charisma, presence and political acumen, Ocasio-Cortez is able to tap into these sentiments. To put it in Trump’s words, Ocasio-Cortez is a “winner”, she is “winning”.

Her popularity in the press parallels Trump’s during his presidential bid in 2016 when he proved true the cliché “any press is good press”. Yes, it was thanks to the media’s obsession with him, both on the right and the left, that he remained a constant figure in the public eye, which ultimately paved the way for the unimaginable to happen – his win over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

The same is already proving true for AOC. She is the Democrat that Republicans (and even some Democratslove to hate, and she will be all the better for it.

AOC will run in 2024 after eight years of Trump

Alexandria is unlikely to run in 2020 and challenge Trump because she will not meet the constitutional requirement of being 35 by then. 

The Democratic Party is likely to nominate someone like former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who will stick to the traditional Democratic centre-left talking points: “compromise, compromise, compromise”. If that happens, Trump will certainly bully him into a corner on the campaign trail and during the debates and will go on to win the 2020 presidential election, to the despair and shame of millions of Americans. 

Another Trump presidency will certainly drag the country into deeper political, social and economic crises and will convince disillusioned voters once and for all that the Donald was never the man who could or even wanted to “drain the swamp”. It could finally be the wake-up call for millions of Americans to realise that they need to try something drastically different – something “radical”. That something, as Ocasio-Cortez has repeatedly pointed out, could be what has already been done successfully in Scandinavian countries, for example. 

At the same time, these five years will also give AOC the time to understand how Washington works, build her political profile and prove herself as a house representative. She will also quietly make more allies in the Democratic Party and after her two-year-term as congresswoman is over, she may choose to move up the political ladder by running for office as a senator for her home state of New York, in order to broaden her political experience before a run for president in 2024.

Yes, it will take all of that for Ocasio-Cortez to win the 2024 Democratic nomination. I would even venture to predict that she will run on a ticket with a female vice-presidential candidate, perhaps Senator Kamala Harris, if the forces that are the Democratic National Committee (DNC) permit such a scandal. Don’t forget how the DNC buried Senator Bernie Sanders in his run for the nomination in 2016. But after eight years of Trumpism, I believe that America will make sure that doesn’t happen again to AOC.

But apart from resistance within the DNC, perhaps the greatest challenge Ocasio-Cortez will face along the way to 2024 is remaining true to herself and her principles and withstanding the ineluctable and incessant weathering of the lobbyists who effectively run Congress behind the scenes. In her 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper, she admitted she is worried about how Washington would change her because it inevitably changes everyone.

If she manages to “survive” Washington and emerge stronger, the 2024 Democratic nomination for president definitely has “Ocasio-Cortez” written all over it. I, for one, will definitely vote for her.

Editor’s note: The article has been updated to clarify that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez cannot run in the 2020 presidential race because of her age.

Rachel Gilmer
by Rachel Gilmer, Al Jazeera

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera‘s editorial stance.


Trump’s shutdown is a historic opportunity for real change

Now, as support for Trump is waning, leftists need to stop ‘playing-it-safe’ and present a new vision for this country.

US President Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion at the US Border Patrol Station in McAllen, Texas, US, January 10, 2019 [Leah Millis/Reuters]
US President Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion at the US Border Patrol Station in McAllen, Texas, US, January 10, 2019 [Leah Millis/Reuters]

This week, the White House Council of Economic Advisers doubled its estimate of how much the shutdown – the longest in US history – will cost the economy. Others are warning that it could push the US towards a recession. Families across the country are scrambling to feed their children, keep their homes, and pay for expensive medications. As hundreds of thousands of federal and contract workers continue without pay, Trump has demanded that workers return to their jobs, stating that the shutdown will continue indefinitely – for months or even years – until his racist, multibillion-dollar border wall is approved.

Despite Trump‘s claims that what he is doing is for the safety of everyday Americans, this moment could not make it plainer that he does not care about any of us – not even the working class white people he claims to represent. The wall’s aim is not to protect ordinary Americans, but to rile up Trump‘s base using racism.

This is a classic divide-and-conquer tactic, aiming to get poor white people to blame people of colour and not the political and corporate elite, for poverty. The wall will also make loads of money for an ever-growing corporate defence industry, who are deep in Trump‘s pockets, and see militarised borders, surveillance, deportation, war and incarceration as opportunities to make cash.

But polling shows that Trump‘s plan is backfiring. By refusing to back down, Trump is actually losing support among his base. This carves out a path for leftists to present a new vision for this country, one that sees the fate of everyday people – both within and outside the US border – as deeply connected. We have an opportunity to present a political pathway where there is enough for all of us. We have an opportunity to actually win more people towards our side, and away from Trump, the fascist far right, and the political and corporate elite.

A hard-lined shutdown for the poor, negotiations for the rich

A shutdown happens when Congress cannot agree on the budget. In recent years, we’ve become used to the threat of shutdown but no president has openly called for one. In May, Trump tweeted that “our country needs a good ‘shutdown.'” Months later, he announced that he would not sign any spending bill that does not include $5.6b for a border wall – a demand that Democrats refuse to meet.

READ MORE

US gov’t shutdown: How long? Who is affected? Why did it begin?

As a result, working-class people across the country – already struggling – have been pushed into an even more vulnerable position. Over 800,000 workers are being forced to work without pay – some will be reimbursed after the shutdown ends, others won’t. Families are preparing to go without food stamps – and potentially, without their tax refunds – next month.

In New York City, imprisoned people at a local jail launched a hunger strike to protest the cancellation of family visits due to staffing shortages caused by the shutdown. Others have reported that they aren’t receiving their medication.

For Native American sovereign nations, the US has failed to maintain treaty agreements due to the shutdown. As a result, guaranteed funding for programs like healthcare, education and safety are all on the brink of collapse. On the Navajo Nation, many are stuck in their homes – unable to get to the grocery store or take care of vital needs, like getting to a pharmacy – because ploughs aren’t operating in the midst of heavy snowfall.

43,000 immigration hearings have been cancelled – the number set to grow by 20,000 weekly. People have been waiting years for these hearings and are now being told they might have to wait years more.

Small farmers aren’t receiving millions in payouts they were promised due to falling crop prices at the hands of Trump‘s trade wars.

All across the country, working-class families are struggling and, in a sign of how out of touch our politicians are, the Trump administration has told the country to treat the shutdown like a vacation or to do chores for their landlords in lieu of paying rent.

But the state of things – with people working for free and services to everyday Americans being cut – is not an inevitable byproduct of the shutdown. In fact, in the midst of the shutdown, the Trump administration has made changes to policy in order to serve the interests of the uber-wealthy and corporate class. As a result of the lobbying efforts of the credit-reporting companies and mortgage industry, IRS workers were called back to work (and are being paid) to carry out income verifications for lenders. This process earns the mortgage banking industry millions of dollars in fees each year.

While rules are being bent so big corporations can make even more money, a judge struck down a union lawsuit demanding workers be paid for their time immediately.

The shutdown is hard-lined for working class people and negotiable for the rich.

It is clear what this country’s priorities are

Long before Trump‘s demand for expanding the wall at the US-Mexico border, this country’s priorities were out of whack. Every year, US taxpayer dollars are used to cultivate a world of war, violence, incarceration and deportation – not one of safety and of meeting basic human needs.

Of our discretionary budget, the US spends nearly 10 times more on defence than health and human services, 9 times more than education and 9 times more than housing. UnderTrump‘s proposed discretionary spending for 2019, these margins have increased.

Much of this money is going to private companies, who in the age of Trump see dollar signs in his tough on crime, hard-lined immigration, warmongering approach to governance. The fact that the shutdown is happening over a wall is a scary symbol of where society is and where it is headed.

We are living in an era where not social services and jobs for working class people but police, wars, border walls and prisons are the priorities of the government.

And this is not a purely American trend. All over the world, as communities are battling the devastating effects of climate change and poverty, governments are building walls, closing borders and abandoning green initiatives. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, at least 55 new border walls have been built all around the world. During this same period, poverty has been wrecking our society with at least 80 percent of humanity living on less than $10/day.

The answer is a clear political vision rooted in the idea that there is enough for all of us.

The need for a big-picture agenda

While the Democrats could use this moment to talk about comprehensive, human-rights based immigration policy or the ways shutdown policies have been shifted to serve the rich, they aren’t doing much other than condemning Trump for shutting down the government, while countering his proposal for a wall with negotiations focused on other forms of border security.

We should applaud the Democrats for not caving to Trump‘s wall demand, but we should also acknowledge that they have failed to raise the bar. A party that is trying to present itself as the only progressive alternative to Trump and his allies should have done a lot more. By reinforcing myths about the “threats” on our border, Democrats like Pelosi are not conducting political diplomacy, but instead casting long term damage to everyday people’s understanding of what our problems are and what solutions should be put forth.

New poll sheds light on effect of US government shutdown

The majority of Americans don’t support the border wall or Trump‘s family separation policy. Seventy-five percent of Americans say immigration is good for our country. So why aren’t Democrats using this moment to be visionary, pushing demands rooted in the basic idea that everyone has the right to move across borders as freely as money does in this society? Why aren’t they calling out Trump‘s IRS policy shift for the rich, while food stamps are being cut?

We need to use this moment to not only end the shutdown but to push out big ideas like the green new deal, wealth redistribution, medicare for all, abolishment of ICE and repeal of the 1994 crime bill. Policies like the conservative-austerity paygo measure that House Democrats approved in their rules package, which requires new spending to be offset with equivalent savings, should be abandoned. This policy will make it virtually impossible to pass any of the reforms mentioned above but only three Democrats voted no  – Ro Khanna of California, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. This is unacceptable.

We must reject the small, limited point of view shared by many prominent Democrats that sees unfettered capitalism and austerity measures as natural law. We need a clear, big-picture agenda that creates opportunities for working class people to organise and build bridges between our communities so we can expand the political imagination of the public to get behind big demands.

We can’t wait for someone else to organise people during the shut down – the likely result of inaction would be more division and fascism. Without political clarity, we run the risk of people getting so tired and fed up that they give in and move to the right. “Fine, build the wall” is the other potential pathway we walk down.

Trump is making very intentional plays to pit working class people against one another. However, the experiences and grievances of poor people, whether they are immigrants or not, are not opposing, but shared. After 40 years of neoliberal economic policy, which has devastated communities all across the country and around the world, people are desperate and turning to xenophobia, white nationalism and fascism as a result. At this moment, when Trump‘s support is waning – and people are falling into an even more vulnerable state – we must present an alternative. We cannot rely on mainstream Democrats’ play-it-safe approach.

The path we are headed down will only get darker if we do not fight for a drastic reorganisation of our communities rooted in a new political vision that values the freedom of people over the profits of a few. We can live in a society where everyone has enough food to eat, a safe place to live and where parents and children have what they need to take care of each other. But this won’t happen while our political system is drowning in dark, dirty corporate money and when politicians refuse to take a stand.

From the Right of Return protests in Gaza, to the immigrant caravan at the US-Mexico border, to the LA teachers strike and calls for TSA worker strikes – we have a real a opportunity to help people see the connections across our experiences and to rally behind a vision of solidarity rooted in the idea that our fates are tied, that we are in a shared battle against the corporate class and that if we come together to take them down, we can live in a society where there is enough for all of us.

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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera‘s editorial stance.

Over a million Florida ex-convicts can begin registering to vote [joining the mighty New England States of Vermont and Maine!]

US state voted in November to restore voting rights to most ex-convicts who have served all terms of their sentence.

Former felon Desmond Meade and president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition arrives with family members at the Supervisor of Elections office in Orlando, Florida to register to vote [John Raoux/AP Photo]
Former felon Desmond Meade and president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition arrives with family members at the Supervisor of Elections office in Orlando, Florida to register to vote [John Raoux/AP Photo]

The voting rights of many Florida ex-convicts were restored on Tuesday, and some are celebrating by registering on the first day they become eligible.

“I want to cry,” said Yraida Guanipa, a 57-year-old former convict who now heads the YG Institute NGO, which helps people with criminal histories reintegrate into society.

Speaking AFP news agency, Guanipa had just left the office of the Miami-Dade County Elections Department, where she registered to vote early in the morning after nine years of struggling to regain the right.

Florida’s new law could add as many as 1.4 million people to the battleground state’s voter rolls. In November, voters approved Amendment 4, which restored the right to vote to ex-convicts who have served all terms of their sentence, and did not commit sex crimes or murder.

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is trying to mobilise people to register online or at the election supervisors’ offices. The organisation’s president Desmond Meade says he doesn’t anticipate any legal challenges.

“The road back to responsible citizenship has been one of my life’s greatest challenges,” Meade said in a statement.

“The struggle to achieve access to democracy for myself and more than a million fellow Floridians has been long,” he added.

Former felon Yolanda Wilcox, left, fills out a voter registration form at the Supervisor of Elections in Orlando, Florida [John Raoux/AP Photo]

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida says former felons don’t need to present proof that they completed their sentence; they can simply fill out the existing application, signing under oath that their voting rights have been restored.

Ten percent of the adult population in Florida, including one in five African Americans, could not vote prior to the lifting of the restriction, which dated back 150 years and disproportionally affected black and Hispanic communities.

“I didn’t feel like a full citizen, I felt like a second-class citizen,” Daniel Torna, a financial analyst who also went to register in Miami, told AFP.

“I pay taxes, I’m active in the community, I work, I go to school, I do everything other people do, I just couldn’t vote,” said Torna, who completed his sentence in 2010 for a drug-linked crime.

[in the Mighty One-Syllable State, felons can vote while incarcerated!]

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Maine: the most progressive State in the Union!

Rep. Rashida Tlaib: “I won’t apologize for my comments about Trump—I still want to impeach him!”

JANUARY 08, 2019

Newly elected Democratic Congress-Woman  Rashida Tlaib of Michigan made headlines last week for declaring, “We’re going to go in there, and we’re going to impeach the motherfucker,” in reference to President Donald Trump. Tlaib made the comment at a Washington, D.C., bar, days after she made history last week when she and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota became the first Muslim women sworn in to Congress. Tlaib is part of the most diverse and most female class of representatives in U.S. history.

Dems Introduce Sweeping Voting Rights Bill to Combat Rampant Voter Suppression

JANUARY 07, 2019

Voting rights activists are hailing a new House bill that aims to restore voting rights to millions, crack down on the influence of dark money in politics, restore the landmark Voting Rights Act, establish automatic and same-day voter registration and other measures. The bill has been dubbed the For the People Act. It is the first piece of legislation introduced by the new Democratic majority in the House. We speak with Ari Berman, senior writer at Mother Jones, reporting fellow at The Nation Institute and author of “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.” His latest piece is titled “Democrats’ First Order of Business: Making It Easier to Vote and Harder to Buy Elections.”

What midterms and past elections show about US democracy

The contradictory outcome reflects deep political divisions and, increasingly, the antiquated quirks of Constitution.

The US Capitol is pictured in Washington, November 13, 2018 [Al Drago/Reuters]
The US Capitol is pictured in Washington, November 13, 2018 [Al

Washington, DC – A week and a half after the United States midterm elections, the true scope of a vote that brought Democrats control of the House of Representatives but left Republicans, the party of President Donald Trump, holding power in the Senate is coming into view.

Democrats gained at least a 231-to-198 majority in the House, while Republicans held onto and will likely expand a 51-to-47 majority in the Senate, with some races in both chambers yet to be concluded.

It’s a contradictory outcome that reflects both the deep political divisions within the US and, increasingly, the antiquated quirks of the American Constitution that stem from the nation’s beginnings in 1787 as a federation of self-governing states.

“It shows that majoritarian democracy does not directly translate at the electoral level and the idea of ‘The Will of the People’ is intervened by the structural arrangements endemic to the American Constitution,” said John Jackson, a visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.

“In effect, we can easily come out with minority rule and that’s what we’ve had, and what we continue to have in the recently concluded elections,” Jackson told Al Jazeera.US Senate

In the US Senate, as set out in the Constitution, each of 50 states is represented by two senators, meaning the populations of large states like California and New York are underrepresented while small states like Alaska and North Dakota are overrepresented. Indeed, the incoming Republican majority in the Senate represents 26 million fewer people than the Democrat minority.

The midterms show Trump might not get re-elected in 2020

More than four million people who live in Washington, DC, and territories like Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa are not represented in the Senate at all.

The disparity in the US Senate matters has become a more pronounced problem as Senate Republican leaders have abandoned old rules that required a 60-vote majority to approve lifetime judicial appointments to the federal bench. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed by a narrow majority of Senators representing 41 million fewer Americans than the losing side.

Looking forward, political analysts say it is quite likely that a Republican-controlled Senate, representing a minority of Americans, would block policy prescriptions and legislation favoured by a future Democrat president and majority Democrat House of Representatives.

Electoral College

Similarly, the US Electoral College, which determines the outcome of presidential contests, is based on state-by-state apportionment of delegates. In 2016, Trump won the election over Hillary Clinton by a 306-to-232 Electoral College margin while losing the nationwide popular vote by nearly three million.

In 2000, former president George W Bush fell short of Al Gore in the popular vote but won the election with a majority of Electoral College delegates after the US Supreme Court halted a recount in Florida and awarded the state to Bush.

Trump won in 2016 because he narrowly swept Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, a feat that may be difficult for him in 2020 after Democratic wins in those states on November 6.

Pennsylvania Democrat Senator Bob Casey won re-election handily by a 55.6 percent majority and Democrats picked up three House seats in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh from Republicans. In Michigan, Democrat Senator Debbie Stabenow won with 52.2 percent and Democrats picked up two House seats around Detroit. In Wisconsin, Democrat Senator Tammy Baldwin won with 55.4 percent and a Democrat defeated the incumbent Republican Governor, Scott Walker.

In Arizona, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema won a US Senate seat for the first time in decades and a Democrat won in Nevada signalling what may be a significant shift towards Democrats in the Southwest.

Can the system change?

Indeed, what looked like a modest win for Democrats on November 6 is proving to be a wider and deeper victory, even if the Senate remains out of reach.

Broadly speaking, nationwide, Democrats expanded their base from urban to suburban areas, while Republicans held rural districts.

House Democrats did very well in districts where Clinton won in 2016 but Republican members of Congress remained in office, or in districts where Trump did slightly better than Clinton. Democratic gains were fewer in conservative districts that Trump carried by wider margins in 2016.

But Democratic gains might well have been greater, were it not for heavily gerrymandered congressional districts in states like Ohio, Wisconsin and North Carolina. Gerrymandering occurs in the US when state legislatures draw boundaries for congressional districts that favour one party over another. Republicans gained an upper hand in this practice after the 2010 election when they won a large number of state legislatures and governorships.

“We are seeing something like a 54 to 46 percent split in the vote but Democrats are emerging with something like 52 percent of the House seats,” said Chris Hughes, a lawyer at FairVote, an advocacy group seeking reforms to the US election system.

“So even in a huge wave year for Democrats, when they win the national popular vote by eight points, they are still out on two percent of seats because of the way districts are drawn and the way our voting method itself functions,” Hughes told Al Jazeera.

A body of academic research by constitutional scholars shows just how unrepresentative the US system has become. Yet, as a practical matter, there is very little that can be done to change the system, short of winning elections. While the Constitution can be amended in theory, any changes require approval by two-thirds of the states, a nearly impossible threshold in the modern era.

Looking ahead to 2020

Democrats have started to fight back against the Republican advantage in gerrymandered states. Former Obama attorney general Eric Holder is heading a new Democratic organisation, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, that is focusing first on redrawing the congressional maps in Virginia, which will elect a new legislature next year. Many states will go through a redistricting process in 2021 after the 2020 census is completed.

Illustrating the redistricting challenge, FairVote projects that 358 House seats – 190 Republican and 168 Democrat – are highly likely to remain in each party’s hands in 2020. The battle for control of the House of Representatives will be fought in only 77 potentially competitive districts, more of them held by Democrats.

“We can predict a week after the election that 84 percent of seats will go to the same party in 2020 with fewer and fewer seats being competitive,” Hughes said.

In the Senate, the geographical advantage Republicans held in November’s election will flip to Democrats in 2020 and 2022. Of the 33 senators facing re-election next year, nine Republicans are likely to face competitive challenges, while perhaps four or five Democrats will be forced to defend their seats. That means control of Senate is likely to rest on outcomes in only 14 key battleground states.