Lawmakers, not the electorate, will decide the fate of the Electoral College, but we the people can have a say.
Pew Research found in January that 55% of US citizens support the popular vote over the Electoral College, though the issue is a partisan divide. What motivates those who would prefer the popular vote? For some Montgomery County residents, it’s that the Electoral College seems elitist, as opposed to a gatekeeping safeguard.
For 27-year old Tyler Myers, the Electoral College feels “like a haphazard attempt to get things organized.” He’s voted in three presidential elections, always putting the morals of the candidate above party. Myers can see both the pros — organized elections, representation for less populous states — and its cons, “It could be reworked to be more fair, so that if the majority of the country voted for a candidate, she or he would win.”
Hoosiers, like many in the Rust Belt, have reputations for being politely resistant to extremes. Myers hasn’t settled the question of whether to support or abolish the Electoral College. He senses that if “there were just the popular vote, there would be fewer Republican candidates. More populous places are more democratic and left leaning, so that would end (or threaten) the Republican Party.” Because it has a foothold in rural and conservative regions of the country. But he is a centrist and is not comfortable with a winner-take-all approach. “It would make Republicans feel they are not being heard, that their voice would be snuffed out.
But the same is true the other way. When I vote in a county that is rural and conservative, and most of the time I’m voting Democrat, does my vote count?”
In reality, Hoosiers’ politics are dynamic, in the same way that other demographic groups are. The Brookings Institution reported after the 2020 election that “While whites continued to favor the Republican candidate in 2020 … it is notable that this margin was reduced from 20% to 17% nationally. At the same time, the Democratic margins for each of the major non-white groups was somewhat reduced. The Black Democratic margin — while still high, at 75% — was the lowest in a presidential election since 2004. The Latino or Hispanic and Asian American Democratic margins of 33% and 27% were the lowest since the 2004 and 2008 elections, respectively. These shifts do not apply to all states, and are not applicable to most battleground states where voters of color were crucial to Biden’s win.” In short, fewer than expected white people voted Republican and fewer than expected non-whites voted Democratic in states like Indiana.
Why? Perhaps because of values, perhaps because trustworthy and competent local officials, like Crawfordsville’s mayor and county clerk, remind voters that party affiliation is not the only qualifier by which we vote. Then again, that’s not always true when we pit local elections against national ones. More people show up to vote, but local races often suffer in presidential election years, because straight ticket voting means some people aren’t even voting.
Virginia Servies, president of the local Democratic Party notes that the Electoral College, “Complicates voting. Many people only vote every four years and many don’t understand the Electoral College.” She voices that sentiment that the College smacks of a kind of elitism. “Citizens today have access to information they need to vote. They can make decisions about who to vote for and can do that for themselves, so let’s do it.” This trust that voters are doing their research, voting on their values and will support the best candidate available means trusting that differences in leadership and vision for the U.S. is a healthy tension. We can’t simply cancel or obliterate our neighbors, our parents, the friends and family who disagree with us, and the youth vote, which currently skews more Democratic, often grows into older generations who tend to re-embrace the values of their parents or communities. Change happens, but slowly.
Myers, Servies and many others have pondered whether a younger citizenry will replace an older, more conservative one. Servies said she once thought that as Montgomery County became more youthful, it would become more Democratic. She has learned that our county remains conservative, if not in politics at least in values.
“I don’t want to wish the older generation away. It won’t go away,” Myers said. “My older family doesn’t think the same as me, but I came from them. When we disagree, that’s fine, but only if we are compassionate and care about each other, as opposed to being hateful and deceitful. If I pigeonhole myself to my age group, or do that to the kids after me, or who came before me, I am forgetting what made those who came before me think what they think. Also I’ve met a lot of older people who believe in the same standings as I do. Older generations have put their time in.”
What makes a person conservative or liberal is neither guaranteed, static, nor predictable, though it is largely influenced by age, life experience, parenting and values in the family systems from which a person came. Only one factor, the willingness to learn, be challenged, to grow and change, to be a dynamic person, changes how a person participates in self-governance.
“We should try to have conversations about those who you think are trying to ruin the country politically to see why they think that way and what you can learn from them and how you can persuade them.”
In short, the Electoral College debate will linger, as citizens weigh, question and dialogue about it and take a strong value-based stand on it. Only after this, will the electorate ignite change in their lawmakers.
The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.