The purpose of this essay is to discuss the features of the American electoral system features; how does it allow stability and change to occur simultaneously? How does it allow the participation for most of the citizens and it may also serve to filter the citizens` input?
First of all, the fifteenth amendment to the United States Constitution states clearly that the right to vote is not to be “denied or abridged on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (US constitution, 1870). The term servitude may be a little vague, yet it was initially used to refer to slavery, which became prohibited in the thirteenth amendment. This part of the constitution reveals how the electoral system features don`t allow any sort of discrimination between the US citizens during the voting process, according to their ethnics, origins and color as long as they are current US citizens. Abraham Lincoln is among the pioneers who were against the slavery which was clearly stated in his letter to A.G Hodges saying “I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong” (Lincoln, 1864). The constitution has experienced other amendments too, to ensure the enrollment of many voters regarding the elections; the formation of the Electoral College is the best way to demonstrate it. The purpose of the previously mentioned entity is to balance the voting of the Presidential and Vice Presidential between the congress and the eligible voting citizens. Whereas, during previous times to such amendment, the voting of the President and the Vice President was exclusively to the Congress as they are the legitimate entity that represent the public. As Edmund said in his speech to the Bristol electors “To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion” (Burke, 1774). This is a strong statement that reveals the importance of voting for the electors who have the right to choose their path.
However, some of the electoral system features do filter citizen votes; in other words, it sets criteria for a voter to be eligible or to have a valid vote. One of the most obvious rules for voting that falls under this umbrella is the registration for voting. It is obligatory (in some states at least) to be registered one month before the elections, otherwise your vote will be invalid. This eliminates a large portion of voters during the elections, especially the ones who fall under a certain social and educational level. Moreover, some states apply the Photo ID rule for voting; this has nearly the same effect as the registration rule. It basically filters the poor from the voting equation. The people`s voice is really important in elections, especially during the hard times; “In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory”(Roosevelt, 1933).
In addition, the early voting process which is prohibited in some states (especially the agricultural ones) affects the voters in a negative way For example, having elections in those communities on Tuesdays allows the citizens to travel on that day to the county seat in order to vote without interference with neither the Sunday prayers nor the Wednesday market. Prohibiting the early elections for these communities and not holding elections on Tuesdays will be simply declaring their exclusion from voting. Another issue that is added to the disenfranchisement list, which affects the voting of the citizens is the felony disenfranchisement. According to a report that was written on this disenfranchisement in particular, “2.5 percent of the total U.S. voting age population – 1 of every 40 adults – is disenfranchised due to a current or previous felony conviction” (Uggen & Shannon, 2012). Also, the number of citizens that fall under this category has escalated tremendously, as they were estimated to be 1.17 million in 1976, 3.34 million in 1996, reaching the 5.85 million in 2010. This is a remarkable figure that shouldn`t be skipped when we are taking into consideration the number of inputs filtered by the current electoral system.
Moving on from how the electoral system features allow participation for most of the citizens without discrimination (at least racial ones as it was explained previously) to how some of the disenfranchisement issues filter citizen input during the voting process, we will talk now about how the current system allows both stability and change to take place simultaneously. The electoral system allows parties stabilities yet it gives space for healthy changes to take place that might affect the whole process. Taking into consideration the history of the elections in the United States for the past 100 years, for example, multiple changes took place that affected the number of electorates; during the 1920s the expansion of the electoral system to include women nearly doubled the number of electorates (Brown, 1991). Also, prohibiting slavery and giving the colored citizens the right to vote, definitely affected the number of electorates too. Change can also take place regarding the dominance of a certain party. Parties can gain support from different categories that were not taken into consideration in one moment, and lose retained supporters the other. Demographic voting results are not always constant, so basically the current electoral system may ensure the consistency and stability of the overall governments and states in their political and institutional figures, yet it allows change to take place, whether this change is regarding the policies and rules of the electoral system which has been proved that it did change during time or by allowing change of dominance for a certain party of another which illustrates democracy at its best. Since the rise of the United States, change was always allowed to take place as long as it serves the overall interest which was clearly visible through the confederation state. “The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever”(Articles of Confederation, 1777).
In conclusion, the current electoral system does allow the majority of the population to get enrolled in the voting process, according to the fifteenth amendment of the US constitution that prohibits discrimination and states that everyone has the right to vote. Some rules and regulations may filter the input during the election process, some of the disenfranchisement issues have major effects as the felony one while others, such as the registration and early voting are not implemented across all states and don’t have a huge impact. Last but not least, the electoral system gives some space for change to take place to ensure a democratic and free country while keeping the stability of the political entities in mind too. The US electoral system has its pros and cons as any other political system in the world; from my own point of view, it is considered to be a very efficient and successful one overall according to the points that were discussed earlier in this essay.
Brown, C. (1991). Ballots of Tumult. United States: University of Michigan.
Burke, E. (1774). Speech of the Electors of Bristol. Retrieved from http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch13s7.html
US Congress. (1789). US Constitution. Retrieved from http://context.montpelier.org/document/175?gclid=CKip5oD81MwCFVYo0wodkTcDZw
Lincoln, A. (1894). Letter to A.G. Hodges. Retrieved from http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/hodges.htm
Roosevelt, F. (1933). First Inaugural Address. Retrieved from http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres49.html
Second Continental Congress. (1777). Articles of Confederation. Retrieved from http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/artconf.asp
Uggen, C. Shannon, S. (2012). State-Level Estimates of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States. The Sentencing Project. Retrieved from http://sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/State-Level-Estimates-of-Felon-Disenfranchisement-in-the-United-States-2010.pdf