The Election System Of The United States Politics Essay

The United States of America’s (USA or U.S.) election system is as complex as it is fascinating. This is due in large part to its unique form of legal system where its Constitution created two forms of government: state and federal. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy of the United States Federal Supreme Court spoke of this legal system in this inimitable and eloquent wise thus:

Federalism was our Nation’s own discovery. The Framers split the atom of sovereignty. It was the genius of their idea that our citizens would have two political capacities, one state and one federal, each protected from incursion by the other. The resulting Constitution created a legal system unprecedented in form and design, establishing two orders of government, each with its own direct relationship, its own privity, its own set of mutual rights and obligations to the people who sustain it and are governed by it. It is appropriate to recall these origins, which instruct us as to the nature of the two different governments created and confirmed by the Constitution. [1] (Emphasis mine)

Accordingly, some of the U.S. election laws are different from state to state. However, federal elections are primarily governed by the Federal Constitution upon which all other states must conform. The foregoing led me to the observation that indeed the U.S. election system is as complex as it is fascinating. Now to the specifics.

Presidential Elections [2]

Like the Philippines, the U.S. has a presidential system of government. This means that the U.S. has tripartite system where the powers of government are allocated among three major and co-equal branches: the Legislative branch which makes the law, the Executive branch headed by the president which enforces the law and the Judiciary which interprets the law. [3]

But the similarity ends there. Unlike in the Philippines where the Filipino people directly elect the president, the American people upon the other hand, indirectly elect theirs through a body called the Electoral College. Allow me to elucidate.

On election day, the American people in their respective states do not vote for the presidential candidate himself. They vote for “electors” who are to compose the Electoral College. It is the “electors” who are voted by the American people who in turn elect or vote for a particular presidential candidate. That is why the American people indirectly elect their own president. [4]

In connection with the above disquisition, I would like to extensively cite a paper I find most abundantly informative. It describes the current workings of the Electoral College only an insider [5] can describe thus:

The current workings of the Electoral College are the result of both design and experience. As it now operates:

Each State is allocated a number of Electors equal to the number of its U.S. Senators (always 2) plus the number of its U.S. Representatives (which may change each decade according to the size of each State’s population as

determined in the Census).

The political parties (or independent candidates) in each State submit to

the State’s chief election official a list of individuals pledged to their

candidate for president and equal in number to the State’s electoral vote.

Usually, the major political parties select these individuals either in

their State party conventions or through appointment by their State party

leaders while third parties and independent candidates merely

designate theirs.

Members of Congress and employees of the federal government are
prohibited from serving as an Elector in order to maintain the balance
between the legislative and executive branches of the federal
government.

After their caucuses and primaries, the major parties nominate their

candidates for president and vice president in their national conventions

— traditionally held in the summer preceding the election. (Third

parties and independent candidates follow different procedures

according to the individual State laws). The names of the duly

nominated candidates are then officially submitted to each State’s chief

election official so that they might appear on the general election ballot.

On the Tuesday following the first Monday of November in years

divisible by four, the people in each State cast their ballots for the party

slate of Electors representing their choice for president and vice

president (although as a matter of practice, general election ballots

normally say “Electors for” each set of candidates rather than list the

individual Electors on each slate).

Whichever party slate wins the most popular votes in the State becomes

that State’s Electors — so that, in effect, whichever presidential ticket gets

the most popular votes in a State wins all the Electors of that State. [The

two exceptions to this are Maine and Nebraska where two Electors are

chosen by statewide popular vote and the remainder by the popular vote

within each Congressional district].

On the Monday following the second Wednesday of December (as

established in federal law) each State’s Electors meet in their respective

State capitals and cast their electoral votes — one for president and one

for vice president.

In order to prevent Electors from voting only for “favorite sons” of their home State, at least one of their votes must be for a person from outside

their State (though this is seldom a problem since the parties have

consistently nominated presidential and vice presidential candidates

from different States).

The electoral votes are then sealed and transmitted from each State to

the President of the Senate who, on the following January 6, opens and

reads them before both houses of the Congress.

The candidate for president with the most electoral votes, provided that
it is an absolute majority (one over half of the total), is declared
president. Similarly, the vice presidential candidate with the absolute
majority of electoral votes is declared vice president.
In the event no one obtains an absolute majority of electoral votes for
president, the U.S. House of Representatives (as the chamber closest to
the people) selects the president from among the top three contenders
with each State casting only one vote and an absolute majority of the
States being required to elect. Similarly, if no one obtains an absolute
majority for vice president, then the U.S. Senate makes the selection

from among the top two contenders for that office. [6] (Emphasis and Italics mine)

To be sure, the Electoral College is not without its own misgivings. It has been criticized as being undemocratic because the people themselves do not directly elect their own president. But whether or not those criticisms are well founded is not within the scope of this academic paper. [7] Suffice it to state that the greatness of the United States of America speaks for itself. I find the truism “do not fix something which is not broken” most apt in this case.

Congressional Elections

The Federal legislature of the U.S. is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. In a “[g]overnmentaˆ¦republican in form,” [8] where governmental authority emanates from the people, it is important for the sovereign people to elect their own representatives to reflect their true will. Accordingly, the people directly vote the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution supports the foregoing contention thus:

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution. (Emphasis mine)

And also Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution:

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen. (Emphasis mine)

State Elections

As I have earlier stated in this academic paper, “aˆ¦election laws are different from state to state.” This is due, to repeat, to the “split[ting] of the atom of sovereignty.” Where a state is supreme in its own sphere so long as it does not violate the Federal Constitution.

Accordingly, each state is governed by its own state law (e.g., election laws) and state constitution. In accordance with those state laws, the people of the state in its political capacity as such, elect whatever officials to public office those state laws may define. To be sure, like the federal government, each state has its own tripartite system where the people elect their respective officials in accordance with state law.

Conclusion

I fervently hope that from my modest presentation of the American election system the reader has gained important insights that he could take home.

And, by way of a final note, I cannot end this presentation of the American election system without impressing upon the reader the importance of elections in general.

Under the Social Contract Theory, to the best of my own words, the people surrendered some of their rights and consented to be governed by a common authority so that the common good will be promoted in a just and ordered society.

Now, it is my humble observation that this contract is “renewed” when each citizen as an “individual particle of sovereignty” [9] casts his vote every election. Indeed it is during the elections where he once again manifests his consent that although he surrendered some of his rights, the citizen gets that altruistic feeling that by doing so, he is thereby contributing to the promotion of the common good.

II

Introduction

The May 2010 national and local elections in the Philippines marked for the first time [10] the use of computerized technology in determining the will of the people. It is said that this computerized technology does not have the vices its predecessor, the manual system, purportedly have.

Today, with the benefit of hindsight [11] , the heavens seem to have not fallen as far as the determination of the will of the people through automated elections is concerned. This is a practical indicator that the automated election system was a success.

But it is non sequitur to suggest that because the automated elections was a success, there cannot be any room for improvement. Of course there is!

In view of the foregoing, part II of this paper will review and examine the May 2010 automated elections here in the Philippines and would then make recommendations for its improvement.

,

The Constitutional ideal of a “free, orderly, honest, peaceful, and credible elections” [12]

I as a Filipino was one of those people who were excited for the automated election launched for the May 2010 election. Many reactions and opinions were given because of this. Some said cheating would be easier this time because there are people who are techy enough to hack the automated machine knowing a memory chip would be used to copy and read results. Others said it is best to try new ways to fasten the election and to have the results without days and weeks of waiting. Neither of those ideas did I react , what was on my mind that time was to vote for leaders who could save this nation from too much corruption.

It was 7 am that I fell in the line. I was hoping for a quicker way of voting. Many people were earlier than me and to my surprise they were earlier 2 hours from my arrival. The classrooms were open and others begun to look for their name. I could not believe that there were names not listed in their respective precinct . They have to transfer from one room to another hoping to find their name on the list. I pitied them and at the same time I laughed on my mind for the reason that names of dead people are still listed. How could this happened , COMELEC officer then failed to review this type of information. And from then on I begun to think that this automated election would fail.

I arrived late compared to other people but because of some reasons, I finished first compared to them. From my observation, the voting stopped from other precincts because the machines were not functioning anymore. Others confirmed that machines overheated , others stopped accepting papers and waited for an hour to power it on again. Others needs to wait because they need to teach them how to fill up the form and how to choose for the candidates that they wanted to be in the position. I started complaining in my mind because I was under the impression that free trial for the automated election was already introduced a month before the election as what it showed in the news. But then it was still a big fail.

There were two reasons that pondered on my mind that time , COMELEC failed for the entire preparation because some machines did not work well secondly some people were not properly educated on how the machine works. We could not blame the teachers if they find it so slow to let the other people vote because they had to attend the needs of others. For some classrooms it was working fine for the voters knew how to use the automated system however the line were stopped because the machine overheated.

Different judgment were given by the voters. Other teachers announced that the voting will be stopped @ 3 pm only. However the voters protested and complained that it was not their fault if the machines were not accurate and that it would be best if they could have use the old voting system of the Philippines rather than waited for the time until the machines will be fixed again.

True that it was not the fault of the voters if the system went so slow. It was beyond expectation that some PCOs machine would fail. For whatever reasons the only answer that I heard from COMELEC was that we could trust this type of voting system for no one can tamper , change and add numbers of vote to a certain candidate because the machines were secured and sealed. And that we can guarantee that this election would be pure and clean from cheating. And that we need to understand some unexpected situations such as the machine stopped working because that was the first time we had use this. What’s important was the result itself coming from the machine and not from the old ballot boxes. It could be convincing but still people from different aspects of life had different opinion. Especially from the moment that there were some places in our countries stopped the operation because there were block outs and some other reasons that caused the latency of the operation. We still waited for days before the election results for the presidential , vice presidential and senators to come out. Even to some provinces governors, congressmen and some officials waited so long for the result because of the machines. But then we have to be thankful because the election was successful.

Because I was able to witness the first automated election of our country, It would be best for the COMELEC to be prepared and do some testing ahead of time in that way the election would be fast and easy since that is the main goal and purpose of spending too much money from the government funds. They could have done the best actions rather than giving false advertisement that everything has been tested and ready for the main event. They have to conduct free seminars to the people in remote areas in order for them to be educated on how to fill up and use the materials for voting. They might not be knowledgeable enough about new technologies and modernizations however they too themselves are part of this nation and they too needs to vote for the people whom they think could help them from poverty and corruption. COMELEC should assign fair and well routed watchers and facilitators for the election in every room. There must be strict implementation whenever you are inside the precinct and they should not be bias for whatever political parties they have. What they should consider is the welfare of the people through the honesty that they are showing. I understand that the goal of each member of the COMELEC is to provide an easy way of voting however they have to consider some obstacles that might happen during the election day. Machines are made by people itself and it could be a great loss for us citizens in this country if the outcome of this good intention could worsen the most important day of every single Filipino because it failed for some reasons.

I believe it would be easier if the people can see the pictures of the politicians that they wanted to be in position. It would be an advantage for the old people for some has strong photographic memories and by that it would be easier for them to choose. Other than that it would be better if the fingerprints of the voters would be registered on the computer. By the time that they need to mark the proof of their individuality it will automatically matched by the system, easier and cleaner way. Since we are aiming for a fast election COMELEC should give more restrictions on how election advertisement and propagandas on the day of election.