The world’s greatest democracy has chosen a new president. After many months and billions of dollars worth of campaigning, the American people participated in one of the biggest democratic processes in history. Over 100 million American voters made up their minds and decisively elected Donald Trump as their leader.
Except this didn’t happen. To watch the rolling news coverage you wouldn’t know it, but the candidate who received the most votes was Hillary Clinton - who ended up with around three million more votes than Donald Trump.
Yep, that’s right. The end result of all the advertising dollars, all the televised TV debates, all the super PACs and scandals and deification of American democracy, is this. The candidate with the most votes didn’t win.
The fact of the matter is, voters do not decide elections in the US, UK, Canada, or in any other country that uses the primitive and perverse First Past the Post electoral system.
In the US, the president is decided by an elaborate series of electoral colleges using First Past the Post - meaning the candidate with the most votes in that state wins all of the electoral college votes assigned to it. As we have seen, these have little relation to the popular vote. In fact, this is the second election since the turn of the Century in which the wrong candidate won, democratically speaking.
In the UK, Governments are put into power by the election of individual MPs for each of the 650 constituencies across the country - again through primitive First Past the Post contests. Across the country as a whole, this system leads to massive disenfranchisement, disproportionality, and misrepresentation in Parliament - with majority governments elected with minority support and millions of other voters all but excluded. As an outcome, the UK has it’s own “wrong” results, including two occasions since WWII when a party won a majority in Parliament without winning the most votes.
Voting systems change the course of history. The world in which Al Gore won the presidency in 2000 is undoubtedly a different one from the real world - in which George Bush became president with less democratic support than his rival.
Likewise, if the UK used a fair, proportional electoral system for its General Elections, the Thatcher and Blair eras would have been radically different - marked by compromise and consensus rather than 'decisive' and divisive leadership.
It is not the place of Make Votes Matter to decide which of these alternatives - Bush or Gore, Wilson or Heath, Clinton or Trump - is better and which is worse. But it is our place to demand that these decisions should be made by the people - as expressed by the votes that they cast. Neither UK nor US governments can claim to meet this very low bar of democratic legitimacy - and that is something we must all decide whether we are willing to accept.
History will continue to be directed by voting systems - not voters - for as long as antiquated and unfair voting systems are used to make the most important decisions the world can make. And these voting systems will last as long as people are willing to put up with them.