American Democracy in Action

Nov 5, 2016

A democracy is a political system wherein the ultimate power lies with the voting citizenry. It is exercised by the people during periodically-held free elections, through which the electorate chooses representatives to run the government at every level.

Here in the United States, nearly 220 million people [218,959,000] are eligible to vote in this year's election, though fewer than 147 million [146,311,000] have registered to do so, and fewer still choose to vote. It has been a contentious election, more so than usual, with a country divided along ideological lines behind candidates that represent vastly different proposals for governing over the next four years.

Yet despite the acrimony, regardless of which candidate wins, and no matter how close the final vote count, the loser is expected to concede the election, step aside, and the outgoing administration will peacefully hand over power to its successor. That is how democracy works.

The United States has a federal system by which the voters do not directly elect a President, but instead are represented by electors, chosen by the state and the political party of the popular winner in each state. Individual states have a specific number of electors determined by the size of their populations. Collectively called the electoral college, these are the people who officially elect the president and vice president of the United States.

This is why sometimes, a candidate may win the popular vote, yet lose the election. Such was the case in the year 2000. In Florida, which has 25 electoral votes, the margin of victory was impossibly narrow, and a recount of votes was ordered. Because machines counting the votes could not read some of the ballots and therefore invalidated them, another, manual recount was begun.

Finally, the matter was referred to the Supreme Court which ordered the re-count stopped. George W. Bush emerged the winner with a margin of 537 votes. In line with the country's democratic principles, his opponent, Al Gore, peacefully conceded the election.

Like democracy itself, the election system has its flaws. Nonetheless, in the United States, it is still the ordinary voters who choose their representatives for the country's top elected positions.

The United States remains, as President Abraham Lincoln called it, “a government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Through a free, fair and impartial election it remains so today.