All posts by Daniel Ludlam

The Electoral College: A Compromise

In light of the 2016 Presidential Election, voters across the political spectrum have debated the usefulness of the Electoral College. The Electoral College is different from the popular vote because it awards votes to states rather than to individual voters. Functionally, this means that the candidate that wins the election need not win the most individual votes. While Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million votes, the Electoral College nevertheless serves as the final arbiter. Opponents of the Electoral College insist that this makes the Electoral College “undemocratic,” and therefore unfair. Others defend the Electoral College as it exists, saying that the point of the Electoral College is not to be democratic, but to increase representation for small states.

The solution, the proportional system, is to remove each state’s winner-take-all provision in the Electoral College. Instead, a state’s electors should be decided by the percentage of the popular vote within that state. For instance, if Hillary Clinton wins 62% of the vote in California, she would win roughly 62% of its electors. This means that winning a state by a fraction of a percentage point, as Donald Trump did with Michigan or Hillary Clinton did with New Hampshire, no longer disproportionately impacts the electoral college.

There are a few problems with using a nationwide popular vote for presidential elections. First, it is unworkable in practice, especially in close elections. In 2000, when the election was razor-thin in Florida, the recount took months to determine. If in a future election the popular vote is decided by a razor-thin margin, a prolonged fifty-state recount would be long and expensive.

Second, it is philosophically wrong to use a popular vote for President. As James Bovard put it, “Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.” History is rife with majorities oppressing minorities, be they religious, racial, geographic, or otherwise. The Electoral College gives a voice to geopolitical minorities—in this case, residents of small states. The founding fathers recognized the rights of small states, and they had no intention of creating a country ruled by pure majorities.

Finally, a national popular vote neglects rural areas. Campaigns have limited resources; it is more efficient for presidential candidates to campaign in densely populated cities rather than small-town America because their campaigns will reach more people. TV ads, billboards, visits, and other campaign expenditures have a greater impact on the total number of votes when focused in major cities rather than rural America. If the criteria for winning the election is to get as many votes as possible, there is no incentive to campaign in sparsely populated rural states; therefore, candidates can ignore the unique problems that voters in these states face. Due to their diversity, residents of different states may view national controversies in different ways, and some questions are entirely localized. The Keystone Pipeline, for instance, impacts the Dakotas differently than it impacts the coastal states. For candidates to accurately represent all Americans, they must address the entire country’s issues, not just the issues of states with high population densities.

This last problem of neglecting certain states, despite its intent, also happens in the Electoral College. The electoral college, as it exists today, does not force candidates to campaign in small states. Rather, it makes candidates spend their energy and money in swing states. Since a state like California is safely in the Democratic column, neither candidate will waste money campaigning there despite its large share of electoral votes. The same is true for deeply red states like Wyoming.  The candidates spend money on swing states of all sizes—including small swing states like Nevada and New Hampshire and large swing states like Pennsylvania and Florida—to maximize the impact of their limited funds. Although the swing states do change from year to year, many states’ relevant issues are time-sensitive, but they are ignored because the Electoral College incentivizes candidates to spend their time elsewhere. The Founding Fathers did not intend for presidential candidates to spend the lion’s share of their time on just a few states. Candidates should represent all fifty states, not just the strategically relevant ones.

The proportional system is preferable to both the Electoral College and the popular vote., It gives people reason to vote outside of the Democratic or Republican parties. People who vote for third-party candidates are not wasting their votes if their votes return electoral votes for their candidates. In fact, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and Evan McMullin all would have won some electoral votes in November’s election had electoral votes been awarded proportionately rather than winner-take-all. These candidates would have won electoral votes even with the stigma that a vote for someone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is a wasted vote. When these candidates receive electoral votes, their ideas are included in the ongoing dialogue on national policy issues.

Additionally, it encourages voter turnout. On one hand, since candidates don’t have to win a plurality of votes in a state to earn some electoral votes, the votes from California Republicans and Kansas Democrats now matter. On the other hand, California Democrats and Kansas Republicans have a strong incentive to vote and help their chosen candidate pick up as many electors from their state as possible.

Finally, this system encourages candidates to campaign in all fifty states rather than only in states where the election will be close. Swing states already receive more national attention and funding during gubernatorial and senate elections. With a proportional allocation of electoral votes in each state, candidates can earn electoral votes from states that they don’t win. Narrowly winning a key swing state will not clinch the election, and narrowly losing a key swing state will not surrender it. Under the proportional system, if candidates only campaign in swing states, they forego the opportunity to both maximize their margins in states where they have strong voter turnout and to minimize their losses in states where they trail their opponents.

Two states already split their electoral votes in a different way: Maine and Nebraska. While these states split their electoral votes by Congressional district rather than by percent of the statewide popular vote, these two states are more relevant in American politics since they are not winner-take-all. As Nebraska split its vote in 2008 and Maine split its vote in 2016, they get more national attention, even though they are not ordinarily swing states. Using Congressional districts might work in Nebraska and Maine, but such a solution would not work as well in a state like Pennsylvania or Maryland, where gerrymandering would substantially skew the results. 

The Electoral College today is not what the Founding Fathers envisioned, but replacing it with a national popular vote is not the answer. If the Electoral College simply removes its winner-take-all requirements, it preserves the central compromise of American politics, dating back to the creation of the U.S. Congress. The Electoral College is not a relic of the past. It simply needs to be updated to represent all Americans, no matter their ideology or geography.

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Image: Flickr

Pitzer Students Vote To Ban Bottled Water

On Sunday evening, the Pitzer College Student Senate voted unanimously to ban bottled water on its campus. In its official statement, the Senate affirmed:

“The Pitzer College Student Senate recommends that the College take the necessary steps to discontinue the purchase, sale and distribution of bottled water on campus and at College sanctioned events, including vending machines and campus cafes and eateries… the Pitzer College Student Senate recommends that the College provides reusable water vessels for all members of the Pitzer community, including staff and faculty members.”

The document does not articulate what Pitzer College’s current bottled water consumption is, nor does it identify the impact of such a ban. While the Senate presented a myriad of reasons for its rejection of bottled water, its primary concern involved the environmental impacts of bottled water. “Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year, yet the recycled rate for plastic in the United States is only 23%, which means 38 billion water bottles – more than $1 billion worth of plastic – are wasted each year,” the Pitzer Senate argued. “Public tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which requires multiple daily tests for bacteria and releases this information to the public, while the Food and Drug Administration, who regulate bottled water, only requires weekly testing and does not share its findings with the general public (National Resource Defense Council).”

Pitzer College reasoned that a college-wide ban on water bottles would reduce the American footprint on the environment and increase the quality of the consumed water. However, when the University of Vermont enacted a similar ban in 2013, students still bought water bottles online and had them shipped to campus, creating an even greater environmental footprint than before the ban. Furthermore, student consumption of unhealthy sugary drinks increased by 25% as students sought alternatives to bottled water. When debating this policy, the Pitzer College Senate did not identify the economic and environmental costs of such a ban.

Many other schools, including the University of California at Berkeley, Cornell University, and Brown University have banned bottled water for similar concerns. When Harvard was debating banning bottled water, one student wrote in the Harvard Crimson a defense of keeping plastic water bottles legal, arguing that a better solution would be to raise the prices on plastic water bottles, creating an incentive to use eco-friendly materials without coercion. The argument proceeds, that “the University could then use some of the tax revenues to supplement employee pay to ensure that the tax does not result in lower salaries for student-employees.” In this context, Pitzer’s ban on water bottles could hurt the dining hall workers’ salaries or increase student fees due to lost economic revenue.

Over this past Academic Year, the Pitzer Senate has repeatedly curtailed liberties within the college in the name of social justice. Last fall, the Senate voted to forbid students from forming a yacht club because it deemed the word “yacht” to be “offensive” and “classist.” Shortly thereafter, the Senate refused funding to a proposed Pitzer College branch of the DreamCatchers Foundation, a charity that works with terminally ill hospice patients. The Senate reasoned that though the founders and current owners of the DreamCatchers Foundation were Native Americans themselves, the organization was deemed “cultural appropriation.” Pitzer College’s self-proclaimed mission, “environmental sustainability [and] social responsibility” has now manifested itself through this ban.

The ban on bottled water comes to Pitzer even though bottled water is safer than tap water in the event of a natural disaster. As the Claremont Colleges are located near the San Andreas fault, it is wise to take the threat of earthquakes seriously. Moreover, the ban on bottled water is not accompanied by bans on other eco-unfriendly materials, such as aluminum soda cans, or non-fair trade chocolate and coffee. The Pitzer Senate articulated that “producing single use disposable bottles to meet America’s demand for bottled water uses more than 17 million barrels of oil annually” without identifying the impact of alternatives. The Pitzer Senate mandated that Pitzer College “install more hydration stations” and “provide reusable water bottles for all members of the Pitzer Community, including staff and faculty”, but did not articulate the funding source for such endeavors.

 

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Image Source: Flickr

Pomona Students: Campus Safety Tips Are ‘Rape Culture’

On Monday evening, the Claremont University Consortium Campus Safety Office sent out a message warning Claremont students about a potential rash of Xanax and other drug-laced drinks at recent CMC parties.

“Over the past two weeks, the Dean of Students Office of Claremont McKenna College (CMC) has received information that three on-campus parties may have involved students providing Xanax-laced or Rohypnol-laced drinks. While this information is unconfirmed, the allegations alone are serious enough that I wanted to alert our students of what CMC has heard.  We will continue to investigate these allegations, as such behavior is highly concerning to all of us, dangerous to those who consume the drinks, violates the Student Code of Conduct, and cannot and will not be tolerated.”

Claremont McKenna College, among other colleges, has enacted policies restricting unabridged alcohol usage on campus. Such policies have been geared at breaking up large unregistered parties due to safety concerns. CMC has also promoted its “Teal Dot Training Program”, a program that coaches would-be bystanders to intervene in dangerous scenarios and has held forums related to Title IX policy and the responsible use of alcohol on campus. Thomas Schalke (CMC ‘18), a student on the Personal and Social Responsibility Committee for Campus Climate tells the Claremont Independent “In concert with a wide range of other solutions, the college is committed to expanding access to preventative programs such as Teal Dot and more fully integrating them into the student experience.” As awareness of sexual assault on campuses across the country grows, CMC is looking to make such training a key part of its student experience.

The email continues:

“These allegations are a reminder to be mindful at all times of what you are drinking and to keep an eye out for your fellow students.  While this is a small campus and we would like to trust our fellow students, accepting a drink that was made by someone else or that was put in a cup that you did not bring yourself is risky.  If you do not maintain constant visual contact with your cup, something can be slipped in it quickly and without your knowledge even if the drink started out fine.  Being vigilant about the source of your drink as well as the integrity of your cup once it is in your possession decreases the risks of anything being slipped in your drink.  Please help us keep our campuses safer.”

Some students were concerned that the email was an example of “victim-blaming” and “rape culture.”

“This is a message from campus safety in response to multiple students being drugged on Claremont McKenna’s campus. This is disgusting. This is unacceptable. This is rape culture,” wrote one student in a widely-shared Facebook post. “This is textbook victim-blaming, and it is coming right from the people who are hired to protect us.”

Others students argued that while the acts were obviously “deplorable”, the email still served a practical purpose. Another student from Pomona College responded, I agree that it’s frustrating to be told that the responsibility to be safe falls on potential victims but a) when thinking practically about how to deal with the reality of an unsafe campus, I do appreciate these reminders and b) I think that camp sec individuals would probably agree with the sentiment that people should not do things like drug other people’s drinks (and to be sure, the email did include – begin with – a paragraph about how such behavior was deplorable and not to be tolerated).”

While the subject of drugs on campus presented itself at last night’s ASCMC Senate meeting, few had answers. One student noted, “For most of the student body, this incident is the first encounter with reports on roofie-type drugs anywhere on the Claremont Colleges, so information is sparse.” At the time of writing, no further notices from Campus Safety or Claremont Colleges Administrations have been communicated.

San Bernardino Shooting Rattles the Claremont Colleges

Last Wednesday, students across the Claremont Colleges received an alert bulletin from Campus Safety, reading:

The City of San Bernardino is currently responding to an active shooter scenario in the approximate area of Waterman Avenue and Orange Show Road.  The area is being responded to by several first-responder agencies.

The Claremont Colleges are not at immediate risk or endangered by this emergency and the Department of Campus Safety continues to monitor the situation.  Campus community members are encouraged to avoid this region of the City and County of San Bernardino and to also follow local and regional news for additional updates.

The attacks on the Inland Regional Center, less than thirty miles from the Claremont Colleges, claimed sixteen lives, including fourteen civilians. While initially eyewitness accounts suggested at least three shooters, the police later identified the two as a married couple, Syed Rizwan Farook, a native of Chicago, and his wife Tashfeen Malik. During the attack, Malik posted a since-removed Facebook status pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. The two died the same day as the attack in a shootout with the police later that day two blocks east of the original shooting site. Three of the fourteen victims had come to the United States to escape violence, religious persecution, and poverty in their home countries.  

In the aftermath of the attacks, the FBI announced on Friday that it was treating the San Bernardino attack as a terrorist case, remarking that the case was inspired, but not directed by the Islamic State. President Obama, in his address on Sunday reiterated this sentiment, promising continued vigilance against the Islamic State. President Obama reminded viewers, however, that the Islamic State “does not speak for Islam”, and that his top priority is still the “security of the American people.”

A cursory investigation showed that the handguns were legally obtained from federally licensed dealers in the Inland Empire. While searching the couple’s Redlands townhouse, police found large stockpiles of weapons, including twelve pipe bombs. Though further targets remain unknown, investigators suspect that the couple had planned multiple attacks throughout Southern California.

No students or faculty of the Claremont Colleges were injured or killed in the attacks.

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Image: Source

Let’s Agree to Disagree: Calling a Truce to the Abuse

The Claremont Colleges, like nearly every other liberal arts college in America, are a bastion of liberal and progressive thought. You don’t have to read our other articles to realize this; the Claremont College Democrats outnumber the Claremont College Republicans nearly five to one (according to their Facebook page subscribers), with the lion’s share of Republicans attending CMC.

This political imbalance is understandable to an extent; young voters favored President Obama in the 2012 elections more than any other age demographic. Compared to the rest of the country, however, the Claremont Colleges are lopsidedly liberal, a reality on display when students this semester packed Pitzer’s Benson Auditorium to see Martin O’Malley speak, leaving standing room only. The majority of tenured faculty at the Claremont Colleges are Democrats.

Nevertheless, the problem is not necessarily the excessive Democratic numbers. Liberal, even progressive thought, is not inherently opposed to free speech. Rather, the problem is the silencing of opposing viewpoints. Students with pro-life or capitalist views get shot down without being heard, branded “racist, misogynist, and bigoted” for disagreeing with the mainstream Claremont consensus. In the aftermath of the recent protests, friendships have been destroyed and reputations have been ruined. In the discussion on campus racism, it becomes clear that we, as college students, don’t want friends. We want sounding boards and echo chambers.

The intense backlash from overly politically correct culture has gone from present to dangerous. Here in Claremont, students verbally attacked their peers for not joining in on a protest march against the CMC administration, screaming “silence is violence.” We’re no longer allowed to recuse ourselves from the discussion if we disagree; we’re expected to strongly agree with the PC movement. In a world where “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all” is no longer accepted, the PC movement not only polices your words and actions, but also your thoughts. Perhaps President Obama said it best:

“I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with that either. I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. I think you should be able to — anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ‘em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, ‘You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.’ That’s not the way we learn either.”

President Obama is right. Silence does not educate. The way to convince people whom you disagree with is to engage and debate with their ideas. The PC craze silences the discussion before it even starts. Because the discussion ends prematurely, the “offensive” party never has their opinions changed. They merely learn that their views could be considered racist, sexist, or homophobic. Even if the end goal is progressive thought, silencing the discussion cannot convince someone that their views need to be changed.

Unfortunately, the PC craze has implanted itself firmly in the consciousness of the Claremont Colleges. The recent campus protests are far from the first sightings of political correctness run amok in Claremont. Refusing to engage an entity in discussion, however, does not change anyone’s opinions. Though I’m not about to defend George Will’s remarks, Will and other silenced voices are, if anything, more stubbornly convinced of their opinions. There’s no room to expand students’ horizons by listening to other views, considering the arguments, and agreeing to disagree with peers. In PC culture, if two people don’t agree on a hot-button issue, we are taught not to separate the idea from the person but to link the two inextricably.

I don’t want to equate the PC craze with left-wing thought, especially in light of President Obama’s remarks. Classical liberalism, in its purest form, advocates for universal liberty. The Democratic Party, unlike the Republican Party, yields significant support for legalizing marijuana and abolishing the death penalty. The Republican Party can be just as guilty of silencing minority voices as the Democratic Party.

I remember, as a junior high school student, my pastor would invite a resident political enthusiast up to the microphone. The speaker would talk about the upcoming election, throw in a line about how she had prayed about each and every proposition and had “laid hands on her ballot” and told us how she felt God was leading her to vote. The speaker would instruct each member of the congregation which propositions to vote yes and no. We received brochures with the church’s logo stamped in the corner with a voting guide for the propositions and candidates. The dialogue carried over into the parking lot, and people who didn’t agree with the church’s narrative were looked down on. The right wing can also be guilty of subduing discussion by imposing its own narrative and agenda on people. Nevertheless, in light of recent events (particularly at the Claremont Colleges), the right wing is far less culpable of silencing discussion than the left.

Colleges ought not to shy away from discussions surrounding race, sexuality, and gender. In order to have a healthy discussion about tough, sensitive issues, we need mutual respect between the parties. Calling someone a communist, a racist, a homophobe, a flaming liberal, or any other slur ties the person to their ideas and fosters feelings of bitterness between both parties. Currently, when a student engulfed in PC culture encounters someone whom they disagree with, the response is to either convince them that their opinion is wrong or reject them from friend circles. The third, more reasonable, option of remaining friends with that person and simply agreeing to disagree is completely foreign. If we are willing to reacquaint ourselves with people who hold views that we don’t agree with, we keep an open mind to considering the prospect of being wrong. A friend once told me “If you don’t change at least one belief in college, you’re doing it wrong.”

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Image Source: Wikimedia Commons