The Electoral College, is it needed in the 21st Century?
Ninety-nine percent of the votes have been counted in the general election, and it’s now the day after the general election. The candidate that you voted for has been declared the winner in the general election, and you assume that since the people have spoken, that your candidate will become the next POTUS. Before you celebrate this momentous occasion; because we know that the United States is among the leading nations in the world with a genuinely democratic system, the “popular vote” indicates that a particular candidate will become the next POTUS. This is a popular misconception among voters. How can this be? How can a candidate receive the majority of the votes and not become POTUS? The answer is the Electoral College. The Electoral College should be abolished because it’s unfair, Electoral votes are disproportionate in many states, and there’s a more direct and efficient way of electing a president. Great thesis!
A brief history of the Electoral College and its purpose.
As a compromise between the election of the President by Congress and legal voters, the founding fathers established the Electoral College in the Constitution (Electoral college”, n.d.). The 23rd amendment passed Congress in June of 1960 and reached the ¾ approval threshold less than a year later, on March 23, 1961 (National Constitution Center – The 23rd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, 2017). “The Electoral College consists of 538 electors. A majority of 270 electoral votes is required to elect the President” (“Electoral college,” n.d.). “The men who wrote the Constitution were deeply mistrustful of popular opinion. Hence they set up the Electoral College”, (Jefferson-Jenkins, C.2001). This level of mistrust of popular opinion should not be a factor in the 21st century. With the check and balances set up between the three branches of government; the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial, states with smaller populations have a few avenues to address laws that they feel would harm or be unfair to the residence of that state.
Solutions and advantages to the Electoral College.
For all its misgivings the Electoral College does have one great advantage that could be considered worthy. This advantage is in the case where in a presidential election where there hasn’t been a clear winner even after the first recount of the votes in the general election. In an article published in the Congressional digest, there’s a recent example that occurred back in the general election in 2000. The results were too close to call in favor of one of the two candidates in Florida. Thanks to the Electoral College, the recounting of votes could be focused in the state of Florida, instead of recounting all of the votes that were cast nationally (The Pros and Cons of the Electoral College System. (2017). Imagine how long it would take to re-count all the votes cast in a national election. It could be months before a winner is declared. The possibility exists that even after the recount, the results could be a challenge in court, however thanks to the Electoral College, a presidential candidate only requires 270 votes to become president after the general election. The Electoral College allows us to have a definitive answer to who will become the next president in a relatively short time.
After the last general election where the losing candidate got over 2.2 million more votes (NICHOLS, J. 2016) than the winner of the election, calls to abolishing or at the very least reform the Electoral College got louder. For the second time in the last four general elections, the winner of the popular vote was denied the presidency by an institution that is only used during the general election. In his article arguing why the Electoral College should be dropped John Nichols notes that a California Senator, Barbara Boxer has introduced a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College (NICHOLS, J. 2016). Nichols also talks about a second initiative by the” National Popular Vote initiative; promoted by the group Fair Voice initiative, to commits the states to respect the will of the people” (NICHOLS, J. 2016). This Fair Voice initiative wants to reform the Electoral College so that states pledge to assign their Electoral College votes to the candidate who wins the popular election. I believe this reform is much easier to accomplish as it doesn’t require amending the constitution, and it brings the fairness; that has been absent, to the Electoral College institution.
Are we still mistrustful of popular opinion? The answer to that question is where the problem lies. I don’t think that we need to be mistrustful now because our representatives and senators are elected in a winner take all system. The Electoral College system only exists in one of the five branches of our Government. The series of checks and balances in our Government should negate the need not to trust the opinion of the majority. Our federal court system and ultimately our supreme court have heard and ruled on many cases brought against the federal government when the state felt a federal law was unfair or unconstitutional. Since there’s no need to mistrust the opinion of the majority, the Electoral College should be abolished.
Equally weighted votes, a guaranteed right.
Simple calculations show that some states are grossly overrepresented in the Electoral College. States with small populations control a disproportionate number of electoral votes compared to those with a large population. Wyoming and California offer the most striking comparison. According to the 2000 census, California’s population was 33,871,648, giving it fifty-five electoral votes. Wyoming, the least populous state, had only 493,782 residents, earning it three electoral votes (Bolinger, B. 2007). One of the main principles of our democracy is one person one vote. This system has been utilized in electing our representatives at both the local and federal level. However, the constitution allows the Electoral College to seed the responsibility of choosing our president to 270 people. We have seen how the Electoral College has gone against the will of the majority in the last general election. Although they are free to vote as they please, the Electoral College hasn’t gone against the outcome of the general election in recent memory.
Norm Miller illustrates one of the leading issues with the Electoral College. Miller states that “There have been a handful of instances in which a faithless elector voted for some other candidate, party loyalty typically ensures that the electors ultimately cast their vote for the candidate to which they are pledged,” Williams, N. R. (2012). This explains the phenomenon where the popular vote has been ignored by the Electoral College. Even though some of the Electoral College members are free to vote differently than the state their represent, their vote usually matches the State they are serving.
Many people would agree with me that the Electoral College should be abolished. The Constitution provides that an amendment may be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures (“Constitutional Amendment Process” (n.d.). If the Electoral College system were abolished, one example of a new system that could replace it would be a runoff election where each citizen vote is counted, regardless of where they live and have a requirement that the winner gets at least a majority of the votes cast (Jefferson-Jenkins, C. 2001). Never end a paragraph with a citation. Always provide an explanation of the borrowed material.
Jefferson-Jenkins, C. (2001), cites a study conducted by the Woman of League voters to determine what changes needed to be made to the current system of electing our president. The study’s result pointed to the foundation for the position that direct popular election of the president is the best method for a system of representative government that is responsive to the will of the people. Leagues in more than one thousand communities across the country participated in the study and came to the same conclusion.
Getting a constitutional amendment to be adopted on replacing the Electoral College system is problematic at best. David Wagner sums it up best when he says in his article, “The Forgotten Avenue of Reform”, that even though public sentiments shows a general dissatisfaction with the Electoral College, polls show that in the past 50 years Americans would like to see a direct election system replace the Electoral College system (Wagner, D. S. 2006). Wagner goes on to say that “The winner-take-all system is currently employed by forty-eight states and has been the predominant method of selecting electors since roughly 1836” (Wagner, D. S. 2006). The winner takes all approach would be the ultimate replacement to the Electoral College system. This method has been in use for all other elections, and it works. Wagner goes on to say that the argument against replacing or reforming the Electoral College systems with a winner take all system would marginalize the voters who voted for the candidate who lost the election (Wagner, D. S. 2006).
Americans have yet to begin the severe debate about abolishing the Electoral College or proposing alternatives to it. In the 21st century, the reason for having this type of election system does not exist or have been replaced by more pressing concerns, such as one person one vote, and accurate representation based on the will of the people. The notion that we still abide by the law that gives 270 people the right to decide who our president will be is ridiculous. I find it more acceptable to have a President who received the majority of the direct votes, instead of one who got more electoral votes. It is more acceptable to me because there’s has been at least one study that concludes that this type of election system is favorable to what we currently have. Voters can undoubtedly ban together, sign a petition and have a question put on the ballot for the next general election. This issue should force the house and the Senate to abolish this archaic amendment. There’s an urgent need to start the discussion in earnest and come up with an election system that reflects our current values, and not those from the era of our founding fathers.
Does the Electoral College give voters in smaller states more power than the voters in the states with a more prominent population? I would say no. Smaller States may have an advantage concerning the number of Electoral votes they are assigned. When it comes to electoral votes, some states adopt a winner take all system, while other states can split their Electoral votes. Do we still need to maintain the Electoral College system in its current form? What should reformed systems look like, and what would be a better system if the current system is abolished? I like the reform idea where each state must abide by the popular vote when assigning their electoral votes in the presidential election. This would be quicker than trying to get a constitutional amendment because the current system has benefited one party over the next, twice in the past four general elections.
Bolinger, B. (2007). POINT: ABOLISHING THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE. International Social Science Review, 82(3/4), 179-182.
Clayton, D. M. (2007). The Electoral College: An Idea Whose Time Has Come and Gone. Black Scholar, 37(3), 28.
Jefferson-Jenkins, C. (2001). Who Should Elect the President? The Case Against the Electoral College. National Civic Review, 90(2), 173.
NICHOLS, J. (2016). Drop the College. Nation, 303(25/26), 3-4
Wagner, D. S. (2006). The Forgotten Avenue of Reform: The Role of States in Electoral College Reform and the Use of Ballot Initiatives to Effect that Change. Review Of Litigation, 25(3), 575-602.
Williams, N. R. (2012). Why the National Popular Vote Compact Is Unconstitutional. Brigham Young University Law Review, 20121523.
Constitutional Amendment Process. (n.d.). Retrieved November 06, 2017, from https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/constitution
National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, gov/federal-register/electoral-college/about.html”>www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/about.html.
National Constitution Center – The 23rd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. (2017). The 23rd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. [online] Available at: https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendments/amendment-xxiii [Accessed 6 Nov. 2017].
The Pros and Cons of the Electoral College System. (2017). Congressional Digest, 96(1), 18-31.
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