Since the fiasco that was the Presidential Election in the year 2000, many Americans have been calling for a reform of the Electoral College. Most of these people were Gore supporters; disillusioned by the fact that Bush won the office of the President while, in fact, he lost the popular vote. The American people did not elect George W. Bush; the Electoral College did.
Last years circumstance was the first of its kind in over a century. There have been many close elections, but none have resulted in the popular candidate losing to his opponent. The Electoral College cast the final vote in that election. The people who went out to the polls in November, many of whom believing that they were indeed voting for president, did not.
The Electoral College was established in a compromise between a direct election system, supported by James Wilson, and a system whereby the President would be chosen by congress, supported by Edgridge Gerry, in Article II, Section I of the United States Constitution (Houser, 2).It is a group of electors who are nominated or appointed by each party within each state however they choose, who have pledged their loyalty to one candidate. In fact, it is the electors for whom we vote on Election Day. The Electoral College is comprised of 538 members representing the number of the total number of members of the House of Representatives and Senate and three electors representing the District of Columbia. A presidential candidate must have a majority of electoral votes in order to become president.
In December of a presidential election year, the electors meet in their state capitals to cast their vote for President. In theory, this vote is intended to increase the majority of the already popular candidate. Despite recent events, this is usually the case.
Although, it is remotely possible in a very close election that there will not be one candidate receiving 270 electoral votes, in which case the House of Representatives chooses the President. In this scenario, each state has merely one vote each to decide the presidency out of the top three contenders for the office. The Senate chooses the vice-president out of the top two contenders.
Many people feel that this system is outdated, unfair and/or biased; that it should be replaced with the popular voting system. Unfortunately it is not as simple as stating what has to be done. Since the Electoral College is found in the constitution, it is most difficult to alter, reform or remove it from existence. Any congressional record probes that many American representatives like to avoid change (Houser, 1) thus presenting the first problem. A constitutional amendment would be required in order to make any changes regarding the Electoral College. In order to ratify an amendment, it is essential that it 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. The latter of the two methods has never occurred resulting in an amendment.
In order to make a reform possible, it is necessary to decide what problems we are attempting to reform. Obviously, we need to reform the habit of using cheap and unreliable voting equipment such as Votomatic card punches, but that is not a constitutional issue (Kienitz, via Internet).
The winner-take-all system that embodies the Electoral College is generally the most offensive to voters. With this idea, examining any given state as its own entity, there could be an extremely close election, but the winner in that state will take all of the electoral votes for that state (in 48 states out of 50). This is especially relevant in larger states where the difference between winning and losing is has the most impact when the vote goes into the Electoral College.
This idea leads to a large loss of political efficacy. Its no wonder that many voters have such apathy when they realize the fact that their vote does not always count, especially if they are on the losing side.
The Electoral College gives bias towards both the very large and very small states. Very large states receive overwhelming amounts of attention throughout a campaign, as candidates really want to get their hands on that large block of votes on Election Day. Thus, candidates ignore the less populous states in the months prior to the election. They would rather seek out supporters in Texas over supporters in Rhode Island, because a victory in Texas will give them more chance of winning in the Electoral College.
The particularly small states receive bias on the sheer fact that it is impossible to have less than three electors, meaning that in Alaska, one persons vote is worth many more times one persons vote in California, giving Alaska much more voting power in the Electoral College than its actual population warrants. In fact, in 1976, Alaskas three electoral votes were representative of 123,545 voters, meaning that the state of Alaskas ratio for electoral votes to actual votes was 1 to 41,182. In that same year in California, forty-five electors represented 7,867,043 actual votes, hence Californias electoral votes to actual votes ratio was 1 to 174,823. Therefore, one electoral vote in California represented more peoples popular votes than did all three electoral votes for the state of Alaska. (Houser, 3)
The most popularly sought after reform of the Electoral College is to elect presidents solely based on the popular vote, which occurs on Election Day in November. It would be best to declare the candidate as winner based on a majority of the vote. Should no candidate have a majority of the vote, there should be a run-off between the two most popular candidates.
This system would easily uphold the idea of one person, one vote and would make way to eliminate the chance of the House of Representatives being held responsible for choosing the president. It would also make way for third party candidates to have greater impact on the system. It has been many years since a third party candidate has received a single electoral vote. This would not make third party candidates more likely to win elections, however they would be given a much greater opportunity for viability.
Most importantly, a direct popular election would give way for Americans to truly have their voices heard on Election Day. A truly democratic government should require that each individual citizen of that particular government shall have his or her own vote cast in favor of the candidate he or she chooses.
Voting is one of our most important individual rights, just like freedom of speech and the other individual rights spelled out in the Bill of Rights. The effect of the Electoral College is to discard dissenting votes and to arbitrarily force the entire population of each state to go along with the plurality winner in the state. Dissenting votes must yield in the final national result, of course, but they need not and should not be thrown out in an intermediate stage of the counting, as the Electoral College does (ElectionMethods.org).
Not everyone would agree with the idea that the Electoral College needs to be abolished. Judith Best announced to the House Committee on the Judiciary on September 4, 1997 that, No election system is perfect, but the current system has borne the test of time. It has never rejected the winner of a popular majority (Quoted on GlobalExchange.org/democracy). One must wonder what Ms Best thought of the most recent election. Moreover, one must wonder how Andrew Jackson, Samuel Tilden and Grover Cleveland would feel to know that they did not truly win the popular vote over John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison, respectively, because in concurring that Best is correct in her statement, one agrees that must have been the case.
Others have proposed arguments against reforming the Electoral College system. The idea of a popular vote has been rejected throughout history for several reasons. Throughout the time of slavery, a direct election would have abolished the advantage within the 3/5 rule, whereby representation was allocated by the number of free citizens in a state plus three-fifths of slaves. This rule gave the slave states more clout in a vote, because although a slave counted as a fraction of a vote, he wasn’t allowed to vote.
Another reason that a popular election has never passed is that a popular election would mandate that the states stopped being the independent entities that they were at that time. It also would have involved allowing average and less educated people to cast a vote for themselves, which politicians of the 1700s would have found preposterous (Houser, 8).
None of these arguments is viable today. The times have changed and we have to change with them. The fifteenth amendment allowed all men to vote, including slaves.There is very little interest in states rights in this day and age. Today, with all of the outlets available, most voters have the capacity of being well informed of the candidates’ issues if they so choose. Direct popular election solves most, if not all of the problems presented by the Electoral College System. The direct election is the only proposed method, which assures popular and electoral vote, since there are no electors (Houser, 8).
All votes would count and voting fraud will be virtually eliminated. There would be less grave voting in large metropolitan areas, because those who did so would realize that those ten grave votes would not truly impact the vote, as every solitary vote would count.
The winner take all arrangement at the state level can indeed isolate the effects of voting fraud within in a state, but only if the fraud does not change the winner of the state. If the magnitude of the fraud is large enough to tip the election one way or the other, then the winner take all arrangement of the Electoral College actually magnifies the effect of voting fraud tremendously (ElectionMethods.org).
This all being said, it is necessary in this time to do away with the Electoral College in order to restore fairness to the electoral system. It will be an extremely difficult hurdle to pass in attempting ratification as a constitutional amendment, as representation in Congress from both the large and small states would be wary of passing any amendment that would be disadvantageous to their respective states. However, this is a hurdle that we must cross in order to maintain legitimacy in our political system. A platform of A Vote For Every American should pass the lips of every elected official until this problem is rectified. Americans must work together to solve this problem, allowing a new and better system to give way for a fair and just system of electing the next United States President.
Beck, Paul Allen and Hershey, Marjorie Randon. Party Politics in America. 9th Ed. Longman, New York, NY. 2001.
Kienitz, Paul. Options for Electoral College Reform. http://www.gning.net/electoral.html 11/4/01.
Houser, Brian. The Electoral College: Not a School, a Problem. May 24, 1984.
How The Electoral College Works. Federal Election Commission. www.fec.gpv/pages/ecworks.htm 10/20/01.
Romulo, Beth. Should the Electoral College be Reformed? December 5, 2001.
Sung, Ellen. Time to Reform the Electoral College?. July 27, 2000. http://www.policy.com 11/6/01
Why the Electoral College Should be Abolished. ElectionMethods.org http://www.electionmethods.org 11/6/01