The Electoral College
[This is a repost of an entry I wrote 4 years ago, in response to a question posed to a blogging group I belonged to. The question was, "Is it time for the U.S. to end the Electoral College? If so, in favor of what alternative system? If not, why is it still relevant and beneficial to the nation?" With support for efforts like the National Popular Vote rising, I thought it was a good time for a repost of this.
Note that the link to the document below has been updated to link to the PDF directly. The web page itself that had the link no longer exists.]
I’ve actually talked a little bit abut this issue as far back as the 2000 election. Back then, I found a document on the web site of the Federal Elections Commission called “A Brief History of the Electoral College”. It hasn’t been updated to note the popular vs. electoral vote situation in the 2000 election itself, but it is a fascinating and educational look into the issues surrounding the creation of the Electoral College. Read that first before making up your mind.
This paper identifies two main requirements that the Electoral College imposes on candidates for the presidency:
- The victor must obtain a sufficient popular vote to enable him to govern, even if it’s not an absolute majority, and
- The popular vote must be sufficiently distributed across the country to enable him to govern.
What this means is that the winner has balanced regional support, even if that balance is tipped in favor of distribution rather than absolute numbers (as it was in 1888 and again in 2000).
The paper presents a number of pros and cons of the Electoral College and is a fairly balanced look at it, although it does come out in favor of it ultimately. I’d like to highlight just one of its points and add one of my own.
Minorities: With the Electoral College, the voice of minorities in this country is enhanced so that they cannot be so easily dismissed by candidates. Small minorities in a State can (and have) been able to be the difference between winning all of a State’s electoral votes or none. Without this clout, blacks, Hispanics, farmers, Iowans, or whatever other group you can come up with can have a larger voice in the matter, and this speaks to one of the ideas of America.
If the President was selected solely on the basis of popular vote, a candidate could simply ignore minorities who’s votes wouldn’t matter in the big picture. Getting a bare majority of the big city vote can be enough to get the electoral votes of California or New York, but then the candidate needs to appeal elsewhere in other states and among other groups of people to win the Presidency. If popular vote was all that mattered, the candidate could just continue to appeal to the wants & needs of those in highly concentrated population areas. This would not be in the best interest of a country that wants the President to be the President for everyone. Thus the Electoral College forces the issue of minority views into the national debate, which is good for all of us.
Voter Fraud: Under the current system, a candidate gets the same number of electoral votes for a state, whether he takes 50%+1 of the popular vote for that state or 100% of it. Thus any attempts to rig an election in a state are pointless after a majority is reached. Therefore, in order to have an impact nationally, the fraud must be widespread, in multiple states, rather than allowing it to work with only a few “friendly” areas involved. This makes voter fraud less of a viable tactic, and diminishes its impact when used.
Again, the paper linked above has quite a bit more, but these two issues are the ones that are one the top of my list. The paper ends this way:
The fact that the Electoral College was originally designed to solve one set of problems but today serves to solve an entirely different set of problems is a tribute to the genius of the Founding Fathers and to the durability of the American federal system.
I’d have to agree.
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