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The Electoral College Controversy

by Liz Carbone


The Electoral College.
Graphic by Alex Seise.
The Electoral College has been an issue of great debate for a long period of time. Recently the governor of Illinois signed into effect a bill that would give the state's electoral votes to the winner of the nation-wide popular election. However the bill stipulated that this would only be the case if there were enough states carrying out this plan to total 270 electoral votes. This would be enough to elect the next president of the United States. Currently, both Maryland and New Jersey have bills of similar nature.

The Electoral College is a system that was enacted in the Constitution and is the way that Americans elect their presidents. In theory, each state would hold a popular vote, and the candidate that wins this popular vote will be who, hypothetically, the state's electors vote for; it is a winner-take-all concept. The number of electors for each state is determined by the number of U.S. Representative plus the number of U.S. Senators (senate add-on, always two) the state has. These electors meet and cast their votes privately, which are then sent to Washington D.C. and counted. The numbers are tallied and the President of the Senate announces the results on January 6 during a joint meeting of the House and Senate. As previously mentioned, the number of votes necessary to win the presidential seat is 270 electoral votes.

Controversy has surrounded this institution for centuries; however, since the 2000 presidential controversy involving the vote recount in Florida, the controversy has reached new heights. Yet resolution seems to be far off considering that both sides of the coin seem to be equally compelling.

On the one hand, there are several factors that suggest the Electoral College should be maintained. For one, opponents claim that the college is not a good idea due to the fact that the resident can be elected without getting the popular vote. This is completely fallacious seeing as there is no popular vote to obtain. The presidency is determined by 51 separate popular elections, each of which is held in each state. The state's electors then go out and vote based on the results of this election. It logically follows that the presidency is determined by 51 popular votes, making the president determined by a "federal" popular vote.

However, what opponents are attempting to say is that the presidency should be determined by a "national" popular vote. First and foremost, nowhere in the Constitution does it say that a federal popular vote is not a popular vote or that a popular vote must be national. What the opponents are proposing is to eradicate the states from the election process and essentially decrease state power tenfold in the executive branch and federal government. This would destroy the federal principle, which is the delicate balance of power between the federal government and the states. Moreover, some opponents claim that the popular votes should stay in the states and be counted by the states. Again, this is not a national popular vote but a federal popular vote.

Additionally, the Electoral College gives a voice to human minorities. Opponents of the electoral system claim that the Electoral College fails in this regard because there has never been a female president, an African-American president or a Hispanic president. However, this is an unjust assault. The Electoral College is merely a system that is used to count votes and make a decision. How the people vote and for whom they vote is their own prerogative. Thus, this evidence is actually the fault of the people who are following certain voting patterns, not the fault of the inanimate Electoral College. Minorities do in fact have a voice with the Electoral College. Minorities can band together and form a coalition that wields a huge amount of political power. Their voting power may swing the election in a certain place, usually big cities.

The Electoral College also maintains the small-state advantage. The small-state advantage allows small states in the Union to have a say in the presidential election process. Without the promise of being able to make a difference in the election process, there is virtually no reason a small state should remain in the United States. Without any power in government, there would be no reason to stay. Again, without this, candidates only have to campaign in large influential areas and ignore everywhere else. This would discourage the small states and would lower voter turnout even more than it is now. Likewise, some would argue that the small-state advantage means that the small states have more voting power than large states. Along those same lines, the Electoral College quarantines and discourages fraud because of the sheer improbability and difficulty of fraud.

The Electoral College is the only thing that promises a definite winner in a campaign, discourages and quarantines fraud, and promises a swift and sure decision. There are even provisions that take effect when no one gains the necessary majority, again something that would be a failing in a direct popular vote. It provides a swift and orderly transition of power, and maintains the balance of the three branches of government and the separation between church and state.

On the other hand, While there are numerous reasons to keep the Electoral College, there are just as many reasons to abolish it. All of the above reasons can be refuted in an argument to abolish the Electoral College. For instance, many argue that the Electoral College is an antiquated system that was created to keep the people out of the government. There is no reason to keep the people out of government; people today are mainly well educated and literate-and not British insurgents. Thus, keeping the people out of the government, as the founders wanted, should no longer be an issue. There won't be any tyrannical majorities when everyone can read and think for themselves due to their education. For that matter, the ideals of democracy maintain that people should be involved in the government, not some oligarchical-esque system that gives the power to only a few individuals. The people should be allowed to directly elect their own officials and should not be forced to accept the will of a little more than 500 electors. This makes the will of the majority not important.

Many maintain that the main problem with the Electoral College is the fact that, built into its very structure, the president may be elected without ever gaining the popular vote. This means that the people of this country will not support the president; he will not have the essential national support, a critical backbone without which the president's term would be severely crippled.

Plus, it is argued that the Electoral College distorts presidential campaigns due to the fact that presidential campaigns would take place mainly in the swing states, meaning large developed and urban states would be the center of attention while the candidates ignored the other states. Small states and minorities have no power in this system in and of the fact that they do not hold enough power in the electoral system to have a significant impact. With their small amounts of electoral votes, campaigning in these states is not a priority, and although minorities can vote, their voices too are lost in the noise from the large states and the areas of affluence that are of interest to the candidates when campaigning.

Meanwhile, some opponents of the Electoral College even say that the small states are grossly overrepresented in Congress in the first place, and by giving them this extra power, the Electoral College is in actuality distorting the balance of power between the states and tipping the balance in the favor of the small states.

Perhaps the most important of all the points against the Electoral College is the fact that the college violates the one-vote one-person rule; each person's vote should count only as one person. However, when the state that the person is voting in has more electoral votes than another state, the power of those people voting in the first state would be more significant and have a greater impact on the overall election then the person voting in the second case. Their voting power becomes greater than the voting power of other individuals in other states, violating the principle that each person should have only one vote.

With this in mind, the electoral system is inherently unfair and unpredictable as well, considering that the electors do not have to vote the way their states "want" them too; they are human and voting privately. In a particularly close election a candidate may be able to sway the votes of some electors contrary to what the elector’s state "wanted." After all, they are human. With all these points in mind, the Electoral College does not seem like such a good idea.

All in all, after reviewing both sides of the controversy it is easy to understand why the government is so deadlocked over the issue of the Electoral College. Changing the system would require an amendment to the constitution, since this is the only way to change a stipulation of the document itself. Researchers theorize that this would wreak havoc on our system of government as it is fundamentally altered. However, some believe that the change would be for the better and America may actually begin to resemble the democracy that it purports itself to be. Obviously this is a controversy that will inevitably get more heated during the coming months but will not be resolved any time soon.

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