Electorasl College Essay, Research Paper
The Electoral College: Is Attendance Smart?
A common misconception among Americans is that when they vote they elect the President. The truth is not nearly this simple. What in fact happens when a person votes is that their vote goes for an Elector. This Elector (who is selected by the respective state in which a vote is cast) casts ballots for two individuals, the President and the Vice-President. Each state has the same number of electors as there are Senate and House of Representative members for that State. When the voting has stopped the candidate who receives the majority of the Electoral votes for a state receives all the electoral votes for that state. All the votes are transmitted to Washington, D.C. for tallying, and the candidate with the majority of the electoral votes wins the presidency. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, the responsibility of selecting the next President falls upon the House of Representatives. This elaborate system of Presidential selection is thought by many to be an 18th century anachronism (Hoxie p. 717), what it is in fact is the product of a 200 year old debate over who should select the President and why.
In 1787, the Framers in their infinite wisdom, saw the need to respect the principles of both Federalists and States Righters (republicans) (Hoxie p. 717). Summarily a compromise was struck between those who felt Congress should select the President and those who felt the states should have a say. In 1788 the Electoral College was indoctrinated and placed into operation. The College was to allow people a say in who lead them, but was also to protect against the general public’s ignorance of politics. Why fear the peoples ignorance of politics? It was argued that the people, left to their own devices could be swayed by a few designing men to elect a sovereign or fanatic (McManus p. 19). With the Electoral College in place the people
could make a “screened decision” about who the highest authority in the land was to be (Bailey & Shafritz p. 60); at the same time the fear of the newly formed nation being destroyed by a fanatic could be put to rest because wiser men had the final say.
200 years later the system is still designed to safeguard against the ignorant capacities of the people. The Electoral College has remained relatively unchanged in form and function since 1787, the year of its formulation. This in itself poses a problem because in 200 years the stakes have changed yet the College has remained the same. A safeguard against a fanatic may still be relevant, but the College as this safeguard has proved flawed in other capacities. These flaws have shed light on the many paths to undemocratic election. The question then is what shall the priorities be? Shall the flaws be addressed or are they acceptable to a system that has effectively prevented the rise of a dictatorship for 200 years? To answer we must first consider the possibility of an unfaithful elector and a numbers flaw of past events that could have occurred as a result of this decisive Electoral College.
Unfaithful Elector: Under the current processes of the Electoral College, when a member of the general electorate casts a vote for a candidate he is in fact casting a vote for an Electoral College member who is an elector for that candidate. Bound only by tradition this College member is expected to remain faithful to the candidate he has initially agreed to elect. This has not always happened. In past instances Electoral College members have proved to be unfaithful. This unfaithful elector ignores the will of the general electorate and instead selects a candidate other than the one he was expected to elect (McGaughey, p. 81). This unfaithfulness
summarily defeats all the votes for a candidate in a particular district. In all fairness, it is important to note that instances of unfaithful electors are few and far between, and in fact 26
states have laws preventing against unfaithful electors (McGauhey, p.81). Despite this, the fact remains that the possibility of an unfaithful elector does exist and it exists because the system
is designed to navigate around direct popular election of the President.
The Numbers Flaw: The unfaithful elector is an example of how the popular will can be purposely ignored. The example I have shown below reveals how the will of the people can be unintentionally passed over due to flaw of design.
(a) 6/b(4) | (a)6/b(6) Candidate a: 18 | Candidate b: 22
| Electoral Votes
(a)6/b(4) | (a)0/b(10) Candidate a: 3 Candidate b: 1
In this theoretical example candidate (a) receives a minority of the popular votes with 18, but a majority of the electoral votes with three. Candidate (b) receives a majority of the popular votes with 22, but receives only one electoral vote. Under the winner-take-all system, the candidate with the majority of the electoral votes not only wins the state but also receives all the electoral votes for that state. In this hypothetical situation candidate (a) receiving a minority of the popular votes wins the state and takes all the electoral votes. The acceptability of this denial of the popular will, unintentional or otherwise, is questionable to say the least.
With most polls pointing toward a close presidential election on Nov 7, 2000, it was being asked if it is likely the candidates with the greater popular vote could lose? (Lauer).
Indeed they could, because even when one ticket wins “big” in certain states, narrow wins by the opposition in other states, under our winner-take-all system, could allow the party with the lesser popular vote to prevail in the Electoral College.
The Electoral College – wrapped in the Constitution and, almost impossible to change – long has been criticized by those favoring democratic over republican principles. Also, because the allocation of electoral votes is based on data from the last census now 10 years old – it cannot allow for recent population migrations. Even more serious, the winner-take-all provision effectively disenfranchises the “losing” party in every state. If Al Gore were to win California by a whisker in the popular vote, he nevertheless would receive all of that state’s 54 electoral votes (Connoly). Statistical analysis by one scholar, Charles W. Bischoff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, suggests that in an election as close as the one between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960, or that between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford in 1976, there is an even chance that the electoral count will contradict the popular vote. Indeed, this already has happened three times and is termed a minority presidency.
The first instance in which the popular vote was overturned was in 1824. None of the four presidential candidates from the fledgling parties of that day gained a majority in either the popular vote or the Electoral College. As a result, the issue was turned over to the House of Representatives. There, after much wheeling and dealing, the presidency was awarded to John Quincy Adams, despite the fact his popular vote was far below that of Andrew Jackson. Charges he had been elected by a “corrupt bargain” plagued Adams throughout his single term.
The second minority presidency resulted from an equally controversial election in 1876. At that time federal troops still occupied many of the former Confederate states, and in some of them the voting had been accompanied by bribery, intimidation and violence. On the day after
the election, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes appeared to have defeated Democrat Samuel J. Tilden by a single vote in the Electoral College, even while losing the popular balloting by more
than 250,000 votes. But four states, all but one in the South, sent in competing sets of returns, and it was up to Congress to determine which were valid. After weeks of acrimonious debate, the two houses of Congress agreed on an electoral commission to settle the matter. Although supposedly bipartisan, the commission may have been secretly stacked in favor of the Republicans. In any case, when the commission voted it awarded all of the contested ballots to the Republicans by an 8-7 vote and Hayes won the election by a single electoral vote.
Having lost in the popular vote, Hayes brought no mandate to the Oval Office. The stench of fraud that accompanied his election was even more damaging; the honest Ohioan was referred to by Democrats as “His Fraudulency;’ and enjoyed scarcely more respect in his own party. When Hayes left office in 1881, one wag observed he had come in with an electoral majority of one but departed by unanimous consent.
The third instance in which a president was elected without a popular majority was the least controversial. President Grover Cleveland had broken the Republicans’ 24-year hold on the White House in 1884 but had done little to ingratiate himself with the public. The Republicans chose Benjamin Harrison of Indiana to run against Cleveland in 1888 and made the country’s perceived need of a protective tariff their flagship issue. Cleveland was charged with being a closet free-trader, and the Democratic rebuttal was ineffectual, in part because Cleveland believed it unseemly for a president to campaign actively for re-election.
On Election Day, Harrison received 90,000 fewer popular votes than his opponent, but won comfortably in the Electoral College. When the grateful Harrison told one Pennsylvania politician that “Providence has given us the victory,” the Pennsylvanian assured reporters that
Providence had had nothing to do with it. Cleveland’s revenge came four years later, when he became the first and only president to regain the Oval Office after being defeated for re-election.
If this year’s election should see the electoral winner fall short in the popular vote, the reactions are quite predictable. The losers will complain loudly that the people’s will has been disregarded and that the Electoral College should have been abolished long ago. But will the new president be seriously damaged by this type of victory? I think he will.
For the past eight years Bill Clinton has maintained good job performance ratings despite scandals. He was able to keep a thin majority of the popular vote in both 1992 and 1996. The presidency is such an important office that it confers a huge degree of prestige on any incumbent. If the Electoral College of today were to elect for president a candidate who had lost in the popular voting, it could diminish the presidential office and further erode popular confidence in government. (Page). Nevertheless, political bosses in states such as California and New York are unlikely to change a system that is an important part of their political power.
Yet, despite the current upward spike in public outrage at the Electoral College, an amendment to do away with it faces an uphill fight. The Electoral College has been assailed more often than any other item in the Constitution. More than a hundred attempts have been made to change it. Yet, it endures. One big reason is politics, another, the media.
Politically, states value their self-importance. If the popular vote decided elections, the smaller states fear they would be ignored even more than they are ignored now. Smaller states would not be courted to. Presidential campaigns would be waged even more on television, not in the flesh. I think the Electoral College could compromise to survive and be reformed into a body that is more responsive to the public’s will. Here’s some suggestion on the possibility.
First, every state should pass laws to require electors to vote for the candidate their constituents sent them to vote for. Only about half the states have such a requirement now.
Second, instead of winner-take-all elections in which all of a state’s electoral votes go to the candidate who wins most of the state’s votes, states should award their votes proportionately to the number of votes various candidates received in each state. Excellent examples are Maine and Nebraska. These two states award two votes to the candidate who wins the most votes statewide and gives the rest of the votes to the winner of each congressional district. The Committee for the Study of the American Electorate has become a leader in suggesting that other states adopt similar systems. If electoral votes were awarded by district instead of by state, they would reflect the popular vote more closely. They would also create more of an incentive for candidates to visit states they otherwise might ignore because they are viewed as their opponent’s territory. People would be solicited at a district level for their votes, not at a state level or a national level where the use of today’s powerful media plays an incredibly dominant role. The political problem with voting by district these days is that it would disadvantage Democrats. Their votes tend to be concentrated in fewer districts in or near big cities than Republicans are. In this year’s debacle, for example, Rob Richie, executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy, estimates that Bush probably won 25 more House districts than Gore did and almost four times more counties.
Richie’s organization favors direct elections. But he suggested another compromise; states could award electoral votes the way political parties choose their delegates, which is by the proportion of the actual vote each candidate has won in each state. That would eliminate the objections of any party that might feel cheated by redistricting maps. Another advantage to proportional representation is that it does not have to wait for Congress.(Hoar 25). Each state
has the power to adapt some version of a vote-by-district scheme, just as Maine and Nebraska have done. In fact, Richie noted, Florida came within a few votes of passing such a measure a
decade ago. The failure of that measure looks ironic today. When I look at the system as a whole, I believe the media is the report card and the Electoral College has failed.
I have thought about today’s media and my vote. How much does my vote really count? As a voter, does choice really matter? How much influence does the media have on my vote? How many choices does the media actually make when it comes to our nation’s leadership? These are questions pondered by both political scientists and the average American citizen each year as the second Tuesday in November approaches.
We know that the framers founded this nation on the principles of representing it’s citizens, and on the ideals of a nation for the people and by the people; it is obvious that the people feel that their vote doesn’t always count. How much does your vote really count? Does your choice really matter? According to the framers, your choice does matter. They said that one man equals one vote. Congress also seems to believe that the individual American vote should count. They have passed Amendments to the Constitution in order to give more people the chance to vote and the chance to make a choice of their representatives through primary elections. But why then do the people actually directly elect so few officials?
Perhaps they agree with the ideas of Converse and Lane and are using voting only as a way to attempt to get the citizens out of the voting slump they seem to be in. Converse stated that voters are minimally informed, minimally capable, and therefore incompetent of voting. Lane claims that this is not the problem, but that instead, voters are simply lazy in their ideology.(Muraca) I tend to agree with both, but I don’t feel that the fault lies on the shoulders
of the people. Rather, I feel that the burden of voter incompetence lies on the shoulders of the media. Voters are not uninformed, but they are limited in the amount in information that they
posses. The reason that this information is limited is because of the media. Media makes the choice everyday what they do and do not want the public to know. The power to make the choice of our knowledge rests in their hands. Without the information they pass on from day to day, we, as voters know nothing about the happenings of our government. Yet on more than one occasion the media has held back information that could be crucial to decisions we make about our democracy. A prime example occurred during the Gulf War.
Thousands of our nation’s men and women were fighting for their country, yet the media limited the amount of information that they chose to pass on to the public. I know because I was there and my family at home had no clue as to what was transpiring in the region. Each day the media is faced with the choice of making decisions of what news to pass on, when that news could make a significant difference in someone’s life, or in the fate of our nation. How much does the media effect your choices in voting? When we first ask this question, we think of the obvious. The media informs us of candidates, their personal backgrounds, their ideology, their stances on issues, things they do in the community they represent, and the platform on which they plan to run. However, once they get past the initial introduction, they “tend to be highly critical of politicians; they consider it their job to find inaccuracies in fact and weakness in argument.” (Janda et al., 192)
The media forces the faults of politicians on us, seldom speaking of the positive aspects from that point on. This, in turn, gives the voters a negative vision of their representatives as leaders. If faults are constantly being pointed out, voters begin to think that all politicians are
incompetent and unable, and therefore see no need to vote. The media does not intentionally force these negative views upon the mass public; rather they point out the faults because it
makes a better story.
Although the media does not directly create or change opinions, it tells the public what to think about. By using priming techniques (CNN), we can see the media directly swaying the direction of the voters’ choices. By looking simply at these facts we can see that the media is quite possibly the most influential tool available to regulate voter choice. How many choices does the media actually make when it comes to choices in leadership? The media doesn’t stop with making attempts to sway voter choice. As citizens, the framers entrusted everyday citizens with the right to influence the actions and fate of our government, even if only through a small article in the newspaper. Even though they did give the media this right, and we as citizens the right to use it, they still found fault with the nation as a whole. Otherwise, citizens would have been given the chance to directly elect those they feel represent them the best (Shepard). The question of why they did this remains, but the fault lies at the feet of the media for keeping the citizens left uninformed and unable to cast a reasonable vote.
With the influence of the media by no means ignored, the shortcomings of the Electoral College system discussed are only a few of many flaws that can be found. Other flaws include the bias toward small and large states, which gives other states a disproportionate advantage; The bias toward those who live in urban areas and therefore enjoy a stronger vote than those living in sparsely populated areas (Bailey & Shafritz p. 63). The list of flaws is extensive. The question that still remains is whether or not the flaws are extensive enough to warrant change?
The Electoral College has successfully provided the U.S. with its Presidents for 200 years and has done so without allowing the ascension of a fanatical dictator or ruler who became
elected in a whirlwind of popular sentiment. But in the process of 200 years of electing the College has, at times, allowed the will of the people to be compromised. Granted at the time of
the 1800 elections the College was young and its shortcomings were not entirely clear. 200 years later the flaws have revealed themselves or have been revealed in various fashion.
The question remains; are these flaws acceptable considering the duty the Electoral College performs? If the purpose of the College is to provide democracy and prevent sentimentally elected leaders then its continuance seems uncertain. The media communications available in our country at present eliminate many of the framers fears. The U.S. has seen no real fanatics elected and the evidence highlights that the flaws of the Electoral College, combined with the unpredictable power of today’s media are responsible for democratic compromise. The shortcomings of the College are self-defeating to the purpose of the College. If the people can see this is true, then it is not necessarily time for removal of the College, but definitely time for reform.