The Electoral College Essay, Research Paper
Parenthetical Documentation and MLA format were both used on this paper.
In the past 200 years, many aspects of our society and those of the world have changed, ranging from social morals and ethics to technology. Through the great leaps and bounds technology has made, transferring information has gone from something that could have taken weeks to virtually an effortless and instantaneous norm of everyday life. This ease of information exchange has caused many things to change, be it the growing popularity of the Internet and e-mail or the ridiculous amount of television channels ever ready to inform the average citizen of the happenings around the community, state, country, and world. With so many changes taking place, one would think that all things of importance would also become modernized and updated, such as the way we elect our leaders. Yet, even today, the will of the people can go unrecognized in our electoral system due to a flaw that has been evident for over a century but never addressed. In an age where information is so easily transmitted, the Electoral College is outdated and should be replaced by a direct system that would give a more accurate account of the will of the people.
In the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia, an eleven-member group called the Committee on Unfinished Business set out to eliminate all small issues that arose from the holes that were found in the newly written constitution. One of the problems that they were to mull over was that of, “How a redesigned republic should choose its chief political administrator, an officer that the delegates referred to as the National Executive?” or what is commonly known today as the president (Solomon). James Madison, a brilliant politician of the time, proposed and outlined the idea of an indirect election system. This idea was strongly supported and put into action. The Electoral College was born. The entire point of modeling the Electoral College as it came to be was not to take power away from the people, but to rather ensure that Congress didn’t ever have absolute or strong power over election results. As stated so eloquently by Martin Diamond in his 1977 book on the Electoral College, “(The Electoral College was) simply the most practical means by which to secure a free, democratic choice of an independent and effective chief executive,” (Solomon).
One might question why the country didn’t just begin to elect their presidents with a direct election system. Was the idea never suggested? On the contrary, it was suggested before that of the Electoral College. The main reason the thought wasn’t taken seriously is because, “…the worry was that, in a vast country with fitful communications, ordinary citizens were likely to know next to nothing about would-be Presidents from afar. Someone in, say, Georgia ‘would be unable to assess the qualifications’ of an aspiring President from Massachusetts, and thus couldn’t vote intelligently,” (Solomon). “The prospect of a direct popular vote also upset the small states, which spent the entire Constitutional Convention trying to stop the populous, powerful states (such as Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts) from taking over. When Gouverneur Morris suggested that the President “ought to be elected by the people at large,” Roger Sherman of Connecticut offered a Bronx cheer. “The people at large,” he contended, according to Madison’s notes of the deliberations, “…will generally vote for some man in their own state, and the largest state will have the best chance for the appointment.”
“The framers (of the Electoral College) assumed that, once the uniquely unifying figure of George Washington accepted and then gave up the presidency, his would-be successors would have regional but not national support” (Solomon). A variety of things had to be taken into account when considering what exactly could have and should have been done in regards as to how to elect the country’s most powerful leader. In the end, it was decided that the Electoral College was a way to closely represent the nation’s feelings about an election while at the same time, ensuring the choice made would be in the country’s best interest.
Though this system was decided upon and thought to be the best, it was soon revealed that it had some flaws that needed attention afforded them. It was found that in theory, a candidate could win the popular vote yet lose the electoral vote and hence, lose the election. Though this instance is rare, it has happened twice in the Electoral College’s 213-year history. To have such a thing happen once should have provoked enough public outrage to ensure the system’s downfall, but this did not happen. Instead, the problem went unaddressed until over 100 years later when it finally happened a second time. How is this possible one might ask? If candidate A win 10 states with a combined total of 20 million votes, but candidate B wins 9 states with a combined 30 million votes. Even though candidate B might be largely ahead in the popular vote, he might be close to or losing to candidate A in the electoral vote.
Another problem that was found in this system is that the electors, being those who actually have one of the currently 538 votes for president are not obligated to vote as they are told by anything (Toner 12). It is perfectly legal. This flaw is perhaps the scariest of all because it involves the most corruptible and inconstant part of the system, people. By choosing others to vote as the people wish them to, a risk is taken that one or more might just vote anyway they darn well please in order to advance their own personal agendas or for any number of other reasons. As stated by Judis, “…the electoral college increasingly distorts the electoral process itself by encouraging candidates to focus on certain states to the exclusion of others, deluging them and their ‘swing voters’ with advertising. Some small states worry that if the Electoral College were eliminated they would be neglected by presidential candidates, but most of the swing states tend to be large ones rather than small ones (which are not worth the trouble)”(Judis 10). Yet again, the paranoid notion that small states might lose the voice currently possessed restrains the overall ability of the country to adapt its election system with the 21st century.
Even with all of these problems, no changes have been made. Why? Its not like there haven’t ever been any efforts to change. For example, in 1969, an effort to abolish the Electoral College was sent to the House and passed overwhelmingly. This effort also had the support of the president, but was filibustered immensely and killed with a 52-48 vote in the senate. (Cohen) The two-thirds majority wasn’t reached and the issue was left to sit until 1997 when a man by the name of LaHood managed to get a hearing for the proposed elimination of the Electoral College in the House Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee. The panel’s chairman, Charles J. Canady, said, “There are indeed potential problems with the current manner in which we elect our president…(and the public) would not understand the election of a president who had not received the most votes in the election”(Cohen). However, once it was determined the current system was supposedly doing a good job, no further action was taken.
Should America ever do away with the Electoral College, who would benefit and who wouldn’t? In other words, would the ends justify the means? Areas where population is higher would still receive the most political attention and those places more sparsely populated would still be brushed aside. “It is true that the strategy and tactics employed to win the White House would become more complicated, and that the law of unintended consequences might rule. Under a popular-vote scheme, there are almost as many possibilities for gaining a majority, as there are media markets in the country. The rewards of winning decisively in states that are part of a candidate’s home base also raise a worry: Sympathetic local polls might be tempted to try to tip the scales. “Vote fraud would be at a premium,” said former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour. “You get into a state that you are going to carry by a large margin, there’s not much incentive to run up the score today. Ninety percent turnout in some precincts matters a lot more if it’s a straight popular vote.” “It would be a free-for-all,” said Jeffrey Bell, a Republican presidential campaign strategist who is a principal at Capital City Partners, a political and policy consulting firm in Washington. “People would be tempted to say, `to hell with the party. I’ll enter the primaries. That gives me recognition. Then I’ll look at my options.’ ” Direct elections might significantly empower any alternative party that had the organizational power and money to get some altitude nationally. “The winner-take-all system discourages third parties,” said L. Sandy Maisel, a professor of government at Colby College. Smith College’s Gold added: “It could enhance the influence of third parties on the major parties, especially if you move to a system of runoffs”(Simendinger).
So, other than there being a more accurate depiction of the will of the people, how would the new system be beneficial? One man, Sen. Birch Bayh, claims that direct election would place more power in the hands of African-Americans. Is this true and if so, how? Bositis, an African-American political analyst thinks so. “His logic: African-Americans, who make up big parts of the electorate in some Southern states (Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia), would have more say because those states are not now in play between the parties; without the Electoral College, “urban areas in big states will dominate [and] that happens to be where blacks live.” Blacks in New York and California (states now taken for granted as Democratic terrain) would get much more attention from all parties if voters, rather than states, were the currency”(Simendinger). Changing the system as such could have many effects such as Politicians might have to approach their campaigning in a very different light. Whichever dominant group may be around at the time, whether they are religious, ethnic, or other, would almost surely control the views and beliefs of the candidates. Little things like that do not necessarily favor anyone except the majority. So, for every good part about changing, there is an equally bad one in most cases, but not all. It makes the question of changing a matter of which way isn’t perfect but rather more tolerable. When it comes right down to it, there is nothing to be accomplished through talking about it so it a change conceivable or nothing more than a na?ve dream? At this time, a change is almost a virtual impossibility. With the system that is in place now, those states who are less populated have a small way to sort of even the score through the two electoral votes each gets for having two senators. With the majority of the states looking at it from this standpoint, as states, each might have more to lose rather than gain, but what about the United States as a entire community?
If abolishment isn’t a realistic possibility, then there are many other ways in which the Electoral College could be reformed to be better. Some of these might include: “A direct-vote approach. If no candidate receives 40% of the popular vote, there will be a runoff between the top two, a district plan, awarding two electoral votes to a state’s popular- vote leader and the others to the winner in each congressional district. Maine has used this method since 1972, and Nebraska since 1992, a proportional method, dividing each state’s electoral vote to mirror its popular vote. This also does away with the winner-take- all nature of counting electoral votes which is inconsistent with the “one-man, one-vote” principle, majority-preference voting. Voters rank their preferences. If no candidate wins more than 50%, then the bottom voter-getter is eliminated and the second choices of voters are redistributed. The process is repeated until a candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, a “national bonus plan” that would maintain the Electoral College but add 102 electoral votes to the existing total of 538 and award all of the bonus votes to the national popular-vote winner”(Readers 20). With so many possibilities, it is a wonder that a system so flawed could be in practice for so long. What would happen if the Electoral College were eliminated is that presidential elections would become national events fought over network television. More of the contest would become like the debates–which are, for all their faults, the educational and philosophical high points of our presidential election campaigns. Eliminating the Electoral College and nationalizing presidential elections could promote the proper use of the 14th and 15th Amendments by guaranteeing that each citizen enjoys equal access to voting opportunities through uniform ballots and voting machinery, and the availability of polling places.(Judis) Understandably, with a new system, a much greater importance would be placed on making sure that all votes cast for any one candidate were good votes and not those of the dead or unregistered or anything of the sort. To catch cheaters, one would need more sophisticated forms of voting stations which could cost billions of dollars and all in all, one could argue that to get a slightly better electoral process rather that the elusive and nonexistent perfect one for the cost would be extremely impractical. That is not for anyone person to judge but rather for a society to consider just how important they consider the true will of the people to be.
When the issue of whether or not to reform the Electoral College is up for discussion, all those considering the question must take many things into account. Are the alternatives that much better than the current system? And if so, which alternative would be best and beyond that, most cost efficient? If there were ever to be a direct election system, the more careful monitoring required would cost a lot of money and manpower. Are these things when weighed against the pros so incredibly lob sided that the current system must stand? If there was a massive overhaul to the way presidents are elected, who would be benefited? Those most directly benefiting would be the blacks and areas of large population. The benefit to the large population areas would be nothing new but give the blacks and other racial minorities a more powerful voice would be good. It would in essence be another step towards true racial equality and hence, benefit the country as well as the world through uniting of the citizens at large. On top of all of that, there would be a more accurate representation of the wishes of the masses in the United States when it came down to electing a new president. The people would feel as though their vote was important so voter turn out would be greater and this would also help to show the opinions of more Americans in elections than previously so that in reality, the newly elected president would more likely than not truly show the will of the people as the masses intended to. Without reform, presidents will come and go, and each time, the question of was that man deservedly president or did he just get in by a flaw in the system. In most cases, it will never be known but this much is true, as a society, America needs to take elections of leaders more seriously and ensure in the future the person in the oval office is who deserves to be there.
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Coy, Peter. “Election 2000: Consider the Alternatives” Business Week 04 Dec. 2000: 126.
Greenfield, Jeff. “Election 2000/Electorl College Debate: The Hidden Beauty of the System: It Gives the States a Chance to be Heard, but the Electoral Voting should be Automatic” Time 20 Nov. 2000:66.
Judis, John B. “Shut Down the College” American Prospect 12 no. 1 1-15 Jan. 2001:10-11.
“The Right Way to Elect a President?” Business Week 11 Dec. 2000: 20.
Simendinger, Alexis, Barnes, James A., and Cannon, Carl M. “Pondering a Popular Vote” National Journal 18 Nov. 2000.
Solomon, Burt. “What Were They Thinking?” National Journal 18 Nov. 2000.
Toner, Robin. “The Old College Try” New York Times Upfront 133 no. 8 11 Dec. 2000: 12-13.