The electoral college or the american people?
The upcoming 2012 Presidential Election's have already drawn numerous criticisms amongst the American population. Candidate names are constantly being thrown around trying to find the best person fit to be the next President of the United States. With this going on, the debate on the electoral system is on the rise. For this paper, I will be analyzing the pros and cons of the Electoral College and how it affects American Society. By doing this I will be able to identify the commonalities amongst the American people that allow the arguments of a “flawed” electoral process to be explained and compared with the current successes of our system. The key points addressed would be:
- The historical background of the Electoral College
- The Electoral College representation breakdown amongst the 50 states
- Contributing factors to opposing the Electoral College
- 2000 Presidential Election between Vice President Al Gore and Governor George W. Bush
- Support that the current system works
At the 2004 democratic National Convention, Former Vice-President Al gore said “Let's make sure this time every vote is counted” (Gore, 2004). Many doubts have been raised on the effectiveness of the Electoral College. In fact, since its inception in 1788, over 700 proposals to reform or abolish the Electoral College have been introduced to Congress. Regardless, the Electoral College has been the only system in providing the victor in an American presidential election for over 200 years.
The Electoral College is the system, implemented by the fore fathers of the United States of America that allow the Presidential election process to be determined. Rather than electing a president by a tabulation of vote's nation- wide, the Electoral College uses a system of points also known as “Electoral Votes” that are counted state by state. Political parties choose electors in each state to represent their vote for the presidential candidate of their choice. Voters are in essence not voting directly for the president, but voting for the electors of their state, who will in turn vote for the presidential candidate they represent.
The number of electors each state has is in direct relation to the number of Senators and House Representatives that it holds in Congress. Each state has two electoral votes for the number of senators and one vote for each member it holds in the House of Representatives. More populated states have a greater number of votes compared to smaller states, including the District of Columbia, which may have a minimum of three votes. For example, California and New York have 55 and 31 electoral votes respectively, where as the Dakotas, Delaware, Montana, and several other lower population states have three votes apiece.
To win the presidency, a candidate must win an absolute majority, or half the votes plus one, which calculates to 270 electoral votes out of a total of 538 votes. With the exception of two states, the candidate with the majority of votes in the state wins all of the electoral votes of that state in a winner-take-all format. Nebraska and Maine employ the congressional district method, which may split the electoral votes of the state.
The 2001 elections raised many concerns concluding that the Electoral College may be a flawed system. The main arguments are concerning the possibility of the House of Representatives electing the president, the disproportion of value of the votes, the possibility of depressing voter turnout, the winner-take-all system, the chance of the winner not winning the election, and the possibility of "faithless" electors. However, proponents of the Electoral College state that it is a proven workable system, it discourages election fraud, and it preserves the two party systems.
In case of a tie or no candidate was able to receive an absolute majority of electoral votes, the Constitution provides for the vote to be moved to the House of Representatives, the chamber of Congress closest to the people. The winner is declared by majority vote out of the top three candidates from the electoral outcome.
Unfortunately this situation may cause much upheaval in the population but more importantly a lack of faith in the constitution. Many citizens would be dejected about the government choosing the president, further distancing the people from the election of the president. Along with the problems of the American people, numerous emotional actions may be brought up and left within Congress, from possible political bargaining and corruption resulting in a stalled agenda for the oncoming President. This is a highly possible event, many of which have only been enacted on a few occasions. “The House of Representatives has been required to choose the president only twice” (Berry & Schaffner, 2008, pg. 276).
It is shown that certain interest groups and minorities tend to amass in densely populated states and that the discussion on over-representation of these groups have “arisen because of their effects on these high electoral count state” (Diclerico & Hammock, 2008 pg. 114). This is a reason many voters are concerned as well. The “same inequality can be said about farmers controlling the electoral votes in rural areas, middle class suburbanites or any group who comprise 10% of the Electorate” (Diclerico & Hammock, 2001, pg. 113). The possible “political advantages” that may be introduced by these claims are also hard to prove. Diversity of the different interest and minority groups has made it quite implausible that a Presidential candidate can appeal to all groups simultaneously.
The electoral system may be biased in favor of some voters, however, bias thinking is a part of every system of election and this must be taken into consideration. The simple majority rule, which many opponents suggest as a replacement for the current system, also is biased.
The simple majority gives no representation to the voters who punched their ballots for the loser of the election. In this system, a possible 49.9% of voters may not have their voices heard. Moreover, the current system requires a distribution of popular support for a candidate to be elected; where as the large metropolitan areas would dominate over residents in rural areas in a direct election system. The issue is not that the Electoral College is unfair, but the fact that any scenario can be found to have inequality somehow.
Many feel that the current system discourages voters from going to the polls. Opponents of the system say that the disenfranchised people don't feel like they have any effect on the outcome of the election, and that there is an unnecessary barrier between the people and the president. There is no incentive in the states to encourage voter participation, but it would be hard to imagine the counter-incentive created by the elimination of the Electoral College. It seems that voters could be easily discouraged by a direct popular vote election, where voters have to put their one vote against 100 million other voters. Individuals in the electoral system are fighting to win the votes of the state against a smaller odd. The chance of having an effect on the election seems to be much higher in the current Electoral system.
Another proponent of the Presidential election is a “winner-take all” style of voting. The opposition feels that it is unfair to the voters who vote for the loser of the state to not have a voice in the election. Once again the afore-mentioned fairness is placed by perception. Some believe that a change of state legislature to a proportional plan of allocating electoral votes, like that of Nebraska and Maine, is a good way of altering the Electoral College, without having to change or amend the Constitution.
The proportional plan, or congressional district method, awards one electoral vote for each congressional district won within that state and two electoral votes for the winner of the overall popular vote in the state. While this plan seems to more accurately reflect the wishes of the population, it does not go without error. According to a study conducted by Clark Bensen of Polidata.org, if the congressional system was in use, George W. Bush would have clearly been the winner of the controversial 2000 election with a 288 to 250 victory over Al Gore. This further distances the Electoral votes from the popular vote. In terms of History, this method would also have reversed the outcome of the Kennedy vs. Nixon race in 1960, and would have sent the Ford vs. Carter decision of 1976 into the House of Representatives at a 269 to 269 deadlock.
Electors in 24 of the states are not bound by law to support the candidate selected by the voters. This is a raises a large concern for many Americans. The possibility that "faithless" electors can change the outcome of a race by voting against the state popular vote is a troubling reality that may cause more resistance towards the system. Hypothetically speaking, if two “faithless” electors had voted for Vice President Al Gore instead of Governor George Bush in the 2000 election, the election would have been sent to the House for a final decision. Historically speaking, looking at this predicament in another aspect will show that eight Electors in the past hundred years have voted astray from the state popular vote, the most recent individual being an Al Gore elector from the District of Columbia who left her ballot blank.
Most often their purpose was to make a symbolic political statement rather than try and make a difference in the election. Fact of the matter is there is no law once again binding an Elector to go with the State's Popular Vote. A federal law should be introduced and implemented to ensure that every state is holding that Elector to the accurate vote.
The most significant and ultimate opposition is that the winner of the popular vote may not win the electoral votes resulting in a “minority” president. This scenario is highly possible in the event that one Presidential candidate's popular support is concentrated in a few states while another candidate maintains a small margin of victories in enough states to receive the needed majority of electoral votes to win the election.
A large assessment of the Electoral College is the amount of value that is placed on votes from state to state. Some of the opposition feels that it is “unfair that every state receives three votes regardless of how small of a population it may have” (Diclerico & Hammock, 2001, pg. 108). Other opponents feel that the electoral system is unfair to the small and medium states because large population states like California have so many electoral votes. It is possible that if a candidate wins the 11 most populated states they will receive 271 Electoral Votes granting that individual the president of the United States. That is only 20% of the entire nation, what about the rest of the nation, shouldn't they have a say? Candidates will enable themselves to concentrate more on these larger states versus the smaller ones.
Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North and South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming have a total of 21 Electoral Votes with its approximately 2.35 million voting citizens in the 2008 Presidential Election while Florida on the other hand had over 8.2 million voting citizens and only has 27 Electoral Votes. The fact that the population of 7 states can not even come close to the population of one state, how is there equal representation and yet the total amount of Electoral Votes almost balance out? Are we really against the system or the apportionment of votes?
The one support of this situation is the infrequency or low possibility of its occurrence. This has happened only four times in American history including the most recent George Bush vs. Al Gore fiasco of the 2000 Presidential Election. According to the Federal Election Commission, Al Gore won 50,999,897 (48.38%) of the popular vote while George Bush won 50,456,002 (47.87%) of the total popular vote. But yet Al Gore received 267 Electoral Votes while George Bush won 271 votes granting him the Presidential Nomination for the United States of America.
The cause of this is so relevant to a tie which results in an election moving to the House are that of extreme political division in the country. It is difficult to imagine how a direct election or any other process could resolve such political unrest. Fault is not from the system of election, but rather does the equality of two relatively strong or, as in the case of this past election, weak candidates.
Despite the negative views, there are positive points to this often attacked form of Election. The Electoral College helps to discourage election fraud. There is little incentive for widespread election fraud in our current system where states with a relative small number of electoral votes have decided outcomes. Instead, chance of fraud is “localized in large states like New York or Illinois where presidential elections are often close and a large bloc of electoral votes may hinge on a few thousand votes” (Diclerico & Hammock, 2001, pg. 115).
However, in a direct popular election system, every vote has equal value and are therefore equally worth manipulating. Multiple voting, voting by the dead and imitation are a few possibilities, of which, instead of being limited to a few areas, may become widespread in a direct election system.
The Electoral College also helps to maintain “the advantage of the two major parties and to the detriment of minor parties” (Berry & Schaffner, 2008, pg.278). Under the existing system, a candidate must win numerous electoral votes. Winning a majority in many states takes a difficult political organization to be able to appeal to many different groups of people resulting in the two major parties. “Nonpartisan elections have been shown to depress voting turnout, advantage incumbents and [it] discourage[s] working-class and minority participation” (Janoski, T. 2005, pg. 275).
The Electoral College has proven to be a solid system of election. The system has accurately reflected the National popular will/voice in all but four elections in over 200 plus years that this nation has existed. “Winning a majority in many states takes a formidable political organization to be able to appeal to many different groups of people” (Diclerico & Hammock, 2001, pg. 115). Thus leaving us with the two major parties, which as a result tend to the center of public opinion rather than dozens of smaller political parties who cater to special interest groups, and conflicting extremist views.
Another aspect we must take into consideration is that the American political process is a strong system but isn't quite the best model for the electoral process in regards of corruption and outside influences. According to the website nation master, The United States of America is ranked 17th out of 160 countries while another website, Democracy Ranking has the United States at 16th out of 97 countries. These statistics alone show that America maybe the world's power house but yet have a glitch somewhere.
The concept of “people” having the right to elect their political candidate is a very true and realistic philosophy. When it comes to electing State and Local leaders, the people have a one for one vote. Fortunately this is a quality that is represented very accurately and consistent throughout history. Unfortunately when it comes to the main seat, the Presidency, the people are not accurately choosing the party nominee due to the Electoral College.
The Electoral College has tolerated and pushed on through numerous global conflicts as well as domestic challenges such as the Great Depression and even now an Economic collapse. Changes should be made if the consequences of the current system are severe and detrimental to the Country and her People, which currently is not. The Electoral College works, even if there is no alternative that can promise infallible results.
While the Constitution has been amended approximately 27 times in its history, vanquishing the Electoral College is not a likely occurrence. An amendment of the Constitution must be proposed by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress, and then ratified by three-fourths of the States. Even if the “super-majority” concept is in play in the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans are relatively equal in number in both houses of Congress, making such a radical change extremely difficult, to almost impossible to pass, but never say never.
The problem is that many people express their disapproval on any given subject without consideration of all the facts and consequences. There is no system out there that is problem free. Political changes do not always work as intended, and a change in the voting system will most likely bring real and consequential problems despite promises of perfection. Even if the system was changed, the number of critics of the system would not.
Criticism is the nature of this country, which is entitled by the right to freedom of speech. Criticism is always more apparent than praise, and opponents of any issue speak out more often than the proponents. The procedure in electing a president should be the least of anybody's concerns. When problems like Global Warming, pollution, the threat of nuclear war, homelessness, the depletion of the Earth's natural resources, drugs, terrorism, health care, the economy and fact that jobs do not currently exist, the doubts about the Electoral College are insignificant or even relevant, the American people are focused more on agenda that they can help control instead of debating every four years when a presidential election comes along.