the US Electoral College- To reform or not to reform?

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Someone posed this riddle- what college has no walls, no tuition, and no students? The Answer is the US Electoral College. It's members meet in the 50 State Capitols and not together under one roof.

The founding fathers of the
United States of America faced a very difficult question at the birth of that nation. How much power could they entrust with the people, and how much with representatives?

The Electoral College system was chosen over a direct vote system. They instituted a series of checks and balances and wrote into the United States Constitution an
Electoral College
process. They also wanted to avoid disrupting the delicate balance of power between states.

One reason for the existance of the Electoral College is that a hand full of states could steal the election if it were the direct vote which was certified. The top ten states by population shown in the 2000 census were

  • California
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • Michigan
  • New Jersey
  • Georgia
. That census listed 152 Million people in those states or 54 percent of the US population. Direct vote certification would give an advantage to these ten states. I am not convinced that that is wrong.

The Twelth Amendment

The Constitutyion has been amended

Further History

Someone once said" Those who will not learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them." Some may consider the election of 1824 a mistake.
Andrew Jackson won the popular vote but he was up against a man whose family was already entrenched. So John Quincy Adams was selected to be our fifth president. Four years later Jackson got his turn and became president.
Then in 1876 Rutherford B Hayes won the Electoral vote. He did so because all the small states were for him while the more populous ones went for Samuel Tildon. It was proof that the Electoral College did what it was designed to do- empower states equally regardless of their density.
Then in 1888 another mistake was made when Benjamin Harrison lost by 95,713 votes in the popular election but carried the Electoral College by 65. This denied a popular president Grover Cleveland
re-election. Four years later Cleveland got his second term.
Which brings us to the twenty-first Century. During the 2000 Election George W Bush carried the electoral college by a vote of 271-266 losing the popular vote by about 538 thousand out of 104 million votes cast. Like John Quincy Adams his family had already had one president.Four years later Bush won both the direct popular vote and the Electoral College Vote.

Fundamental Flaws

Ever since grade school children in the US have been taught the "one person-one vote" principle, and the idea that everyone has an equal voice in our government. This has never been the case in the US Presidential Elections. For example, each electoral vote in Alaska is equivalent to about 112,000 people. Each electoral vote in New York is equivalent to about 404,000 people; and that is if everyone votes! Moreover, the electoral vote does not does not reflect the volume of voter participation. If only a few voters go to the polls, all electoral votes are still cast! How many voters actually select the president? Under the assumption that all states used the winner-take-all system, all Electors were faithful, there are only two candidates, and if a candidate lost a state the candidate received no votes, then a President could be elected with only 22% of the national popular vote. If there were three candidates, it would require only 15% of the popular vote. The Electoral College gives the power to select a president to a few, and gives power to the two major political parties. A third party vote is seen as a wasted vote, because it is nearly impossible for a third party to win a majority in a state, let alone a majority of the nation. The Electoral College is unfair to third parties, and those persons excluded in the election process.

Possible reform

Voters today are no longer being misinformed or easily misled. One would think that this would render the Electoral College all the more obsolete, nevertheless when problems arose with the 2000 vote the system had an answer to each of these new wrinkles revealing a flexibility unthought of in earlier elections. Newspapers, television and even websites like
President Elect keep the electorate informed and updated on what is happening. But if one thinks there is a problem then how do you fix it?
One possible solution to the problem would be to fix the allocation of delegates to the Electoral College differently. For example, the states hold a popular election, then the candidates receive electoral votes based on percentage (Like the Colorado model given above). If then a state had ten electoral votes, and Candidate A received 70% of the popular vote, Candidate B received 18%, and Candidate C received 12%, then Candidate A would receive seven electoral votes, Candidate B two, and Candidate C one. In a worst case scenario a president could be elected with a minimum of 42% of the popular vote. Another more recent suggestion is to have the states split their Electoral votes so that they would cast one vote for each congressional district (representing the candidate who won that district) and then have two extra delegates who would be pledged to the winner of that state's popular vote.

Another idea is to have an instant runoff. Each voter would rank the candidates for example Reform Party=1 Green Party=2 Democrat=3 Republican=4 Libertarian Party=5 Then if nobody gets fifty percent the candidate (or Party) with the least votes is eliminated and the votes retabulated with the voters next choice substituted. When this is reduced to two candidates(or parties)a clear winner emerges and he gets the electoral votes. For More on instant runoffs see the article on Voting Methods

Final Thoughts

Of course it is still possible to ammend the Constitution. However,there are thirty-nine generally smaller states in the US. These states hold a majority in the Senate, and likewise hold a majority in ratifying an ammendment to the Constitution. They do not want states like New York and California deciding who will be president and electing someone like Samuel Tilden. And since these thirty-nine states have the advantage now they are not about to give it up by going to a direct popular vote. The founders of this nation would be amazed at how well the system they devised is working two hundred years later. Small revisions will continue long into the twenty first century but the basic institution of the Electoral College will continue to endure.



Voting Methods

A Democratic perspective on the 2000 Election in the US

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