The Electoral College



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The Electoral College

Over 200 years ago, when the forefathers of the United States were drafting the Constitution, they faced the dilemma of how to elect the highest-ranking official in the land. After throwing out such ideas as election by the Congress or by state legislatures, the framers developed the Electoral College. In this system, the president and vice-president of the United States are actually chosen by a group of electors. Each state is given the same number of electors as the sum of its senators and representatives to Congress. The 23rd Amendment gave the citizens of Washington D.C. the right to vote, so the total number of electors is 538, with a candidate needing 270 elector votes to win the election. The electors are usually party loyalists picked by state leaders, and whichever party’s candidate wins the popular vote in that state determines which party’s electors get to cast their votes. If a candidate wins the popular vote of state, in 48 states, he/she wins all that states elector votes; Maine and Nebraska are the only two states that split their votes. Electors actually cast their ballot on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December.

Every four years, when a new president and vice-president are elected, often a debate sparks up about the Electoral College and whether its use should be continued. As our country has found out in the 2000 is that when the election is very close, this system of electing our president and vice-president seems very inapt. Chaos and confusion can be created by the electoral system and can even affect the outcome of a close. The use of the Electoral College system of electing the president and vice-president should be discontinued, and the direct popular vote should be used to ensure that the outcomes of presidential elections are fair and certain.

I agree with supporters of the Electoral College when they argue that the system works well most of the time. I agree with its supporters on this aspect because, usually, elections aren’t close enough for there to be a difference between its results and those of the direct popular vote. Only in close elections, like the one of 2000, do large numbers of opponents appear in full force. Moreover, this year’s election is the first one in the century where the race has been close enough to make a difference between the two systems.

An argument made by supporters of the Electoral College is that it is a better system than direct popular vote would be because it forces the candidate to campaign in small states as to be able to win a majority of the electoral votes. However, I disagree because, no matter what system is used, the smaller states will always get the same amount of attention. For example, according to CNN, Iowa had 1,303,847 votes cast in the current election, which was 1.28% of the 101,664,960 total Americans that voted. Also, Iowa has seven electoral votes, which is 1.3% of the 538 electoral votes. Whichever system is used, the Electoral College or direct popular vote system, the votes from Iowa will make almost the same impact. Therefore, in close elections, like the recent one, where the electoral count and the popular vote are basically dead even, Iowa and other smaller states would get the same amount of attention regardless of which system is used.

Another point that Electoral College supporters argue is that the election process should not been changed because it was designed by the founding fathers in the Constitution. True, the Electoral College was created more than 200 years ago by our founding fathers. These famous men, especially James Madison, did not trust the public’s vote, and thus, were afraid to allow for direct election. However, one must understand that the United States, in 1776, was a brand new country, just beginning its life. It was a time when political parties didn’t exist and national campaigns did not exist; so therefore, everyone everywhere did not know all the candidates. To guard against the chance of no candidate receiving a majority of the votes, the framers installed the Electoral College. Now, 200 years later, our country has developed into a stable country with two major parties. The nation is hardly in danger of having a candidate not receive a wide majority of the votes, due to these two political parties. In the current election, for example, the two candidates from the major parties received 97% of the popular vote. With the minor parties receiving only 3% of the popular vote, this nation not in a position of having any election with a candidate not receiving a majority. Also, with all the types of media we have today that weren’t around 200 years ago, campaigns are very national. Each candidate spends millions of dollars so that every person knows about him/her and his/her views. Today, people can be granted the right to vote without our country being divided into several different pieces. When the Constitution was written, America needed an Electoral College, however, now the country’s development and stability has outgrown it.

As shown in the 2000 election, in tight elections, the Electoral College can be sorely inadequate. In the current election, as in others in the past, it is possible that the candidate who wins the popular vote won’t win the Electoral College vote. In this 2000 election, though it is still “too close to call”, it is very possible that Governor George W. Bush will win the presidency though vice-president Al Gore might win the popular vote. Prior to this year, three times in the nation’s history, the popular vote winner differed from the Electoral College vote winner. According to the Think Quest Library timeline, In 1824, John Quincy Adams won the presidency though he lost the popular vote to Andrew Jackson by 10.4%. However, because of the Electoral College system, Adams became the president. Rutherford B. Hayes did the same in 1876, when he beat out Samuel J. Tilden though Tilden won the popular vote by 3%. Finally, in 1888, Benjamin Harrison won the presidency by winning the electoral vote though losing the popular vote to Grover Cleveland by 0.8%. Imagine the implications if this happens again. To many people, the Electoral College is a mystery. They would be confused and outraged if the person who won the popular vote didn’t win the electoral vote. Also, the new president would face an uphill battle during his entire four years. He would be constantly fighting Congressmen, especially those from the other party, because many people would feel that he was unfairly elected. Also, other countries would possibly have a hard time dealing with the leader of the free world that wasn’t even actually chosen by the American people. All these scenarios express why having a president that didn’t win the popular vote actually elected would be trouble. However, under the current system, this has happened and likely could happen again.

Another major issue showing a weakness of the Electoral College is the fact that some states have more powerful votes than others do in the current system. Each state, regardless of its population, is guaranteed three electoral votes. In smaller states, there are fewer people per electoral vote. For example, according to CNN, in the 2000 election, Wyoming had 213,426 people vote. The candidate that wins the popular vote in Wyoming wins its three electoral votes. This adds up to one electoral vote for every 7,142 people. In the large state of California, 9,786,258 people voted in the 2000 election. The candidate that wins California’s popular vote wins all of its 54 electoral votes. In California, this means there is one electoral vote for every 181,282 people. In the small state of Wyoming, about 170,000 less people than in California accounts for one electoral vote. This means that Wyoming voters have more power per electoral vote than California voters do. Yet, if the direct popular vote was used, each vote would be worth the same; one person, one vote.

Since this system has been around for over 200 years, people in the past have been reluctant to change it in anyway. However, with the events surrounding the 2000 election, sentiments about it may change in the future. Before the election of 2000, the last time a popular vote outcome differed from the Electoral College outcome was more than a century ago; people in this day and age didn’t even realize it was possible. Since people have been exposed to the implications of using the current, out-dated system, reform might be easier to be passed than in the past. People now realize how important it would be to change the current presidential electing method to direct vote. Because the Electoral College system is included in the Constitution, in order to change the method to direct vote, an amendment would be required to change it. To pass an amendment through Congress, both houses must pass it with 2/3 of its members approving the amendment. Then, the amendment must be approved by at least 38 of the state legislatures.

As a concerned citizen, it’s up to you to end the use of this outdated system. It is too late to change the outcome of the 2000 election, however, you can stop any inaccurate outcomes from happening in the future. To get your vote to count in the future, an amendment must be passed to allow for the usage of the direct popular vote. However, you must contact your Congress members from your district to have this amendment started and passed in Congress. First, to find out who your Congress member is for your state or your district and how to contact him/her, visit the websites www.house.gov or www.senate.gov or call (202) 225-3121 for the U.S. House switchboard operator or (202) 224-3121 for the U.S. Senate switchboard operator. A different number of methods may be used to get your Congress member’s attention. Written communication is an effective way for you to contact him/her, such as: letters, faxes, and even e-mail. Also, petitions are a way to show your Congress member that there are more people that feel the same way you do. However you choose to contact your Senator or Representative, make your voice be heard so that your vote can be heard too!



Resources:

www.cnn.com

http://library.thinkquest.org/12587/contents/timeline

www.house.gov

www.senate.gov



Kelli Hromatka Ewald, English 105H, Section 12


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