Extended Controversial Issue Discussion Lesson Plan Should the Electoral College by abolished?

Arguments for the Electoral College

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Arguments for the Electoral College

Recognizing the strong regional interests and loyalties which have played so great a role in American history, those who are for the Electoral College argue that the system contributes to the cohesiveness of the country by requiring a distribution of popular support to be elected president. Without such a mechanism, they point out, the president would be selected either through the domination of one populous region over the others or through the domination of large metropolitan areas over the rural ones. Indeed, it is principally because of the Electoral College that presidential nominees are likely to select vice presidential running mates from a region other than their own. As things stand now, no one region contains the absolute majority (270) of electoral votes required to elect a president, forcing candidates to receive support from different regions of the country. One way or another, under the Electoral College the winning candidate must demonstrate both a sufficient popular support to govern as well as a sufficient distribution of that support from around the country in order to govern. 

Proponents also point out that, far from diminishing minority interests by depressing voter participation, the Electoral College actually enhances the status of minority groups. This is so because the voters of even small minorities in a State may make the difference between winning all of that State's electoral votes or none of that State's electoral votes. And since ethnic minority groups in the United States happen to concentrate in those States with the most electoral votes, they assume an importance to presidential candidates well out of proportion to their number. The same principle applies to other special interest groups such as labor unions, farmers, environmentalists, and so forth. Changing to a direct election of the president would therefore actually damage minority interests since their votes would be overwhelmed by a national popular majority. 

Proponents further argue that the Electoral College contributes to the political stability of the nation by encouraging a two party system. There can be no doubt that the Electoral College has encouraged and helps to maintain a two party system in the United States. This is true simply because it is extremely difficult for a new or minor party to win enough popular votes in enough States to have a chance of winning the presidency. This not only protects the presidency from impassioned but transitory third party movements, it also virtually forces third party movements into one of the two major political parties. Conversely, the major parties have every incentive to absorb minor party movements in their continual attempt to win popular majorities in the States. In this process of assimilation, third party movements are obliged to compromise their more radical views if they hope to attain any of their more generally acceptable objectives. Thus we end up with two large, practical political parties which tend to the center of public opinion rather than dozens of smaller political parties catering to divergent and sometimes extreme views.

Finally, the Electoral College maintains a federal system of government and representation. The reasoning is that in a formal federal structure, important political powers are reserved to the component States. The Electoral College was designed to represent each State's choice for the presidency (with the number of each State's electoral votes being the number of its Senators plus the number of its Representatives). To abolish the Electoral College in favor of a nationwide popular election for president would strike at the very heart of the federal structure laid out in our Constitution and would lead to the nationalization of our central government - to the detriment of the States. 

The fact is the original design of our federal system of government was thoroughly and wisely debated by the Founding Fathers. State viewpoints, they decided, are more important than political minority viewpoints. And the collective opinion of the individual State populations is more important than the opinion of the national population taken as a whole. Nor should we tamper with the careful balance of power between the national and State governments which the Founding Fathers intended and which is reflected in the Electoral college. To do so would fundamentally alter the nature of our government and might well bring about consequences that even the reformers would come to regret. For these many reasons, the Electoral college should remain as is. 

Summary of Arguments against and for the Electoral College

Those who oppose the Electoral College tend to argue against:

  • the possibility of electing a minority president: There are three ways in which a president can be elected without having the support of 50% of our country.

  • the risk of so-called "faithless" Electors: Members of the electoral college can technically go against the popular vote of their state

  • the possible role of the Electoral College in depressing voter turnout: Winner-take-all system leads to less people voting

  • its failure to accurately reflect the national popular will: third candidates can get as much as 25% of the popular vote yet receive 0 Electoral College Votes

Proponents of the Electoral College system normally defend it on the philosophical grounds that it:

  • contributes to the cohesiveness of the country by requiring a distribution of popular support to be elected President: You cannot become President without gaining support from different regions of our nation.

  • enhances the status of minority interests: Winner take all system means smaller groups take larger importance in close states

  • contributes to the political stability of the nation by encouraging a two-party system: system keeps more radical parties from ever gaining any power

  • maintains a federal system of government and representation: gives power to the individual states.

What It All Means:
The Mysterious Workings of the Electoral College (just for additional knowledge if needed)

By Jessica Reaves Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2000

Every time there is a close presidential election, there's a great rumbling across America. What is the electoral college and why don't we just cast our own darn votes directly? The question has been asked again and again — only to be forgotten by the time the next election cycle rolls around. This year, of course, the clamoring has reached epic proportions. With the election centering around a few voters in one state, there is the distinct possibility that one candidate could win the popular vote and yet lose the election. If you've been standing by and merely watching the fray because you don't feel you have enough of the facts to participate, your pacifist days are over. Here is the ammunition for the water cooler battles ahead:

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