Proponents: “It’s what the Founders wanted!”



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Reading Material on the Electoral College

Proponents vs. Opponents—Summaries

PROPONENTS:

It’s what the Founders wanted!”


Under the Electoral College system it is possible for a candidate to lose the nationwide popular vote, yet be elected president by winning only in 11 key states. What could the framers of the Constitution have been thinking in 1787?! They realized that this system took the power to select the American president out of the hands of the American people. They intended for the states—not the people—to select the president. The collective opinion of the individual state populations is more important than the opinion of the national population taken as a whole. We shouldn’t tamper with the careful balance of power between 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 may bring about consequences that even the reformers would come to regret. The Framers were political geniuses who knew what they were doing and created a constitution that has functioned for two centuries.

It maintains a federal system of government and representation.”


In a federal structure, important political powers are reserved to the component states. The House of Representatives was designed to represent the states according to the size of their population. The states are given the power of drawing the district lines for those House seats. The Senate was designed to represent each state equally regardless of its population. And 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 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. Indeed, if we become obsessed with government by popular majority as the only consideration, should we not then abolish the Senate which represents states regardless of population? If there are reasons to maintain state representation in the Senate and House as they exist today, then surely these same reasons apply to the choice of president. Opponents will argue that the Electoral College over-represents rural populations, but the Senate over-represents rural populations as well. Again, does that mean we should abolish the Senate on these grounds? If not, then why should such an argument be used to abolish the lesser case of the Electoral College?

Contributes to the cohesiveness of the country by requiring a distribution of popular support to be elected president.”


Without the Electoral College, the president would be selected through the domination of one populous region over the others or through the domination of large metropolitan areas over the rural ones. Candidates must build a popular base that is geographically broader and more diverse in voter interests rather than simply focusing on the highly populated areas.

Contributes to the political stability of the nation by encouraging a two-party system.”


The Electoral College maintains a two-party system 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 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. 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, pragmatic political parties which tend to the center of public opinion rather than dozens of smaller political parties catering to divergent and sometimes extremist views. A direct popular election would be unstable and there would be more radical changes in policies from one administration to the next. The Electoral College, in contrast, encourages political parties to coalesce divergent interests into two sets of coherent alternatives. Such an organization leads to the political stability of the nation.

OPPONENTS:

It can fail to accurately reflect the national popular will – which is undemocratic!”
The elections of 1876, 1888 and 2000 produced an Electoral College winner who did not receive the majority of the nationwide popular vote. Such outcomes do not logically follow the normative concept of how a democratic system should function. The deepest ideals of this country are rooted in opportunity and the notion that anyone can grow up and become president, not as Al Gore said at the 2004 Democratic Convention: “… I know from my own experience that America is a land of opportunity where every little boy or girl has a chance to grow up and win the popular vote.” (Note: Al Gore won the nation-wide popular election but did not become president, as George W. Bush won the Electoral College.)

It’s outdated!”


One of the main reasons Southerners supported the Electoral College was slavery. The Southern states liked the fact that their slaves, who would be excluded from voting, would be counted – as 3/5ths of a white person – when Electoral College votes were apportioned. Thus, slaves wouldn’t gain the right to vote but would count toward a state’s electoral vote total. The Founders were also concerned, in the day of the wooden printing press, that voters would not have enough information to choose among presidential candidates. It was believed it would be easier for them to vote for local officials, whom they knew more about, to be electors. It is hard to imagine that significant numbers of voters thought they didn’t know enough about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney by election day. History also shows that the framers whipped up the Electoral College system in a hurry. At the time, most of the framers were weary after a summer’s worth of bickering and figured that George Washington would be president no matter what, so it wasn’t a pressing issue. The Electoral College system is also outdated because protecting state interests really isn’t a concern to many American’s in today’s world (besides Texans, of course). States no longer have coherent and independent “interests” and presidents rarely campaign on local issues anyways. We have plenty of Congressmen and Senators who cater to local concerns. The president should take a broader view of the national interest, not beholden to any one state or locale.

It decreases voter turnout.”


The system excludes many voters from a meaningful role in presidential elections. If you live in New York or Texas, for example, it is generally a foregone conclusion which party will win your state’s electoral votes, so your vote has less meaning – and it can feel especially meaningless if you vote on the losing side.

It puts third parties at a disadvantage.”


The Electoral College system reinforces a two-party system. If, for example, a third party independent candidate were to win the support of even as many as 25% of the voters nationwide, he might still end up with no Electoral College votes at all unless he won a majority of votes in at least one state. And even if he managed to win a few states, his support elsewhere would not be reflected by the results of the Electoral College. By thus failing to accurately reflect the national popular will, the Electoral College reinforces a two-party system, discourages third party candidates and thereby tends to restrict choices available to the electorate. Third party movements are virtually forced into one of the two major political parties which means they are obliged to compromise their more radical views if they hope to attain any of their more generally acceptable objectives.

It over-represents/favors people in rural states.”


Electoral College votes are based on the number of Senators and Representatives a state has. Wyoming’s roughly 500,000 people get 3 electoral votes. California, which has about 35 million people, gets 55 electoral votes. This means that voters in Wyoming have approximately three times the voting power of voters in California [compare 500,000 divided by 3 and 35 million divided by 55]. Under the current system, the vote of an individual living in a state with 3 electoral votes is proportionally more influential than the vote of an individual living in a state with a large number of electoral votes. In a direct election everyone would have an equally weighted vote regardless of what state he or she lives in. As the Electoral College favors rural states it must be taken into consideration that those rural states typically tend to go Republican. As such, Democrats often complain that the Electoral College favors the Republican Party, by boosting the electoral weight of Republican states.

It places too much attention on swing states!”


Because of the winner take-all system in each state (except Maine and Nebraska), candidates don’t spend time in states they know they have no chance of winning, focusing only on the tight races in the swing states. Candidates have an incentive to pay the most attention to states without a clear favorite, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. In the 2000 campaign, 17 states didn’t see the candidates at all. If anyone has a good argument for putting the fate of the presidency in the hands of a few swing voters in Ohio, they have yet to make it…

The Electoral College Defends Liberty in Ways Direct Democracy Doesn’t, from USA News, by Dr. Lara Brown (political scientist)
Professor at Villanova University and George Washington University

Before deciding against the Electoral College, every American should understand two things about our system of government. First, America's not a democracy. It's a representative republic. The only place in our federal government where "one person equals one vote" is the House of Representatives.

It's not "equal" that California and Rhode Island each have two senators. California has close to 38 million residents; Rhode Island has about 1 million. This means that a person from Rhode Island has about 38 times more representation in the Senate than a Californian. Should we also abolish the Senate?

What about the Supreme Court? Have you even tried to calculate its democratic equality? Hint: It's awful. Ironically, this profoundly "undemocratic" institution also happens to be the most trusted branch of government.

Let's be clear: the greatest violence that's been done to the American people on the "democracy" score has been the decades of partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts. These bipartisan incumbent protection plans have made sure that the House represents the majority position of the majority party rather than the majority sentiment of the American people.

Second, the framers in crafting the Constitution sought to promote two major principles: separation of powers and federalism. In short, government's power should be divided horizontally across the three national branches and vertically between Washington and the states. This competition for power would foster a system of "checks and balances," protecting individual liberty and undermining tyrannies. By staggering elections, setting different term lengths, forging different geographical districts, and designing different modes of selection, the framers sought to ensure officeholders would represent "the people" as American citizens and residents of a state. Accordingly, the Constitution "is neither wholly federal nor wholly national."

And this is where the Electoral College fits into our American system and defends liberty in ways that direct democracy does not, despite the fact that the framers imagined that it would operate differently than it does today.

How does it work? Like the World Series, you must win games (states), not merely runs (people). There's not a single election for president, but 51 elections, including the District of Columbia. According to Alexander Hamilton, this "affords a moral certainty, that the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications." If a baseball team were forced to play 51 games, wouldn't we all agree that the team that won the majority of those games would be the "better" team? Generally, this is what the Electoral College does: It forces presidential candidates to win both people (runs in a single game) and states (the majority of games). This makes the president an able representative of the United States of America, who is tasked with balancing national and federal interests.

More problematically, is the notion that the national popular vote is imbued with meaning. No candidate tries to win it because that's not how the game is won. As such, past national popular vote totals don't make for a legitimate argument against the Electoral College's four supposed "failures" (1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000). The popular vote totals mostly arose as a by-product of each presidential candidate's electoral vote strategy. It's nearly impossible to speculate what the national popular vote would have been had the presidential candidates tried to win it.

And even if one does look to 2000, the problem was not the Electoral College, but the closeness of the election. Had we used a national popular vote to determine the president, we still might not have one.

Why?

Gore earned only about 500,000 votes more than Bush, and there were about 100 million ballots cast that day. The two candidates were 0.5 percent apart, which also happens to be the threshold level set by many states for an "automatic recount." And as any statistician knows, when one is counting 100 million ballots, the law of large numbers tells us that a recount is not likely to be a more accurate count, only a different count. The Electoral College confines voting controversies to the states, and allows for a more orderly counting of ballots than would likely occur if votes were aggregated and finalized nationally.



But even aside from the practical concerns and circling back to this issue of representation, Gore's popular vote margin came from earning 1.3 million more votes than Bush in California. Should Californians have been able to "overrule" the rest of country and install their overwhelming favorite in the presidency?

The Electoral College not only supports the "checks and balances" in our system, but ensures that our elections don't devolve into chaotic legal battles between the parties.



As Alexander Hamilton explained, if "it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages, the union of which was to be wished for."


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