Essay: Alternatives to the Electoral College

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  • Published on: January 10, 2019
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  • Alternatives to the Electoral College
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The electoral college is the system by which the President of the United States is elected. Created by the founding fathers while writing the constitution in 1787, the electoral college was the middle ground between letting Congress determine who was President and allowing the popular vote to decide. Each state is given a number of electoral votes assigned to them using the number of reprehensive in Congress. To be elected to the office of the President of the United States, the candidate must receive 270 electoral votes. However contrary to what most citizens believe the election help on November’s super Tuesday does not elect a presidential candidate into office. Instead, the electoral college meets in December with 538 delegates, electors, are people who represent their state and states best interests. The electoral college members vote for the president, and because they represent their state, the,or vote is assumed to be the same as what the outcome of Super Tuesday. The electoral college is made up of the state’s two representatives in Congress and each state gains a representative for every 500,000 people in its population. The States with the most electoral college votes are California, Florida, and Texas, more people in the state the more weigh a state has in the election (Arnn).

The founding fathers created the electoral college system because they did not want the original states to hold more power than any other state. A reason for the electoral college’s creation was to ensure that Southern states were able to hold the majority over Northern states when electing the president. The premise was if the United States held a true majority vote with the people smaller states would be overshadowed and never get a chance to benefit the state. When the Electoral College was established as par,t of the United States Constitution, it was said to be a tool so that the less educated voters would not influence the election negatively, so that the larger population states would not have too much sway on an election, and in large part, because northern voters did not want the south to have a majority simply because they were slave owners (Amar). In the 1700s, when slavery was emplaced, the members of the congressional congress were persuaded to implement the Three-Fifths Compromise by James Madison. This allowed for Southern states to remain relevant because without slaves being representative in the calculation of electoral votes, the North would have greatly outweighed the South (Mahler 1). But today’s twenty-first-century society the problems and factors that led to the creation of the electoral college are irrelevant and make the presidential voting process outdated. In the issues that we are facing in today’s America, there is much more flow of information, the platforms of candidates are clear and well known. Unlike in the 1700s where only those who were present at speeches, and rallies were able to hear candidates speak, into days election the new stations play speeches given by candidates from all over the country through their broadcast. With all the revision that have had to be made in the way out society function in everyday life since the electoral college was created one could say that it is long overdue for lawmakers to consider revisions

After 45 President and 5 incongruent outcomes, the citizens of the United States have begun to question the system that came out of the second congressional convention. This has forced modern-day lawmakers to take a closer look into the wording and motivations behind the founding legislation of our country. When interpreting the constitution can be viewed through originalism. Originalism analyzes the text in the time frame that it was written and follow the literal meaning of the constitution (Calebresi 1). Under this ideology, the electors who vote on the electoral college is the constitutional way to elect a president because in the 1700s there was no popular vote. Electors were carefully selected and they were to exercise good judgment to pick the most qualified candidate. But this was before radio, television or social media, and with the advancement of technology, it is evident that the election system is in need of revision(Post).

In November of 2016, the United States was shocked to learn that they would not see the first female President due to a 2-century old system that was created in the height of slavery. This sparked renewal in interest for politics and an immense outcry of the abolishment of our current system (Jost). This was not the first time in either, as recently as 2000 in Gore vs Bush. Although not as publicized as the outcome of the 2016 election, G.W Bush is a president who lost the popular vote. Gore won 48.4% of popular vote and only 266 electoral votes. The next Republican to win the White House without the popular vote would be Benjamin Harrison in 1888. This was back when 201 was the number of electoral votes needed to be elected. Harrison was able to collect 233 votes over 20 states with only 47.8% of the popular vote. But this past election in 2016 was the largest popular vote margin loss by any winning Presidential candidate. Donald Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton 46.1% to 48.2%, which works out to over 2.5 million votes (Schmidt). Outraged, voters now are looking for answers and solutions from their Congressional representatives. This discrepancy is the major issue that citizens have with the current system.

Another issue that has arisen from the Electoral college in the modern day that was not present at its creation is the disproportionate amount of campaign recourses being funneled into swing states vs states that are almost certain to vote in their “traditional” pattern. For example in 2004 is was found the more than half of the recourse present in the entire election went to just Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania (Fairvote). There were also 18 states during the 2004 election that did not receive a visit from either Presidential candidate. In California there zero dollars spent on presidential candidacy TV ads where is Florida there were over 64 million dollars spent on TV alone. With the current election system, this focus on “swing” states is the only feasible way to win the election. This should raise concerns that someone who is being elected to represent the people did not step foot in 18 states. Does this mean that the problems and concerns of the voters in those states are less important than those voters in “swing” states?

Another benefit of the repeal and replace the current election system would be increased voter turn out. Already we trail greatly among developed democracies. With only 55.7% of voting age citizen participating in the election, the United States is basically missing half the population’s vote (Desilver). Of first world countries, the United States ranks 25th in overall voter turnout. Belgium is the top with 87.2% of all voting age citizens coming to the polls. Voter turnout is higher in swing states because people who live in states that always vote for the same political party regardless of the candidate report feeling as if their vote does not matter and skip the polls on election day. This hurt our democracy in more ways than just impacting the Presidential race. On Super Tuesday there is more than the president that voters have to vote on. There are the local election and ballot questions that voters are missing out on voicing their opinion on because they believe that they cannot impact an election. If the United States were to switch to a system where all votes were represented equally there would be a great increase in voter turnout.

Although it is easy to denounce the current system in over 230 years and many dissatisfied voters there has not been a viable alternative presented and agreed upon. The simple solution is obvious, the popular vote. But in 4 of the 5 elections where the popular vote did not align with the electoral college, the conservative party was elected into off
ice. Keeping this in mind if Congress were to repeal and replace the current electoral system there would have to be a compromise. Currently, there is legislation being presented in many state governments called National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This initiative is a creative alternative to the electoral college. Because currently, the Republican party is in control the Presidency, House and Senate it is ever unlikely that an amendment to the constitution would pass ratifying the current election system to a popular vote. But with the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is a loophole to how the United States election system could become a popular vote system. The National conference of state legislation states “When a state passes legislation to join the National Popular Vote Compact, it pledges that all of that state’s electoral votes will be given to whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote nationwide. These bills will take effect only when states with a majority of the electoral votes have passed similar legislation”(NCSL). If it is possible to get enough states to sign on to this bill to the point that the signed states electoral votes total 270 then the electoral college would be obsolete. Currently, the states that are signed on total 165 electoral votes with 105 remaining.

For the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact to be implemented enough states must sign it into law totaling 105 electoral votes. The states that currently have this legislation passes are California, D.C, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhodes Island, Vermont, and Washington. When looking at these states it is apparent that they are all traditionally “blue” states. To get to 270 electoral votes states that are traditionally “red” or swing states are going to have to also pass the bill. Although daunting this is much more achievable than it sounds. According to the Harvard University Survey project 60% of respondents who identify as Republicans support a system where the president is elected by direct popular vote, instead of by the electoral college (Harvard University). If the states that are currently debating were to pass it the total electoral votes gained would be 83 votes, bringing the total to 248 votes. After 10 states that are currently debating passes the bill, there are only 22 votes needed which is obtainable if one large swing state chooses to pass this legislation. It other critical battleground states to join, such as Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and others, and the compact reached a majority of 270 Electoral College votes between the states involved, the president who was the popular candidate would be elected to office. The Electoral College as it currently stands adds value to the votes of people in specific regions, such as white voters in the Midwest, as we discussed, as well as adding value to the voters of specific states, such as Wyoming. It does make candidates focus on specific regions such as the rust belt, the sun belt, and more, but at the same time, it values those citizen’s votes the most. Through the interstate compact, that bias is combatted. Presidential nominees cannot rely on winning specific demographics to reach office like they have in the past. Although there are arguments that the compact is state law, and not federal law, so states can pull out at any time (Tolley), it is a good solution until there is consensus to officially abolish the Electoral College. Although the popular vote is the simple solution, in theory, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is most likely the only way to remove power from the electoral college.

The United States Constitution has served as a worldwide model of the foundation of democracy for hundreds of years. Its well-known Preamble and well-written articles are looked at with prideful American eyes. However, among this glorification, we as citizens tend to forget that there are parts of the Constitution which may need to be revisited in accordance with the current time period. It is the belief of many citizens that there are parts of the Constitution that may need to be altered, thus prompting my support for another Constitutional Convention. Looking back on American legislative history, it was, after all, changes to the Constitution that gave women the right to vote and officially banned slavery, so stating that the entire document should stay the same while ignoring the fact that part of it may have failed us is, in my eyes, an incomplete argument. However, they did this nation a great disservice in not realizing how much a nation can change, especially after its immediate birth. There is a lot that has happened in the United States since the Electoral College system was put in place, that makes it a system fails to provide the type of “equality” its founders envisioned. It favors the few at the expense of the many and deserves serious reform. Standford Levinson stated at the beginning of his book, “we need not reject the Constitution in order to carry on such a conversation.” (Levinson 4). The Preamble of the Constitution serves as a strong foundation for the remainder of this country’s laws to be built upon, and should not be infringed. However, given the current faults in the Constitution and the changing demographics of today’s country, many believe that the United States Constitution should be reviewed, discussed, and altered at a Constitutional Convention.

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