Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Electoral College Debate

The founding fathers of the US Constitution had many concerns about the election of the President through direct democracy; however, there were debates on both sides. Those debates have continued today. Many Americans still do not understand how the Electoral College works and think it is unfair and undemocratic. The selection of the Electoral College is done in one of two ways: either state legislatures choose members or they are chosen by a popular vote by the citizens within a state. There are "538 people from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., called electors. According to the Constitution, they are responsible for electing the President and Vice President. The winner needs a majority - 270 - of the 538 electoral votes" (ELECTORAL COLLEGE 101, 2008).

"Support for changing election rules in the United States has been gaining momentum since the contested 2000 presidential election, which was followed by a lengthy legal battle in Florida that ultimately ended with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore" (Karp & Tolbert, 2010). The controversy about the 2000 election was primarily due to the fact that Gore won the popular vote by approximately 500,000 votes, but Bush won the electoral vote. This has lead to many calls for the abolition of the Electoral College altogether. There has also been calls to make changes to the electoral system that would alter the way it functions, while avoiding its dissolution. For example, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. has proposed a "National Bonus Plan" that would give the winners of the popular vote in each state and the District of Columbia an extra two electoral votes. This would increase the total number of electoral votes by 102. Schlesinger argues that this would eliminate "the most undemocratic feature of the Electoral College, the tremendous weight given to small states" (Bates, 2004). An example of the advantages that small population states receive from the Electoral College is illustrated perfectly with the state of Wyoming. Wyoming has three electoral votes: one based on population and two from their senators. This is the bare minimum of elector votes that each state receives. They may receive more based on population levels. "California, with a population over fifty times as large as Wyoming, has only a little more than eighteen times as many electoral votes. This means that a vote in Wyoming counts about three times more than a vote in California" (Bates, 2004).

Some who argue against the Electoral College claim that no other democratic country in the world uses an Electoral College to elect Presidents and that it goes against the concept of democracy. Others say that it gives smaller states too big an advantage in elections. There are also those who point out that it causes Presidential candidates to only focus their attention in swing states, which leads to states that will likely vote for or against a candidate getting mostly ignored. This means that voters of those states which are heavily in favor of one candidate or another have less opportunity to get in front of all the candidates, because they don't visit those states often.

On the other side of the debate, "conservatives, respecting both tradition and the rights of states, have historically supported maintaining the form of electing Presidents crafted by the Founding Fathers" (Gizzi, 2011). Additionally, the Electoral College is seen as a buffer between the presidency and mob rule. Many founders were concerned about an ill-informed populace voting a tyrant into power. Many in the revolutionary era were concerned that a "man on a white horse" would emerge in a time of crisis, supported by the people, and would seize power. These fears were not without merit, if one looks at the history of the Roman empire. Julius Caesar usurped power and became the first Roman emperor, backed by public support, resulting in the end of the Roman republic. The founders feared a repeat of this historical event and the Electoral College was a measure that they established to prevent such a thing from happening in America. Another argument for the continued use of the Electoral College is the concern that a few small, but densely populated areas may silence the voices of the many lower population states in presidential elections.

The Electoral College's affect on the leadership capacity of a President, within the bounds of the Constitution, are nonexistent. The President was never meant to be elected directly by the people. This bulwark acts as a hedge against tyrants and thus a President who possess actual leadership skills may lead through persuasion, debate and ideas. This author's personal judgement is that the Electoral College should remain, primarily to ensure that dense population centers do not have power over the rest of the country and because it has worked for us this far with only a few hiccups that were settled. To look at the way other countries do things is a blunder that America should not make. There is now and never has been a country like America. No other country in the world holds individual liberty as dearly as we do and it would be a mistake to emulate countries that do not possess our values. Furthermore, America has always lead from the front with bold, new ideas about government. It would be a mistake to deviate from this path. We look to our Constitution and history for guidance, not the rest of the world.

ELECTORAL COLLEGE 101. (2008, Nov 03). New York Times Upfront, 141, 6-7. Retrieved from
Karp, J. A., & Tolbert, C. J. (2010). Support for nationalizing presidential elections. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 40(4), 771-793. Retrieved from
Bates, Nathaniel. (2004) What Are the Arguments Made in Favor--And Against--the Electoral College? Retrieved December 18, 2014, from
Gizzi, J. (2011, May 30). GOP leaders united in defense of electoral college. Human Events, 67, 5. Retrieved from

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