Since the birth of this nation, the electoral college has remained the key structure of our voting system. Recently, the legitimacy of this fundamental arrangement has come into question after the polarizing results of the past presidential election. Many have argued that the electoral college is an ancient system, not adept to accommodate the ever changing political stage of America. Though much has progressed since the founding fathers laid the foundation of which we base our law, the electoral college should be set in stone, as it is necessary for a just democracy.
To fairly judge the electoral college, we must first understand how the system functions. The Congressional Digest simplifies the statement of Article II, Section I, Clause II of the Constitution, the number of electors would equal the number of representatives and senators to which the State may be entitled in the Congress. Most electors are selected through a party convention during the primaries. Electors represent the will of its voters in the district, acting as a proxy. Therefore, when voting for president, in actuality, the vote goes toward your elector.
The electoral college can be interpreted as being a component in representative democracy while the popular vote expresses direct democracy.
When the electoral college was included in the United States Constitution, it’s creators were advocates of strong central government, as well as strong states powers. The electoral college ensured that states had proportionate power to be adequately involved in the election process. William C. Kimberling, Deputy Director FEC National Clearinghouse on Election Administration explains that since minority groups influence electoral votes, “they assume an importance to presidential candidates well out of proportion to their number.”
Many revisions have been implemented to perfect the electoral college, such as the 12th amendment. This revision was a direct response to the conflict regarding the election of 1800. Democratic-Republican nominees Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied in an unforeseen deadlock for the presidency. The complexity of the situation was due to the fact that there was no separate ballot for president and vice president. The 12th amendment mended this problem by assigning separate ballots.
Despite the constant alterations, the electoral college is still subjected to relentless criticism. To clarify the authenticity of the system, we must collectively counter the opposing arguments.
A common arguing point looks to the “winner-take-all” states in the country that award every elector to the candidate who wins over the most electors, in lieu of the fact that the candidate did not secure every elector. Essentially the nominee is granted the opposing electors, as well, winning him the full support of the state.
Those who rival against the electoral college pick apart the concept, claiming votes are wasted, considering the majority over shadowing the minority as their votes are stolen.
In his book, Electoral College Reform: Challenges and Possibilities, Gary Bugh justifies this perception, establishing the fact that votes are inevitably going to be lost within any democratic republic. Addressing the analysts directly, he continued, “It is these critics who often argue for a proportional system of allocating electoral votes. Although with a single occupant office there will always be citizens on the losing side, this perspective seeks to minimize this effect and at least allocate the votes per state in a way that is sensitive to the distribution of candidate support with the state.”
An additional argument against our current voting arrangement states that the electoral college is not representative of the people. It should be thrown out and substituted for the popular vote because the only people that should be represented are the ones who decide to vote.
The popular vote system is not entirely representative of the people, which is why our Constitution assigned the electoral college as our voting system.. Voter turnout would turn into a huge concern, supposing we switched systems. For example, the 2017 article How to Bring Home Democratic Voters presents statistics that show only sixty four percent of registered voters in Michigan cast votes for the past presidential election. This leaves a huge margin of people unrepresented if we were to adopt the popular vote system. The electoral college makes certain that no matter how many citizens participate in the voting process, the state would be represented adequately. Just because some people decide not to vote, for whatever reason, does not mean that they should lose the right to be represented.
Campaigning would be another factor taken into consideration. Since most of our citizens are concentrated in states like California, Texas, New York and Florida, one can assume that this is where the most campaign stops would be. One could also assume that these states would be the only campaign stops. Once states are left unrepresented by electors, candidates will feel no need to rally in states with relatively low populations.
Numerous critics have tried to point out that since the popular vote isn’t the primary function of the electoral college, it is not representative of the majority. The founding fathers took this into consideration, but ultimately decided against it, as to not fall into the theory of Majoritarianism, a traditional political philosophy that asserts, a majority of the population is entitled to a certain degree of primacy in society, and has the right to make decisions that affect the society.
Our founding fathers looked past the surface of the sugar coated idea concerning majority rule, knowing that in the inevitable future this concept would peel back the layers of delight to show the tyrannical side that they so brilliantly saw.
Majority rule may be a reasonable solution, but it lacks the ability to age well over time, as man has proved to be manipulative and cunning in his ways to take the rules set into place and exploit the unstable system by any means necessary.
Majority rule is prone to tyranny of the minority. If the majority, even by the slightest margin, has opposing views that threaten the liberty of the minority, they have the ability to continue oppressing the minority with the powers given to them by the popular voting system. The electoral college prevents this by giving the votes to electors in every state. James Madison explains the genius of the representation margins behind the electoral college in Federalist Paper No. 10, “In the first place, it is to be remarked that, however small the republic may be, the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and that, however large it may be, they must be limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude.”
This system seeks to not only protect minority interests, but to further make them known to the rest of the country.
One of the only issues that both sides of the argument seem to have a problem with are faithless electors. A faithless elector is a member of the United States electoral college who does not vote for the presidential candidate for whom they had pledged to vote for. Both supporters and critics of the electoral have a mutual concern for faithless electors, as there currently is little to no punishment for those who act against the wishes of the citizens they claim to represent. At face value this appears to be an overlooked problem by the creators of the electoral college. Though it is hard to deny the negligence of this weak link in our chain of voting, this link has yet to cause major damage to our democracy.
FairVote.org reports that since the founding of the electoral college, only a mere ninty three electoral votes were changed on the personal initiative of the elector. The report goes on to say “As of the 2016 election, no elector has changed the outcome of an election by voting against his or her party’s designated candidate.”
The Supreme Court has also given states the option to make laws and enforce penalties concerning faithless electors. Over two hundred years since the Constitution was ratified, and faithless electors have yet to be a problem. If they eventually become a problem, states have the power to intervene on faithless electors in order to better suit the interests of the voters.
With all of that information being stated, if you, the reader, are still not persuaded into following my perspective that the electoral college reigns supreme as the go to voting system, that’s fine. We live in a country where we are not forced to agree with everything the government pushes on us, the electoral college included.
Though this entire paper centers around persuading the reader that the electoral college is far superior to the popular vote, ultimately, it is still not a perfect system.
As Alexander Hamilton puts it in Federalist Paper No. 68, “I venture somewhat further, and hesitate not to affirm, that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent.”