The Electoral College, the mechanism for electing the president and the vice-president of the United States which was first put to use in the 1789 presidential election has already outgrown its purpose and should therefore be abolished (National Archives and Records Administration). Formulated by the country’s founders more than two hundred years ago, the system has undoubtedly grown stale and ineffective and no longer “conform to our modern interpretation of democracy, which is one person, one vote” (Hough).
According to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), although the term could not be found anywhere in the United States Constitution, it is believed to have been actually conceived by the “founding fathers as a compromise between the election of a president by Congress and election by popular vote.
” The term was coined from the words “elector” and “college.
” The term “elector” was used to refer to the German princes who were granted the right to take part in the process of electing the German king who later became the emperor of the Roman Empire while “college” was taken from the Latin word collegium which means “a body of persons that act as a unit.
” Thus the term “electoral college” means a group of people chosen to elect the President and the Vice President of the United States of America (NARA). A total of 538 electors handpicked by political parties comprise the present Electoral College.
Every state has two electors representing their two senators and another elector for each of their congressional representation. This means that a small state with only one congressional representation owing to the smallness of its population is allocated the minimum number of three electors. In 2004, the four states with the highest number of electors were: California (55), Texas (34), New York (31), and Florida (27) while seven small states (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming), and the District of Columbia, had only three electors each (NARA).
As congressional representation is determined by the census of population which is taken every ten years, a state’s number of electors could therefore be reduced or increased, without prejudicing the total electors of 538 for the entire country. For instance, based on the 1990 census of population, the state of Arizona was allowed 8 electors for the presidential elections of 1992, 1996, and 2000. After it registered a population increase in 2000, its number of congressional representation and therefore, the number of its electors, was raised to 10 for the presidential elections of 2004, 2008, and 2012 (NARA).
In 48 states and the District of Columbia, a presidential candidate who gets the majority of votes in one state is awarded all the electoral votes allocated for that state in a “winner-take-all” manner. In the states of Maine and Nebraska, meanwhile, proportional voting is practiced. Under this voting system, Maine, which has four electoral votes, gives one vote to the winner in each of its two congressional districts and gives the remaining two votes to whoever gets the majority votes in the entire state (NARA). A simple majority or a minimum of 270 electoral votes is needed to win the U.
S. presidency. In case of a tie (269-269 result) in the presidential contest, the Congress of the United States decides the issue while the U. S. Senate conducts the runoff election in case of a deadlock in the vice presidential race. In the history of the presidential election in the country, the congressional runoff was only done twice – in 1800 and in 1824. In the vice presidential race, the United States Senate was called on to decide the issue in 1836 (NARA). This is the first undesirable feature of the Electoral College that many American voters find unacceptable.
A tie in the presidential election under this system takes the electoral process away from the hands of the American voters and confers the power to elect the president to a highly partisan congress. In such a scenario, the presidential candidate of the party which controls the House of Representatives would win the presidency regardless of the will of the majority of the American voters. A case in point was the 1824 presidential election. When congress decided on the issue after a deadlock was declared, Andrew Jackson lost the presidency to John Quincy Adams despite garnering a decisive 57.
2% of the popular vote (NARA). Point two against the Electoral College is the fact that the president and the vice president of the United States are not actually chosen by the people but through the electoral votes assigned to the 50 states and the District of Columbia. It is therefore possible for a candidate to win the votes and gain the trust and confidence of the majority of American voters and still lose the presidency – a systemic defect which is tantamount to a disenfranchisement of American voters. This has already happened four times in the political history of the country.
The case of Andrew Jackson in 1824 was already discussed earlier in this paper. Another case occurred in 1876 when Rutherford Hayes (R) won the presidency with a single electoral vote majority (185 against Samuel Tilden’s 184) in spite of the fact that only 48. 5% of those who voted went for him while the majority 51. 5% voted for Tilden. Once again, in 1888, Benjamin Harrison (R) won with 233 electoral votes against Grover Cleveland’s (D) 168. However, 90,596 more American voters had chosen Cleveland over Harrison in that election.
The most recent case was the 2000 presidential election. President George W. Bush (R) defeated Albert Gore, Jr. , 271 – 266 electoral votes, despite getting only 50,456,062 popular votes (49. 7%) against Al Gore’s 50,996,582 (50. 3%). The official result of that election, in effect, nullified the votes of 540,520 American voters who gave Gore the advantage in popular votes, thereby expressing their preference for Al Gore to be the president of the country (NARA). The Electoral College does not count the votes cast by American voters equally.
For instance, in the 2004 election, Wyoming, one of the small states, was allocated three electoral votes. California, on the other hand, whose population was about fifty times larger than Wyoming, only had 54 electoral votes. A simple computation would show us that although California was 50 times as large as Wyoming, its number of electoral votes was only 18 times larger (54/3 = 18). In other words, a vote cast by a voter from Wyoming was given a higher value than the vote cast by a California voter (Bates). Or, expressed another way, one Wyoming voter is equal to 18 California voters.
This is plain inequality! Electoral College discourages some voters from participating in the election, thereby resulting to low voter turnout which reduces the credibility of an election. This is true in the case of states which have already been identified as one-party states. For instance in 2004, since California was already expected to vote for the Democratic candidate, chances were that some voters who planned to vote for the Republican standard bearer could have chosen to stay home instead. Indeed, what’s the point of voting when your state is already in the hands of the other party?
It would seem as if the votes have already been counted before they were cast (Bates). On the other hand, defenders of the Electoral College claim that under the popular voting, the small states would simply be overwhelmed by the large states and that presidential candidates would tend to overlook them in favor of large states where more votes could be obtained. The opposite had, in fact, been observed during the campaigning which occurred for the 2004 election. Let us return to the example of California, the largest voting state in the country. Because it was already expected to go for the Democratic Party, George W.
Bush ignored it in spite of its size and its 54 electoral votes and concentrated instead in the “swing state of Pennsylvania” which he visited “more than forty” times. In fact campaigning for the presidency of the United States had always shown candidates spending more time in swing states than in larger states which had already committed to the other side (Bates). Because of its proven ineptness and widespread unacceptability, the Electoral College has been labelled differently by different people. It was likened to “the vermiform appendix: a useless organ that can cause trouble on occasion” (Abolish the Electoral College?
). It was described by the American Bar Association as “archaic and ambiguous” when a survey it conducted in 1987 found that 69% of American lawyers wanted the system abolished. The American public have spoken against the system through polls held in 1967 (58%), 1968 (81%), and then again in1981 when 75% of Americans were found to favor its replacement by a popular voting system (NARA). Regardless of the labels, however, the subjugation of the people’s will and the utter disregard for the value of the votes of Americans has rendered the Electoral College unacceptable to the American public.
Their disgust and contempt for the system was already shown by the more than 700 proposals for its abolition or modification. They almost succeeded in the U. S. Senate in 1956 when amendments introduced by Republican Senator Karl Mundt (South Dakota) and Texas Democratic Senator Price Daniel won a senate voting with a 48-37 majority. Only their failure to muster the required three-fourths vote of the senate prevented the measures from pushing through (Duchschere). The American people tried again in 1969.
Supported by then President Richard Nixon, an amendment was unanimously approved in the House of Representatives only to be stalled in the Senate for almost one year until supporters lost their interest on the measure and it died a natural death. Republican Senator Eastland and Democratic Senator Thurmond, described as “notorious segregationists” because they had been observed to have “voted against every civil-rights and voting-rights measure” in the Senate, were responsible for its death (Electoral Justice).
Americans now want their votes to be properly counted and their decisions duly respected. As Professor Keyssar aptly put it, Americans today believe that the Electoral College has ceased to mirror America’s “sense of social equality” (Hough). Hence, it is now time to say goodbye to the antiquated, obsolete Electoral College. The time has arrived to show the civilized world that in the United States of America, every man, every registered voter, has a right to vote and a right to demand that such vote be counted. Works Cited
“Abolish the Electoral College? ” Wilson Quarterly. Winter 2001, Vol 25, Issue 1, p. 97. 13 June 2007. <http://search. ebscohost. com/login. aspx? direct=true&db=aph&AN=4028232&site=ehost-live> Bates, Nathaniel. “What Are the Arguments Made in Favor – And Against – the Electoral College? ” 26 October 2004. 15 June 2007. <http://hnn. us/articles/8163. html> Duchschere, Kevin. “JFK Led Opposition in 1956 Effort to Reform the Electoral College. ” Minneapolis Star Tribune. 26 November 2000. 13 June 2007. <http://www. freerepublic.
com/forum/a3a20ce2a366a. htm > Electoral Justice. “The Electoral College: An Embarassing Vestige of Slavery and Segregation. ” 15 June 2007. <http://www. iwantmyvote. com/justice/electoral_college/> Hough, Lory. “Why Do We Still Have The Electoral College? ” News Stories. 13 June 2007. <http://www. ksg. harvard. edu/news/news/2004/Keyssar_why-electoral_college_102904. htm> National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). “U. S. Electoral College. ” 13 June 2007. <http://www. archives. gov/federal-register/electoral-college/index. html>