An Outdated Concept? The Electoral College


Several forms of government exist in every corner of the World, each of them with their own unique histories, ideals, and principles. Though some forms, such as democracy, are more prevalent than others.  “Democracy” (Demos Kratia in Greek) is defined as “people rule” or “rule of the people” (1).  In other words, it is a government in which its citizens play a vital role in the decision making of the country.  Over the course of history several politically inclined minds have supported the ideas embraced in the concepts of democracy. One of the most influential minds in American government, being John Locke, who elevated democracy to a “scale in which people govern only indirectly and for instrumental purposes” (McNamara 4). During the American Revolution, Americans defended their actions against Great Britain based on Lockean grounds. When they actually gained their independence in 1776 to become the United States of America, they based their constitution on those same Lockean grounds.

In a democracy type of government voting is the main premise that is used for electing governmental officials. Each country under the standards of democracy has its own methods of electing candidates to government offices, such as being a president or becoming a prime minister. The decision to create a group to elect the future Presidents of the United States emerged from the National (Constitutional) Convention of 1787 (“The Electoral College” 1). All of the delegates of this convention had some fear of what could happen if certain groups elected the president. Some of them felt that the president should be elected by the legislature and others felt it would be best done by direct (popular) vote. The delegates against election by the legislature felt “that the president would be continually trying to please the legislators and would not truly be independent”, while those against direct vote feared that the public would not “have the knowledge of various candidates necessary to make a wise selection” (“The Electoral College” 1). As a compromise between the two, “the Electoral College” was created (1). It was a decision “to have electors chosen by the various state legislatures elect the president” (1). The electors would be appointed by the states in a number “equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the state may be entitled in the Congress” (“Constitution of the United States” B-3). Today, there are a total of 538 electors in the nation and the popular vote of the state decides whether the electors vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate (“The Electoral College” 1). To win the election the candidate needs at least 270 out of 538 electoral votes (“The Electoral College: Electoral College Facts.” 1). Unfortunately, if neither of the candidates has over 270 votes, the House of Representatives then selects the president and the Senate selects the vice president (“The Electoral College” 1). The decision to create the Electoral College was made over two hundred years ago and a lot of things have changed since the Electoral College was developed. This is a system that is outdated and in need of severe reform, if not removed completely, in order to create a more fair election.

Among the fears of our founding fathers while deciding how to elect presidents was the fear that citizens would not have the knowledge to make an educated decision (“The Electoral College” 1). This was very true in 1787 when the United States consisted of thirteen colonies that spread over several hundred thousand square miles. The only way that information could be carried was by messengers who had to make their treks via horseback. As you can probably imagine, this made it close to impossible to spread the information of the various presidential candidates. This issue made the Electoral College seem like a logical decision, in the aspect that a delegate was making the ‘educated’ decision. However, today the United States is composed of millions of square miles and has better methods of spreading information among the vast number of citizens. The major innovations in spreading information of the various candidates lie in the major technological and mechanical advancements of the twentieth century. As a result of the technological and mechanical advancements, such as the internet, digital printers, airplanes, and automobiles, which allow information to move so much quicker than the more simplistic and previous alternatives allowed, the education of citizens is no longer an issue. This means that now the normal citizens have everything at their disposal to gain the knowledge of the various candidates and should be able to make a wise decision based on this assumption.

The delegates also feared that if they let the citizens elect the president that there would be a possibility of  a “tyranny of majority” (Longley 2). James Madison refers to this fear in The Federalist No. 10 that he wrote in 1787. In this article he stated that, “measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority” (1). By this he means that the smaller group is commonly outspoken by the much larger group. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a larger state will have more of a say in the elections. It instead means that if a candidate plans to deal with issues that more people feel strongly about, that he will most likely hold the majority vote and in turn win the election. The founding fathers apparently thought that by having electors as opposed to an average citizen elect the president, it would stop the concept of “Tyranny of Majority.” His logic was right about the “tyranny of majority” concept, but in order to win any election there has to be a majority somewhere, otherwise there is no reason to have an election at all. No matter what happens, there will always be a group of people that like one particular idea or person better than another group would. If there was not a candidate who was liked more there could be no winner. After breaking down this part of the Federalist No. 10, it makes him sound like a first grader complaining that he got outvoted while voting for the movie they got to watch on the so-called ‘party day’. In lesser terms, there is always going to be a majority rule no matter what and that is how it will always work.

The owner of the company that I used to work for once made the claim that the Electoral College gave smaller states a more equal voice to larger states in presidential elections and that the Electoral College did exactly what it was intended to do. I then told him that there was no way that it allows smaller states to be more equal to a larger state, considering that each state only has a number of electors equal to its number of senators and congressman. Since the number of congressman a state possesses is a result of the population of the state, they are still going to have less of a voice than a larger state. After that conversation I started to wonder why something had not been done to fix this one problem, because after all the system was said to be fair to smaller states. I then remembered that the Electoral College was not created for fairness to smaller states, but instead to be a compromise between the delegates.

In 2006 Tara Ross, of the Detroit: Greenhaven Press, published an article arguing in favor of the Electoral College. In the article she says that “the states are as evenly represented as possible, given that they are not all the same size” (Ross, Tara 5). If this is the case, it doesn’t seem that it would not be right for the vote of a citizen in a smaller state would carry more weight, as her article insinuates. I will say, as I prior mentioned, that considering that the number of electors is determined by the number of congressmen, the elections are nowhere near fair because the number of congressmen is determined by the population of the state in question. To fix the issues that the system causes it would make since to impose certain campaign minimums to create more fairness. It would be wise to force each candidate to spend an equal amount of time in each state and not just the key battle ground states. With that said, we should be able to move to a direct popular vote rather than the Electoral College system. If this one thing was imposed it would remove the possibility of a larger state outvoting another because it would take the vote out of the hands of the state and instead place it into the hands of the citizens among the entire United States. It could reduce the complaints of the Electoral College’s reliability for the most part if not completely. You would no longer have to worry about a candidate winning the popular vote, yet at the same time losing the electoral vote. Overall, I feel that the whole election process would go smoother with those changes.

The Electoral College was developed as a compromise between the delegates of the National Convention of 1787. The creation of this system was over 200 years ago. The United States was still in the process of developing itself and didn’t know where they would be several hundred years later at the time. The system was fine for the purposes that it was created for, but its purposes were lost in the years as the country and its technologies grew. There are no longer any issues with sharing information over long distances. If anything this system interferes with the true meaning of democracy. Things change over time and, more often than not, they are reformed and often abolished to fit the needs for the time in which we are living. If this is the case with most other things then why is the Electoral College so special that it cannot be reformed or abolished. To fix most of the issues with the current system the candidates should have to spend an equal amount of time in each state and we would have to move to a direct election. If the Electoral College were reformed it would create more fairness in the election process and remove the many insecurities it produces.

Every citizen’s vote should count in America, not just the votes of partisan insiders in the Electoral College.  The Electoral College was necessary when communications were poor, literacy was low and voters lacked information about out-of-state figures, which is clearly no longer the case.”—-Rep. Gene Green, (D-TX)

 

Posted by: Michael W. Stone

A Contributor to The Constitutional Knight

 

Sources:

“Constitution of the United States” Florida Statutes.” 36 ed. Tallahassee, FL: State Of Florida, 2008. Print

“democracy”  World Encyclopedia. Philip’s, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.  Lake City Community College.  6 November 2009  http://www.oxfordreference.com

“Electoral College: Electoral College Facts, The.” www.evgschool.org  Web. 9 November 2009

“Electoral College The Issue:  Why did the framers choose the method that they did for electing presidents? Should the Electoral College be abolished or modified?, The” www.law.umkc.edu  Web. 6 November 2009.

Longley, Robert C. “Why Keep The Electoral College” usgovinfo.about.com 22 October 2009. Web. 9 November 2009

Madison, James “Federalist No. 10, The” www.constitution.org Web. 9 November 2009

Peter McNamara “Democracy”  Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment. Ed. Alan Charles Kors. Oxford University Press 2003.  Lake City Community College.  6 November 2009  http://www.oxfordreference.com

Tara Ross. “Electoral College Should Not Be Abolished, The.” Opposing Viewpoints: Democracy. Ed. Mike Wilson. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2006. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Web. 1 December 2009

Whitson,  James R “A Quikc Argument for the Electoral College Over Direct Elections” www.presidentelect.org 3 November 2000. Web. 9 November2009

Please leave your comments and/or questions below.

 

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