The electoral college was created in a moment of compromise during the drafting of the Constitution. With no precedent to follow, the founding fathers cobbled together the system that is still used today to elect the president of the United States.
The electoral college has been amended several times throughout history, notably the introduction of the 12th Amendment, which allowed each party to designate one candidate for president and another for vice president.
Each presidential election, electors from each state cast a vote for the candidate who won the popular vote in their state. Rarely, faithless electors will break with their state’s decision and vote for another candidate. These electors have never changed the course of the election.
Five times, a candidate has won the popular vote but not the electoral college. The electoral college has been widely debated, with some calling for its dismantlement and others saying the system should be upheld.
Yes, it’s needed for democracy
Representation is an important part of government, especially in a country that routinely declares democracy supreme to a fault. Although the United States of America embodies a constitutional federal republic government, the U.S. generally strives to represent the entire population. However, this rarely is seen to fruition. Proportional representation without equal representation would hinder the vision of American representation.
The electoral college is a strange entity to pinpoint. Each state is given a certain amount of votes based on population, requiring a presidential candidate to gain 270 electoral votes to win the election. How the electoral votes are spent is up to each state. However, 48 states use the winner-takes-all system. Maine and Nebraska spice up the presidential election by distributing two of three votes each to the majority candidate and one electoral vote to the runner-up.
Alexander Hamilton advocated for the electoral college system during his intense campaign to promote the newly drafted Constitution. In No. 68 of the Federalist Papers, Hamilton wrote, “It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.”
This passage makes the argument that the electoral college was intended to allow electorate officials voting to vote against the popular opinion. ‘Hamilton electors’ describes electors (voters who cast the votes for the electoral college) who vote for a person who wasn’t in the election.
In the 2016 election, 10 Hamilton electors voted differently than the majority candidate. They did this by casting votes for Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz instead of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
Checks and balances from all angles penetrate the government. The electoral college is a check on democracy to cool the whims of popular opinion. I like to think of it in comparison to the bilateral legislative branches of the Senate and House of Representatives, ensuring that both equal and proportional representation are in attendance.
Instead of relying entirely on the popular vote, the electoral college uses electors to cast their state’s votes with the intention that those people could decide not to vote for the candidate they are supposed to vote for.
Representation is a part of American government that continues to fail citizens. The electoral college was created with the intent to boost rural areas to a standing more equal to densely populated urban areas. The presidential election system is not perfect by any means. However, agrarian areas are extremely important, and it is essential for a thriving economy and country to listen to the needs of as many people as possible.
The United States is significantly larger, in both topography and population, than it was when the founding fathers discussed the election process. Change must be acknowledged in order to understand why it is still so important to the structure of the U.S. government.
Urban and rural citizens have different experiences and needs to be met by the government. Arizona has different issues than Rhode Island. These differences are reflected in the way people vote in any election, especially a presidential election.
The electoral college is meant to work in unison with the government. The executive branch has grown far beyond what was outlined in the Constitution. Overstepping executive powers is not unique to a single president. The system needs a revision to take into account the current state of the U.S. political process.
The U.S. government is complex yet well planned. Executing these plans is much more difficult. The electoral college should continue to be used to elect the president because it strives for both equal and proportional representation.
No, it’s an ‘antiquated system’
Summarizing the problems with the electoral college, I would say it is an antiquated system that devalues millions of votes every election cycle. It is a system that doesn’t work the way it was intended to work, not to mention that the nature of modern politics eliminates what benefits the electoral college might once have provided.
The issues with the electoral college were widely discussed in the aftermath of the 2016 election as, for the fifth time in history, a presidential candidate won the election having lost the popular vote. There are several reasons this is a problem, all boiling down to the fact that these past four years, we’ve had a president the majority of Americans didn’t vote for.
The original purpose of the electoral college was to ensure smaller states still had a voice in the political process, which is why every state automatically has two Senate seats regardless of population size, which then correspond to two electoral college votes. The rest are made up of the seats in the House, which are determined based on population.
So, the smallest number of electoral seats any state can have is three, like South Dakota. However, how the electoral college works in practice is far different from how it works in theory. In practice, a few key “battleground states” usually determines the presidency.
Because of this, presidential candidates don’t reach out to voters in states that likely will have little impact on the outcome of the election or states they do not believe they can win. This is a problem because it leaves certain voters out of an important part of the political process (the campaign) simply because of where they live.
Another problem with the electoral college is the “winner-takes-all” system of how electoral votes get counted per state. Every state and the District of Columbia uses this system with the exception of Nebraska and Maine, which split their votes between parties.
Winner-takes-all means all the electoral votes go to the winner of the popular vote in that state, and in practice it means the votes for the minority party are effectively discounted.
It is important to note that the electoral college, as it exists today, does not do what the founders hoped it would. It was problematic from the very beginning but, perhaps, even more so in an era when many people get their political news through social media or from other internet sources.
Vast amounts of information are readily available, and they aren’t difficult to find. A few decades ago, it wouldn’t have been logistically possible for presidential candidates to visit every state, so strategically picking which states would have the highest impact on the campaign made sense. Now, however, social media provides the platform for candidates to reach voters they never would have in the past.
While the electoral college was never a great system, in the context of modern politics it is outdated. It does more harm than good. It has never been more necessary to abolish the electoral college than it is right now. It would certainly change the political process — but for the better.
Getting rid of the electoral college would be difficult, requiring a constitutional amendment or for enough states to begin splitting their votes, but it would be worth it to right an unjust system.
Personally, I think it comes down to this: Precedent shouldn’t be followed for precedent’s sake. If something is causing the system to be unjust, it is the responsibility of those in charge to fix it.
Just because the electoral college has been around since the beginning is not reason enough to keep it when it silences hundreds of thousands of voices every election.