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It's time to revisit the Electoral College (redux)

By Nancy Salvato
web posted March 20, 2006

In a recent article entitled, Flunking The Electoral College Once Again, Daniel Sobieski writes about a proposed election reform, "The Campaign for a National Popular Vote" in which, "a group of states would agree to award their state's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of who carried their state."

Sobieski effectively dismantles any justification for this "scheme to improve" the electoral process by pointing out that if this was actually implemented, it would be the, "ultimate in voter disenfranchisement." By asking the question, "How can it be fairer for a state's electoral votes be given to the loser of that state's popular vote?" I should think that he puts an end to any more discussion about this.

If anyone wants to continue arguing about it, he throws out a few more bones to chew on.

"If a presidential election is considered illegitimate because the winner of the popular vote is not the winner of the electoral vote, is legislation passed by the Senate also illegitimate because it was passed by senators representing a minority of the population? Wyoming's two senators can cancel out California's senators, who represent 69 times more people. Is that "fair"?

It seems like yesterday that Al Gore and the Democrats called foul after President Bush won his first term in office, based on the electoral vote. With all of the attention drawn to the issue of being able to win an election without a majority of the popular vote, I would have thought by now, in 2004, there would have been some substantial election reform in the offing.

In 2001, at least 26 states initiated legislation which would retain the Electoral College, but eliminate the winner take all method of receiving all the electoral votes for their states. Instead, electors pledged to a particular candidate would be voted into the college on a congressional district basis, with two chosen statewide. This method is already used in Maine. Another possibility was to assign electors to candidates on the basis of the popular vote each receives. [1]

None of these bills were passed, and as we find ourselves getting ready for the upcoming election. I have to wonder why.

Initially, the founders determined that the president should be chosen "indirectly" through the Electoral College rather than "directly" by the voters. The Electors charged with the duty of electing our president were entrusted to vote for whomever they pleased. Today, the Electors that make up the college are chosen by their state party organizations, as a reward for faithful service. They pledge to support the candidate nominated by the party. The reality is that they are entrusted to cast their vote for the candidate who receives the majority of the popular vote in their state. [2]

The obvious problem with the winner take all system is that the loser receives none of the electoral votes in a state, regardless of the amount of support for his candidacy. Why is it, then, that 48 states use this method?

In the early years of our nation's history, the people who made up the populations of their state had similar ideas and beliefs. Many identified with their state before their country. This is why the power in this country is divided between the federal and state governments. "What was good for the majority of the state was good for the entire state, and this helped the original states emphasize their rights." [3] Another reality of the time period was that two hundred years ago the accuracy in vote tallying could not be relied upon. Today, many people share the same values of those living at opposite ends of the country, rather than with those who reside in their own state. Think about the difference between urban and rural lifestyles. [4] The accuracy of the vote tally is open to debate (especially when it's convenient to disallow the absentee ballots of our military).

There are other reasons why the winner take all system should lose validity. There might be an increase in voter turn out if the votes cast by each individual were factored into the number of electoral votes each state receives. As it stands, each state receives the same number of electoral votes whether 100% of the people vote or if only one person votes. That hardly seems equitable. As it stands, the votes of some people in a state actually carry more weight when others in that state choose not to exercise their right to vote. [5]

In the present system, third party candidates can't win. They simply can't attain the majority of votes in the majority of states. Election results do not reflect the will of the people under this circumstances. [6]

A final inequity exists because electoral votes allocated to states more accurately reflects the number of representatives they send to the house; which isn't always indicative of the general population in the state. Therefore, smaller states end up with more electoral votes per voter. [7]

The founders had the foresight to sanction the state legislatures with the power to determine how their state's electoral votes should be allocated. The people residing in the 48 states where the winner takes all of them should be apprised that the current Electoral College rules are not written in stone and that it's time they be rewritten to reflect the will of the people.

Because of the winner take all electoral voting system, candidates for the highest office of our country can choose to ignore the will of an entire region in the United States and still gain the electoral votes necessary to win an election. When a political faction wins the right to inhabit the executive branch of our government for four years without a real mandate for their beliefs and ideas, we have stopped functioning as a republic. We have obviated the checks and balances assured to us by the founders and opened ourselves to the will of the minority.

Footnotes:

1, 2 The Electoral College

3, 4, 5, 6, 7 The Electoral College Inhibits Democracy

Nancy Salvato is the President of The Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues important to our country. She is also a Staff Writer, for the New Media Alliance, Inc., a non-profit (501c3) coalition of writers and grass-roots media outlets, where she contributes on matters of education policy. Copyright © Nancy Salvato 2006

 

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