The Electoral College is Outdated and Should be Altered

By Donald Irons
On November 28, 2016

Photo courtesy of AliZifan, Wikipedia

December is here and with it many things are coming up: finals week, the winter holiday season and the presidential election.  It's not just a November occurrence; the general election merely allows citizens to perform their administrative duty of electing the popular vote while the electoral college submits their final votes on Dec. 19. This system has been woven into our elections since the penning of the U.S. constitution itself. It was originally crafted as a compromise between those at the constitutional convention who favored the direct popular election of the president and those who desired congress to decide who would fit the role. Each state would have a total number of electors corresponding to its two senators and the amount of its members in the House of Representatives, hence why we have 538 electors currently. Voters in the general election choose a slate of “electors" which are asked to vote for the candidate winning the popular vote of that state. While this may have been an understandable system back when communication was long and tedious, the advent of the party system early in the nation’s history and how quickly information moves today, the electoral college stands as an archaic institution which is better left to the past.

Many still respect the electoral college, citing its preservation is a matter of simple civics. Some argue that abolishing the college would put the entire election and the campaigning efforts on the backs of the most populated states and subsequently urbanized areas at the expense of the least populated areas. Thus candidates would only represent these populated/urban areas and pay attention to their interests as opposed to the wider breadth of the country, geographically speaking. This is a legitimate concern, especially since trends indicate that the urban population is increasing. Whether the president should represent the majority of states or the people is a matter of preference, the notion that the electoral college encourages the representation of more states or even that it essentially acts a majoritarian state rule falls flat.

Looking at the most recent 2016 presidential election data provided by Politico, over two-thirds of campaign events took place in only 6 states: Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Michigan. Moreover, 94% of all campaign events took place in only 12 states and only 25 total states received any campaign events with the other half of the country’s states acting as simple spectators. Is this really a much better way of electoral representation? It is in fact worse for at least in a popular vote system there would be a sense of popular representation.

While it may seem that the electoral college acts a majoritarian state rule given the results of recent elections, this is more a result of current party voting coalitions than anything to do with the electoral college. There have been many elections, going all the way to the 1824 presidential election, where the winning candidate did not win the majority of states. Given our current electoral map, it’s possible to win the electoral vote with only the eleven largest states, and as unlikely as it may seem for a candidate to win all of those states given voting patterns as of the present with urbanization and the politics it creates, it becomes increasingly likely. The electoral college simply doesn’t encourage candidates to appeal to the interests of less populated areas nor requires them to win a majority of states.

If one wants to ensure that a presidential candidate has to appeal to a majority of states, then institute a majority of states condition where a state goes to a candidate who wins the state’s popular vote and whoever wins the majority of states becomes president.

dirons@ramapo.edu

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