Electoral College: Let’s Abolish It

Since the White House will be up for grabs again in 2012, the Electoral College will be used to indirectly select a President. In most states, the candidate with the greatest number of popular votes will be awarded all of their electoral votes, under a winner-take-all system. Upon tabulating totals from all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, which was given three electors in 1961, under the 24th Amendment, the nominee with a majority of 270 will become President. If neither major candidate wins a majority, because a third party gained votes, or the two major nominees have 269 each, the outcome will be determined by the House, where each state would be given one vote.

The initial draft of the Constitution had to be amended, because it gave each elector one ballot, but two votes, so they could pick a President and Vice-President. The idea was that the candidate with the greatest number would be President, and the second place finisher would become Vice-President. When political parties emerged in 1800, electors supporting the ticket of Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, cast one vote for Jefferson, and one for Burr, resulting in a tie, even though they were from the same party. This moved the contest into the House, where Jefferson was eventually named President, and Burr became VP. It also led to the 12th Amendment (1804), which solved the problem by creating separate electoral ballots for President and VP.

The problem today is a candidate can win a majority of the popular vote, like Al Gore did in 2000, but lose the election, because the person with the second highest tally, i.e. George W. Bush, can nonetheless receive a greater number of elector votes.

In every election where the winner in the Electoral College lost the popular vote, it was the Democrat who got the short end of the stick. Andrew Jackson, a Democrat, received more popular votes in 1824 than John Q. Adams, but Adams prevailed in the Electoral College. Republican Rutherford Hayes was handed the Presidency in 1876, despite Democrat Tilden beating him 51% to 47.9%. Republican Ben Harrison was allowed to enter the White House in 1888, even though Democrat Grover Cleveland received more popular support. Democrat Al Gore was denied the Presidency in 2000, following a contest in which he defeated George W. Bush by 543,895 votes.

The question every four years is whether the Electoral College should be abolished and replaced with a direct popular vote. Since a Constitutional Amendment would be needed, the process would have to begin in the Congress, where small state Senators and Representatives would probably kill any bill, since most of them believe direct popular voting would give large states more control, and would end the federal system.

The primary argument for abolishing the Electoral College is it now causes candidates to spend disproportionate amounts of time and money in swing states, to the exclusion of all others. While defenders of the College believe change would simply shift campaigns to the big cities and large states, to the exclusion of small towns in rural areas, advocates of using direct popular voting say candidates would instead begin campaigning in all 50 states, since turnout everywhere would suddenly become relevant.

We really should get away from a system that causes candidates to pander to voters in only a handful of swing states, and allows Presidents to be chosen by a process that disregards the will of the majority. A proposed Constitutional Amendment to abolish the Electoral College should be approved in the Congress, so it can be submitted to the states for ratification.


2 Comments to “Electoral College: Let’s Abolish It”

  1. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC), without needing to amend the Constitution.

    To abolish the Electoral College would need a constitutional amendment, and could be stopped by states with as little as 3% of the U.S. population.

    The National Popular Vote bill preserves the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections. It changes the way electoral votes are awarded by states in the Electoral College, instead of the current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all system (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states). It ensures that every vote is equal, every voter will matter, in every state, in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.

    Under National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the state counts and national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC would get the 270+ electoral votes from the enacting states. That majority of electoral votes guarantees the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC wins the presidency.

    National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state. Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don’t matter to their candidate.

    And now votes, beyond the one needed to get the most votes in the state, for winning candidates in a state are wasted and don’t matter to candidates. Utah (5 electoral votes) alone generated a margin of 385,000 “wasted” votes for Bush in 2004. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).

    With National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere would be counted equally for, and directly assist, the candidate for whom it was cast.

    Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in the current handful of swing states. The political reality would be that when every vote is equal, the campaign must be run in every part of the country.

  2. The current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state, ensures that the candidates, after the primaries, in 2012 will not reach out to about 76% of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind.

    Voters in states that are reliably red or blue don’t matter. Candidates ignore those states and the issues they care about most.

    12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes) are non-competitive in presidential elections. 6 regularly vote Republican (AK, ID, MT, WY, ND, and SD), and 6 regularly vote Democratic (RI, DE, HI, VT, ME, and DC) in presidential elections. 19 of the 22 lowest population states are non-competitive and ignored in presidential elections. 9 of the original 13 states are considered “fly-over” now. In 2008, over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Similarly, 98% of ad spending took place in these 15 “battleground” states.

    Support for a national popular vote is strong in every smallest state surveyed in recent polls among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group. Support in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK -70%, DC -76%, DE –75%, ID -77%, ME – 77%, MT- 72%, NE – 74%, NH–69%, NE – 72%, NM – 76%, RI – 74%, SD- 71%, UT- 70%, VT – 75%, WV- 81%, and WY- 69%.

    In terms of recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states include five “red states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) and six “blue” states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey). The fact is that the big states are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country. For example, among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Kerry.

    The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities (going as far down as Arlington, TX) is only 19% of the population of the United States. Suburbs and exurbs often vote Republican.

    If big cities controlled the outcome of elections, the governors and U.S. Senators would be Democratic in virtually every state with a significant city.

    More than 2/3rds of the states and people have been just spectators to the presidential elections. That’s more than 85 million voters.

    Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

    States have the responsibility and power to make all of their voters relevant in every presidential election and beyond.

    Unable to agree on any particular method, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method for selecting presidential electors exclusively to the states by adopting the language contained in section 1 of Article II of the U.S. Constitution– “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . .” The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”

    Federalism concerns the allocation of power between state governments and the national government. The National Popular Vote bill concerns how votes are tallied, not how much power state governments possess relative to the national government. The powers of state governments are neither increased nor decreased based on whether presidential electors are selected along the state boundary lines, or national lines (as with the National Popular Vote).


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