Under the Electoral College system, it is possible for a presidential candidate to lose the nationwide popular vote, yet be elected President of the United States. This can be achieved by winning a handful of key states. Family friends – critics of the Electoral College – who were visiting for Thanksgiving this past weekend, took it upon themselves to make sure my siblings and I understood this fact. “Did the Founders not realize the Electoral College took the power to select the President out of the hands of the American people?” they asked, incredulously. Well, the answer, as we have learned in our 101 classes, is a big, capital YES…of course they realized; they did it on purpose! The Founders never intended for the people to select the president.
Even though this past election, the popular vote and the Electoral College were both in favour of the re-elected President Obama, there are still many people out there who believe that the Electoral College ought to be abolished. Indeed, the problems with the Electoral College have been on display for two centuries. As Richard Cohen says in his A College that Should Be Disbanded: “the electoral college is like some creaky old machine, just waiting to break down.”
The U.S. Election Atlas highlights the Pros and Cons of the Electoral College in great detail, but after reading more on the topic, it seems as though there are six main concerns with the Electoral College that cause people to harbor nehgative feelings about it.
1. Disproportionate Voting Power Given to Different States
- The Electoral College gives disproportionate voting power to the states, favoring the smaller states with more Electoral votes per person
2. The Winner-Takes-All
- The Electoral College does not encourage politicians to campaign in every state
- As Adam Liptak wrote in The New York times recently, this year’s candidates campaigned in only 10 states after the conventions
3. Unbound Electors
- The electors from nearly half the states can vote however they wish, regardless of the popular will of the state
- In 21 states, electors are not obligated by law to vote for the candidate for whom they were selected
4. Presidency Can Be Won Without a Majority of the Popular Vote
- Just as in the 2000 election, a candidate can win the Electoral College without winning the nation’s popular vote
5. The House of Representatives Can Choose the President
- There are multiple ways that the vote is deferred to the House of Representatives, excluding the people even more than the Electoral College does already
6. Enforcement of a Two-Party System
- Since most states distribute their electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis, a third or smaller party has no chance to gain support without seeming to take this support from one of the major parties
- Because of our two-party system, voters often find themselves voting for the “lesser of two evils,” instead of a candidate they really feel would do the best job
The solution to most people’s concerns lies in the National Popular Vote Bill, which would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire United States.
Personally, I am not totally against the Electoral College, and I find the opinions of both sides very interesting. Perhaps it will take a few more elections for me to reach the level of dissatisfaction expressed by many citizens. An element of the arguments against the college that I do agree with however, is the need for more nationally-focused campaigns. Imagine Obama speaking in Dallas, or Romney in New York City. At the very least, as Taylor Broderick of Forbes says, “it might engage more people in the national debate,” which is something I am definitely in support of.
– Emma Woroch