Of the Electors, by the Electors, for the Electors

It is strange to at least some, and ostensibly many, how a process invested with such immense power could be surrounded by so much controversy. Deviating from my usual commentary, I wanted to use this week’s post to weigh the Electoral College’s pros and the cons, the good and the bad, and the smart and the dumb.

The purpose of the Electoral College, as well as the justification for its existence, has been explained in each classroom to every student across the country. As the legend goes: the delegates of the constitutional convention were conflicted over how to best elect the president. Some proposed to elect the president through congressional election, and others opposed that method due to its inherent susceptibility to corruption and lack of independence. Some, such as James Madison, believed that the president should be elected by a majority mandate, although even he acknowledged the issues that would ensue: a lack of consensus due to the northern and southern states being deeply divided over slavery. And lastly, as well all know, the “founders” of the Constitution shared a profound apprehension of “mob-rule” or “tyranny of the majority,” fearing that an unqualified, potentially dangerous populist could rise to the most powerful position in the nation. The concerns were valid at the time, and I admit that perhaps there was an era when the Electoral College was a necessary and even competent method used to elect presidents. In the modern era, though, there is no rational reason for why unknown electors through an antiquated and arcane process should determine a president.

The most prevalent and seemingly eternal argument used to defend the Electoral College is the notion that “small states” or “rural citizens” will be underrepresented in a popular vote system. Now, aside from the fact that it is bizarre for anyone to posit that giving every citizen one, equal vote would somehow oppress rural farmers in Idaho, it is simply either dishonest or ignorant to claim that the current electoral system. Truthfully, a person’s vote in Wyoming is worth nearly four times more than the vote of someone in California. Additionally, a vote is worth exponentially more if the voter resides in a highly contested “swing-state.” Why should a person living in Florida or Ohio have more of say in the electoral process than a person from Massachusetts or Alabama? Until every person has a full and equal vote, it can be hard to explain how we live in a fair and effective democracy.

https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2017-03-14/whose-votes-count-least-in-the-electoral-college

The only plausible reason for the Electoral College that I view as somewhat serious is the fact that it leaves states in charge of elections, which makes it harder for any faction to achieve massive election fraud; however, and obviously so, there is no justification for why states cannot still be responsible for recording the total number votes within their state, as they already do, and have those votes added to a national sum to decide the presidency.

Although it is not on its own a complete indictment on the insufficiencies of the system, the election of Donald Trump ironically devastates the last valid “argument” there was to defend the Electoral College; instead of preventing an unqualified, unstable and unpredictable tyrant from ascending to the nation’s highest office, the Electoral college ensured that it would come to be. Now, if anyone thinks that such a perspective is partisan or somehow impartial, I would implore them to look at the Hayes vs. Tilden election in 1876, which proves exactly how partisan and impartial the electoral system naturally is. When 20 electoral votes were in dispute across four states, the Republicans and Democrats came to a “behind the curtain” compromise that would elect Hayes as president while withdrawing federal troops from the South and, furthermore, ending the era of Reconstruction.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_1876

Regardless of my strong feelings against the Electoral College, I concede that the system does and has had its relatively few merits; however, after over two centuries of use and a less than 90 success rate, in terms of aligning with the popular vote winner, it is time we allow our electoral process to truly represent the will of the electorate.

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5 Responses to Of the Electors, by the Electors, for the Electors

  1. edander4 says:

    I agree with your statement that the pros of the Electoral College are few and far between. Your post was very well written. I liked how you brought up how a vote from someone in a rural area is actually worth four times more than a vote from someone in a state like California. Small and rural state will, in fact, not be oppressed without the Electoral College.
    I would like to address the topic of voting and how the Electoral College effects voter turnout. As you mentioned, the Electoral College vote does not always align with the popular vote. This deters people from voting. In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote and George W. Bush won the Electoral vote, which allowed Bush to win the presidency. If people perceive that the popular vote does not reflect the winner of the election, then they will simply not vote. There is already a sentiment among the people wondering the effect that their votes really have on the outcome of an election. They question why one vote matters if millions of others are voting. This in itself has deterred people from voting, and the Electoral College provides yet another deterrent. In 2016, 90 million eligible voters did not turn out. There cannot be another reason that causes people not to vote.

    http://www.newsmax.com/FastFeatures/Electoral-College-voting-rights/2015/07/02/id/653350/

    http://heavy.com/news/2016/11/eligible-voter-turnout-for-2016-data-hillary-clinton-donald-trump-republican-democrat-popular-vote-registered-results/

  2. dneu1 says:

    I think you really nailed it with this post when you said that “a person’s vote in Wyoming is worth nearly four times more than the vote of someone in California”. It seems absolutely ridiculous that this can be true, but sadly its also ridiculously hard to incentivize people to let go of that kind of power and advantage. In my opinion unless we can somehow convince millions of people in states like Wyoming that it’s actually in their best interests to let our country equally decide the presidency this system will never change. Additionally I fear that leaving so much power to the states is in arcane system that can seriously hinder the effectiveness of our national government as compared to more centralized nations. This might just be an effect of our countries massive size that we cannot solve, and centralization definitely has its cons as well, but its an issue that worries. Another huge issue I see with the electoral college is that it’s almost like a pseudo-feudal system in that it rests more power in land and arbitrary geographic divisions than it does in the people as a whole. This might be a terrible way to phrase that issue, but I think the point is clear that its a terrible way to divide electoral power amongst our citizens.

  3. amsturdam says:

    Hello Peyton,
    I admire the passion in your post though I do not agree with you on this issue. I believe the electoral college is an equalizer when it comes to presidential elections. I think the electoral college forces candidates to pay attention to all states and not focus solely on those with large vote counts and high population density’s. My biggest argument against the idea of popularly electing the president is that candidates would be encouraged to focus on states such as California, New York, etc. because they would bring in the most votes. There would be no reason to campaign in states such as Idaho or Oklahoma because even if you win the state it wouldn’t help that much in the long run. States with smaller populations would essentially be ignored. This could even be seen in the past election. Hillary Clinton made few if any campaign trips to states like Michigan and Wisconsin because they weren’t high on her priority list. This led to Trump being able to slide in and steal these states tilting the electoral vote count in his favor. I do agree with you that votes in swing states matter more than votes in a state like California and that is a downfall of the electoral college. But the balance that the college creates between urban and rural is more valuable in my opinion than the disproportion it may create with swing states.

    • brendanfoley1 says:

      Although abolishing the electoral college in favor of a popular vote election system would cause less dense population centers to receive less attention in political campaigns, I believe that is a favorable scenario to the current one where many people’s votes do not matter at all. Having an election based around popular vote would result in presidential campaigns focusing on large population centers and therefore reaching more actual citizens overall compared to the current system, but areas with fewer people would be largely ignored. However those people’s votes would still matter as much as everybody else’s in the election, which I believe is of much greater importance.

  4. bealpeyton says:

    I disagree, obviously, with the notion that the Electoral College “…forces candidates to pay attention to all states…” That claim can be easily disputed by the fact that throughout the 2016 presidential election cycle, two-thirds of all campaign stops were made in only six states: Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Additionally, and perhaps even more troubling, 94 percent of campaign events were held in just 12 states, all of which were considered “battleground states.” As much as we might like to think that the Electoral College obligates candidates to have a town hall circuit in Wyoming and a rally in Rhode Island, the data proves that smaller, uncompetitive states receive little if any attention from presidential campaigns. So, instead of us suffering the potential fear of the majority of presidential campaign resources being focused on residents of California and Texas, or Chicago and Los Angeles, we live in the unacceptable reality of nearly all campaign sources going towards a handful of states. California has nearly 39 million people and 55 electoral votes, and yet there was only one campaign stop in the state. The Electoral College does not prevent dominance by the few and representation of all, the Electoral College mandates it.
    Lastly, I think it is just common sense to say that in a broader sense, if a candidate can win by over three million votes and not achieve the presidency, then our election system needs to be reevaluated.
    http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/campaign-events-2016

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