Research Questions: On what basis was the Electoral College built on? What are the limitations of the Electoral College system? When was the first discrepancy/controversy regarding a result in the Electoral College system? What other systems can be placed instead? Would a simple majority be the fairest way of election? What would be the implication of changing a system so ingrained in American politics? How has the Electoral College affected the results of the Bush v Gore election in 2002? In what ways is the Electoral College exploited? What is Gerrymandering? How big of an effect does Gerrymandering have on elections? How widespread is the practice of Gerrymandering? What is the ratio of money spent on election campaigns from swing states compared to those which a party knows it’s going to win/lose? Is the Electoral College the best electoral system for two-party Elections? Does the Electoral College give an accurate representation of each state’s “worth”? How fair the “winner take all” mentality of the Electoral College? How is the Electoral College viewed within the United States? How is the system viewed by intentional politician? What are the strengths of the Electoral College system? What proposals have been made to change the Electoral College system? What laws are there regarding electoral, popular vote, and their voting process? Who developed the Electoral College? What was his reasoning? What was the debate at the initial time of passing of the law that put the Electoral College in place? What issues were debated? Is it still relevant? How does voter turnout affect the need for the Electoral College? Does the Electoral College protect us from radical politicians?
The electoral college was created to solve several problems the Founding Fathers saw with electing a president. The first issue was this nation that had 13 states of varying sizes and populations that were jealous of one another in addition to being very distrustful of a central government and the country only contained 4,000,000 residents that were loosely connected by transportation as well as communication. This would make campaigning nationally difficult at best. The Founding Fathers also felt political parties were an evil and sought to avoid their extensive influence. They also felt gentleman should not have to campaign for public office but should be appointed based on their merit. After rejecting Congress, the State legislatures and direct majority vote, due to the fear of voters not having enough information on their candidates, the Founding Fathers settled upon the suggestion by the Committee of Eleven to elect the president through a body of electors. This model was fashioned upon how the pope is selected in the Roman Catholic Church and that individuals from each state would be appointed to this body that were knowledgeable about the presidential candidates to make an informed decision. The structure of the Electoral College resembles the Centurial Assembly of the Roman Republic where the adult male citizens were divided in groups of 100 based on their financial circumstances and each group was allowed to cast one vote for or against a Senate measure.
There are various disadvantages to the electoral college system. The first is the winner of the popular vote may not always win the election. Many people feel this is not how a democracy should function and prefer the winner take all approach. Another disadvantage is the larger swing states that have larger populations in addition to a history of consistently voting for one party receive more attention from the candidates than do other states because generally if a candidate wins a state they receive all that state’s electoral votes. Three other disadvantages of the system are discourages voter turnout because citizens feel they do not have a direct voice, discourages the rise of third parties and gives more power to the less populous states. The last disadvantage has typically favored the Republican Party.
The first election to experience controversy regarding the electoral college system was in 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. With Aaron Burr as Jefferson’s running mate, the Democratic Republicans cast two votes faithfully for their party colleagues, but at the time, they did not have to specify which vote was for president. Therefore, the election was a tie. Since many felt Burr was a better choice, the House attempted to drum up support for him and Burr would not support Jefferson. After three months of contention, Jefferson was finally voted in as president in February of 1801 and the 12th amendment was passed which specified the electoral college had to cast a vote individually for president and vice president.
The most obvious system to put in place other than the electoral college system is a direct majority vote for the president.
Although the majority vote system would be the most fair it does come with the disadvantage of only counting a voters top choice and not ranking any of their second, third or fourth choices. However, this is something that could be worked with depending on how the election was run, so it would be fair.
Altering the system and abolishing the electoral college would most certainly have implications since it has been a part of the American political system for centuries, but honestly it would require a learning curve like any other change that is instituted. It would most definitely alter the power structure as the smaller states would no longer have the advantage, more voters would be inclined to cast their ballot because they have a direct voice, campaigns would be operated on a more national level rather than with the goal of capturing the most electoral votes and third parties would have more of an opportunity to make their presence known.
In the 2000 Bush/Gore election, Gore won .5 percent more of the popular vote but Bush won by five votes in the electoral college with one abstention. The election was plagued by rumors of fraud and rigging for electoral votes, especially in the state of Florida. Many voters claimed they thought they accidently voted for Pat Buchanan when they meant to vote for Gore. The election issues went all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was decided in a 5-4 decision to give Bush Florida’s electoral votes.
The electoral college can be exploited through several methods: the electors do not meet on election day, the Constitution has no requirements for how electors are selected and electors can vote any way they would like. This includes votes that are not even for what is on the ballot.
Every state determines its representative count based on census results and then divided into Congressional districts. Partisan gerrymandering transpires when these Congressional districts are divided to support a particular political party. Namely for that party to acquire more seats in the legislature or to protect the ones they have already procured. The point is to create a multitude of districts that will select the same party candidate and only a few that will select an opposing party member.
Although gerrymandering is blamed for its various effects on the outcomes of elections and a multitude of other political woes, there is no credence, based on the research performed, that it has any real effect on anything at all. Also, it is fairly widespread throughout the American political system.
Campaigns in swing states generally are much more expensive than those conducted in states where the candidate has a solid idea of the eventual results. There is not an exact ratio as it depends on the circumstances and cannot be pinpointed, but it is certainly a much larger sum.
The electoral college system does reinforce the two-party system for it tags third party members as spoilers and they have a difficult time obtaining electoral votes from the two larger parties. This is what happened to Ralph Nader and Ross Perot. Also, people will typically not vote for a party that has no chance to win. Therefore, they choose between the lesser of two evils so to speak and stick with the major parties. In addition, it is easier for the two major parties to fund their campaigns.
The electoral college does not provide a fair portrayal of each state’s worth, as the smaller states receive more electoral votes per person than the larger states do. Typically this has worked in the Republican Party’s favor as the small states have more power.
The electoral college bolsters the smaller states with disproportionate voting power. Proponents of the system say this uneven power enables politicians to pay attention to smaller states, which would otherwise not attract as much attention. Therefore the system does not enforce the practice of politicians campaigning in each and every state. Often there are states that are wholly left out of the process, that do not have to be small, but are merely seen as uncompetitive.
As 48 states allocate their votes via a winner-take-all method, there is no reason for a candidate to campaign in a state that clearly supports one candidate. For instance, Democratic candidates have little reason to campaign in staunch Republican states, such as Texas, even if many members of their party reside there. On the other hand, Republican candidates do not have much of a reason to campaign in strongly Democratic states, such as Massachusetts, especially when they know that states like Florida and Michigan do not have strongly delineated party lines.
The winner-take-all rule also promotes a decrease in voter turnout in states where one party is perennially victorious, because each individual vote will be superseded by the majority and will not, in effect, “make a difference” if the winner captures all the electoral votes.
The majority of people in the United States view the electoral college system as archaic and outdated. In a poll of attorneys taken more than two decades ago, nearly 70 percent voted to abolish the system. Every time a presidential election comes around people write scathingly about the system and how it should be replaced, but it has not been tinkered with since after the election of 1800 and shows no signs of being removed any time soon.
Politicians and scholars view the system as part of American politics and contend with it in that fashion. Polls of both parties show they are in favor of keeping the current structure in place. While they concede there are issues, they feel it has worked well for several hundred years so if it is not utterly broken, then why fix it?
There are advantages to the electoral college system. It prevents a victory based on solely urban areas, helps maintains the nation’s federal character, maintains separation of powers, increases the impact of minority groups to swing the vote and maintains the stability of a two-party system.
There have been more than 700 proposals to replace the electoral college system, more than for any other legislation of its kind in American history. There have been various systems that are too many to review in this brief background, but it would have to be accomplished through a direct amendment to the United States Constitution.
When it comes to laws on electoral votes, voting process and local voting, there are certainly many regulations, but the Constitution leaves that primarily up to the states. What is interesting about the electoral system is the Constitution does not outline hardly any guidelines or regulations on how the electoral college of a state is composed. There are also no specific requirements so this is also left largely to the states to determine.
The electoral college was proposed by the Committee of 11 and was a combination of the Virginia and New Jersey Plans. It stemmed from the 3/5ths Compromise regarding representation, as the small states were worried they would not have as much power as the larger states.
At this juncture, the reasons for the electoral college are outdated. With modern technology and education voters are informed as well as aware of their choices. They also have easy access to candidates and their platforms. As with anything instituted several hundred years ago, nearly every reason the electoral college was created to resolve have long since ceased to be an issue.
Voter turnout affects the electoral college because it actually dissuades them from casting a ballot. Voters feel their voice is useless since they don’t directly elect their own president. A low voter turnout only validates the use of the electoral college as some system must be in place to combat that phenomenon.
Many politicians would argue the electoral college does protect the public from radical politicians as it forces the candidates to make a nationwide coalition of interests in order to get elected. Also, since it reinforces the two-party system, it would be exceptionally difficult for a radical politician to gain a foothold in elections.