View Poll Results: Do we keep the electoral college?
- 11. You may not vote on this poll
12-12-2004, 02:33 PM #1
Ok, lets have a fun little civil debate on the electoral college + a poll.
Alright, I'm gonna try to play devil advocate on this one, but I may get into it if this gets going! I'm gonna post two opinion pieces from The Denver Post, and see what people have to say. I'd be willing to bet you guys know where I stand on this;
YES: We tamper with voting system at our peril
By Robert Hardaway
Now that the 2004 presidential election has been held without any of the feared complications posed by Amendment 36 or drawn-out recounts in battleground states, there is an opportunity to assess our electoral system free of passion.
Because Amendment 36 threatened to throw the 2004 election into confusion, it was widely discussed across the country leading up to Nov. 2. Had the amendment passed, it would have allocated Colorado's nine electoral votes in proportion to the popular vote. Polls showed potential support for the amendment - that is, until the electorate began to be educated about the history of the Electoral College and the critical role it has played in preserving the founders' vision of federalism.
The Grand Compromise
When the Founding Fathers convened in Philadelphia in 1787, the chances for success in creating a united nation were considered minimal, since it was known that the big states would insist upon legislative representation based on population and the small states would insist upon an equal vote in Congress. On the verge of a break-up, the convention was saved by a last-minute "Grand Compromise," which would bring the states together in one union.
The compromise had two elements. The first would create two houses of Congress - a lower house based on population, and an upper in which each state would have equal representation. The second element provided that the president would by chosen by electors equal in number to the members of Congress.
As a young Sen. John F. Kennedy stated in 1956 when leading the resistance to yet another attempt to undermine federalism by abolishing the Electoral College, "It's not only the unit vote of the presidency we are talking about, but a whole system of government power. If it is proposed to change the balance of power of one of those elements of the solar system, it is necessary to consider the others."
In other words, those who seek to tamper with either the Electoral College or the unit-vote system should convene another constitutional convention and rewrite the Constitution from scratch. Or, if they insist upon "one man, one vote," they should attack the first element of the Grand Compromise by abolishing the U.S. Senate, and only then look to the Electoral College.
Separation of powers
An essential feature of the Constitution is the separation of powers, reflecting the framers' intent that the president not be a "creature of Congress." Accordingly, the framers provided that the Electoral College should serve as a kind of parallel Congress, chosen by the people, whose sole duty would be to elect the president. As with any parliamentary system, a leader is occasionally elected who does not win the popular vote. In 1974, this occurred in Great Britain when the Labor Party lost the popular vote while electing a majority of members to parliament. In the United States, this occurs an average of about once a century (in 1876 and 2000).
Attempts to undermine federalism by constitutional amendment have been defeated by Congress more than 700 times, and for good reason. The Founding Fathers understood that support for a president must be broad as well as deep. They foresaw the possibility that in a "popular vote" election, a regional demagogue with overwhelming popular support in his region might win election by a bare nationwide majority of the popular vote despite being strongly opposed in the rest of the country. This is not possible under the Electoral College.
Although abolition of the Electoral College or its unit-vote feature have often been based on appeals to principles of "democracy," popular vote systems in fact rarely result in a true majority-vote winner. The Electoral College discourages the creation of splinter parties, since a candidate must win an entire state to win even a single electoral vote. Without this unit-vote feature, there is no incentive for political factions to compromise or coalesce, with the result that parties splinter into factions.
In Russia in 1993, for example, the "popular vote" system came within a whisker of presenting the electorate with a run-off choice between the two most organized parties, the fascist and the communist - despite the fact that neither party garnered more than 20 percent of the vote, and two-thirds of the electorate opposed both candidates. The fact that in a run-off one of these two candidates would have gotten a "majority" is hardly indicative of a democratic result.
The lesson of the Electoral College has been clear throughout American history: Accommodate compromise, merge, persuade, build and achieve a consensus for a united party candidate. It is a far different lesson from that taught by a system of direct election: Stick to your guns, harden your position, remain in isolation and refuse to accommodate in the hope that you may finally gain leverage out of all proportion to your level of popular support.
The Electoral College was also envisioned as providing a definitive and speedy result. In the 1960 election, for example, in which the popular votes of the two candidates were within two-thousandths of a percentage point, a "popular vote" election would have been too close to call for as long as 13 months, as interminable recounts took place in every state. The country was saved the trauma of a yearlong recount by the Electoral College, which provided an overwhelming electoral-vote victory for Kennedy.
True, once every 100 years, the vote in the Electoral College is so close that a recount in single state can affect the outcome. But consider what would have happened in 2000 had the country adopted a popular-vote system. Instead of isolating the recount to Florida, recounts would have been necessary in all 50 states.
Minorities are also sure to oppose the abolition of both the Electoral College and the unit-vote system, as they have in the past. As Vernon Jordan, president of the Urban League, has observed, "Take away the Electoral College and the importance of being black melts away. Blacks, instead of being crucial to victory in major states, simply become 10 percent of the total electorate, with reduced impact."
Frustrated by the failure to abolish the Electoral College itself, some have engaged in various attempts to circumvent the Constitution by such measures as Amendment 36, which would have allocated a state's electoral votes in proportion to the popular vote. Such proportional proposals are not new, and hundreds have been made over the past 100 years. Like proposals to abolish the Electoral College outright, all have been rejected by Congress, and for good reason. Had a proportional system been in effect in 1960, recounts would have been required in every state, and the decision delayed as hundreds of court cases worked their way through state courts across the country. Nor does a proportional system even guarantee that the popular vote winner will be elected. Indeed, a proportional plan would have elected at least three popular vote losers to the presidency (Hancock in 1880, Bryan in 1896, and Nixon in 1960).
Even more disconcerting is that a proportional plan would greatly increase the chances that no candidate would receive a majority of electoral votes. If there had been a proportional plan in place in 2000, for example, Ralph Nader would have received six electoral votes, thus depriving both the major candidates of a majority, and sending the election into the House, where each state would get one vote and New York would have the same number of votes as North Dakota. (One wonders how the League of Women Voters, which supports proportional allocation of electoral votes, feels about this logical consequence of their position.)
Notwithstanding the importance of the Electoral College in maintaining our federal system, there remain a number of reforms that should be considered.
For example, electors should be required to vote for the candidate to whom they were pledged. (Six times in American history, electors have violated that pledge, though fortunately such violations have never affected the outcome of an election). In addition, U.S. citizens not living in states, and presently disenfranchised, should be permitted to vote for electors representing the District of Columbia, and the rules for the contingency election in the House of Representatives should be clarified. For example, the Constitution is unclear as to whether the incoming or outgoing House should elect the president.
All such proposals for housekeeping reform have been defeated by those who have no desire to have the ambiguities resolved, since a cleaned-up Electoral College would be harder to abolish.
Even more important is the need for broader electoral reform within the current system.
The expansion in recent years of the practice of computer tabulation, absentee ballots and provisional voting have increased the potential for fraud exponentially. We might do well to learn a lesson from the current voting fiasco in the Ukraine, in which absentee ballots became the chief instrument of fraud. Indeed, if we persist in the use of similar practices, it is only a matter of time before the U.S. undergoes a similar trauma. The 2000 election problems would pale by comparison.
The Founding Fathers knew what they were doing when they devised an electoral system that, over a period of 200 years, has proved to be the envy of the world. We tamper with its essential features at our peril.
Robert Hardaway is a professor of law at the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver, and author of "The Electoral College and the Constitution; the Case for Preserving Federalism."
12-12-2004, 02:34 PM #2
NO: Put outdated method in dustbin of history
By Ron Tupa
Tomorrow, on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, as prescribed by our U.S. Constitution and federal and state law, the 538 individuals from across America who are members of the Electoral College will meet with little fanfare in their respective state capitals to vote for president.
As most of you will recall from your high school government class or were reminded by the 2000 presidential election (where, for the first time in more than 100 years, the nation's popular vote winner lost in the Electoral College), these 538 largely unknown citizens actually vote for president on our behalf. It is their votes, not ours, that determine who becomes president and vice president of the United States. What the public actually does on Election Day every fourth year could more accurately be described as a national preference poll, not a vote for president that has any legal standing.
Voted for electors
So while Coloradans dutifully cast their votes on a variety of other issues and candidates on Nov. 2, no one was actually voting for president. We voted instead for one or another slate of nine electors, each slate pledged to vote for a certain candidate. And like all 48 states that employ a "winner-take-all" system, the popular-vote winner in Colorado is awarded all nine presidential electors of the political party pledged to vote for that candidate. In our state, it means that because Republican George W. Bush received 52 percent of the popular vote compared to John Kerry's 47 percent, the slate of Republican electors actually won the Nov. 2 election and the opportunity to vote on our state's behalf in the Electoral College.
The slate of presidential electors from Colorado who pledged to vote for Bush will total nine of the 538 electors that comprise the Electoral College.
Because a majority of the 538 electoral votes are required to select a president, a candidate must receive at least 270 votes. Otherwise, the task of choosing the president falls to the House of Representatives, where each state is given only one vote and a majority of states (at least 26) are necessary to elect the president.
On Election Day, George W. Bush won the popular vote in 31 states to receive 286 electoral votes, so he actually won a cushion of 16 votes in the Electoral College. John Kerry won the popular vote in 19 states and the District of Columbia for a total of 252 electoral votes.
So tomorrow, a mere 286 individuals from 31 states who pledged to support George W. Bush for president will actually determine the presidency for all 295 million Americans!
If you don't support such a system, join the club. I, like millions of Americans across this country in both red and blue states, believe the Electoral College system is as antiquated as it is undemocratic and should be swept into the dustbin of history.
The most serious drawback to the current Electoral College system is that it doesn't allow for a direct popular vote, whereby the presidential candidate who receives the most votes wins the office and can lead the country cloaked in a mantle of legitimacy (something George W. Bush did not have after the 2000 election). In that election, Americans saw for the first time in more than 100 years that the candidate who won the popular vote could still lose in the only vote tally that carried any legal significance: the Electoral College vote.
House could have decided
Another flaw of the current system is that the House of Representatives would, on a state-by-state basis, select the president if no candidate wins a majority of electoral votes or if there is a tie in electoral votes. This actually could have occurred as recently as this past November if only three states (Iowa, New Mexico and Nevada) that were narrowly carried by Bush had been won by Kerry instead, resulting in a 269-269 tie. Since the House of Representatives has only chosen the president twice in our country's history (1800 and 1824), such a tie would have been truly historic and likely fatal to for the current system.
There is also the issue of so-called "faithless electors" not abiding by the will of the voters as expressed by the popular vote in any particular state. This problem occurred in 2000 when a Democratic elector from the District of Columbia failed to vote for Al Gore even though he handily won the popular vote in D.C. It could also occur tomorrow if a Republican elector from West Virginia carries through on his threat to vote against George W. Bush, even though Bush easily won the popular vote in that state.
Finally, the Electoral College gives undue influence to the smallest states and turns the democratic principle of "one-person, one-vote" on its head.
To illustrate this inherent unfairness, look to our neighbor state to the north. Wyoming is the smallest state in America by population with just 494,000 residents, yet when choosing a president it still gets three votes out of 538 in the Electoral College. By contrast, Colorado - with nine electoral votes and 4.3 million residents - has nearly nine times Wyoming's population but only three times Wyoming's voting power in the Electoral College. How can this be? Because the Constitution guarantees every state, no matter how small, at least three votes in the Electoral College, small states wield a disproportionate share of clout when choosing a president.
Originally created as a compromise to help get the Constitution approved, the Electoral College served a useful purpose very early on in this country's history when we were a much younger, less democratic and certainly less sophisticated nation. When the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College, America was largely agricultural, communication was slow and more than half of Americans were uneducated or illiterate. Moreover, to put past practice into perspective, slavery was an accepted institution; women had few legal rights and could not vote; citizens could not directly elect their U.S. senators; and political parties were not yet established. So, taken in context of the times, it might have made sense to have such stewards of the public trust acting on behalf of voters and their states to choose a national leader who would serve in the best interests of all.
But there really is no legitimate reason to keep such an archaic system in place today, more than 200 years later. In fact, there have been hundreds of attempts over the past two centuries to either reform the Electoral College or to scrap it entirely. The only reason it has not been abolished altogether by constitutional amendment is that it greatly benefits the smallest states. Unfortunately, since three-quarters of the states are necessary to ratify any proposed constitutional amendment, it is unlikely that enough small states would be supportive of changing the status quo, no matter how necessary.
State Sen. Ron Tupa, D-Boulder, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 51, the Electoral College reform initiative, and was outreach director for Amendment 36.
12-12-2004, 04:03 PM #3
12-12-2004, 04:13 PM #4Anabolic Member
- Join Date
- May 2002
Down with the EC.
People are slightly better informed these days (as opposed to 100 years ago). We can make our own decisions directly.
We need a better method of tallying votes than a computer file with no paper trail. Given the republicans demonstrated ability to do underhanded things without a second though, the computerized voting booths (manufacutred by a staunch republican company) opens the doors to EASY vote tampering.
12-12-2004, 04:19 PM #5
5 entries found for republic.
re·pub·lic ( P ) Pronunciation Key (r-pblk)
A political order whose head of state is not a monarch and in modern times is usually a president.
A nation that has such a political order.
A political order in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them.
A nation that has such a political order.
often Republic A specific republican government of a nation: the Fourth Republic of France.
An autonomous or partially autonomous political and territorial unit belonging to a sovereign federation.
A group of people working as equals in the same sphere or field: the republic of letters.
[French république, from Old French, from Latin rspblica : rs, thing; see r- in Indo-European Roots + pblica, feminine of pblicus, of the people; see public.]
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Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Main Entry: re·pub·lic
1 : a government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who in modern times is usually a president; also : a political unit (as a nation) having such a form of government
2 : a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law; also : a political unit (as a nation) having such a form of government
Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Law, © 1996 Merriam-Webster, Inc.
n 1: a political system in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them [syn: democracy, commonwealth] [ant: autocracy] 2: a form of government whose head of state is not a monarch; "the head of state in a republic is usually a president"
Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University
12-12-2004, 04:22 PM #6
The Pro's and Con's of the Electoral College System
There have, in its 200 year history, been a number of critics and proposed reforms to the Electoral College system - most of them trying to eliminate it. But there are also staunch defenders of the Electoral College who, though perhaps less vocal than its critics, offer very powerful arguments in its favor.
Arguments Against the Electoral College
Those who object to the Electoral College system and favor a direct popular election of the president generally do so on four grounds:
the possibility of electing a minority president
the risk of so-called "faithless" Electors,
the possible role of the Electoral College in depressing voter turnout, and
its failure to accurately reflect the national popular will.
Opponents of the Electoral College are disturbed by the possibility of electing a minority president (one without the absolute majority of popular votes). Nor is this concern entirely unfounded since there are three ways in which that could happen.
One way in which a minority president could be elected is if the country were so deeply divided politically that three or more presidential candidates split the electoral votes among them such that no one obtained the necessary majority. This occurred, as noted above, in 1824 and was unsuccessfully attempted in 1948 and again in 1968. Should that happen today, there are two possible resolutions: either one candidate could throw his electoral votes to the support of another (before the meeting of the Electors) or else, absent an absolute majority in the Electoral College, the U.S. House of Representatives would select the president in accordance with the 12th Amendment. Either way, though, the person taking office would not have obtained the absolute majority of the popular vote. Yet it is unclear how a direct election of the president could resolve such a deep national conflict without introducing a presidential run-off election -- a procedure which would add substantially to the time, cost, and effort already devoted to selecting a president and which might well deepen the political divisions while trying to resolve them.
A second way in which a minority president could take office is if, as in 1888, one candidate's popular support were heavily concentrated in a few States while the other candidate maintained a slim popular lead in enough States to win the needed majority of the Electoral College. While the country has occasionally come close to this sort of outcome, the question here is whether the distribution of a candidate's popular support should be taken into account alongside the relative size of it. This issue was mentioned above and is discussed at greater length below.
A third way of electing a minority president is if a third party or candidate, however small, drew enough votes from the top two that no one received over 50% of the national popular total. Far from being unusual, this sort of thing has, in fact, happened 15 times including (in this century) Wilson in both 1912 and 1916, Truman in 1948, Kennedy in 1960, and Nixon in 1968. The only remarkable thing about those outcomes is that few people noticed and even fewer cared. Nor would a direct election have changed those outcomes without a run-off requiring over 50% of the popular vote (an idea which not even proponents of a direct election seem to advocate).
Opponents of the Electoral College system also point to the risk of so-called "faithless" Electors. A "faithless Elector" is one who is pledged to vote for his party's candidate for president but nevertheless votes of another candidate. There have been 7 such Electors in this century and as recently as 1988 when a Democrat Elector in the State of West Virginia cast his votes for Lloyd Bensen for president and Michael Dukakis for vice president instead of the other way around. Faithless Electors have never changed the outcome of an election, though, simply because most often their purpose is to make a statement rather than make a difference. That is to say, when the electoral vote outcome is so obviously going to be for one candidate or the other, an occasional Elector casts a vote for some personal favorite knowing full well that it will not make a difference in the result. Still, if the prospect of a faithless Elector is so fearsome as to warrant a Constitutional amendment, then it is possible to solve the problem without abolishing the Electoral College merely by eliminating the individual Electors in favor of a purely mathematical process (since the individual Electors are no longer essential to its operation).
Opponents of the Electoral College are further concerned about its possible role in depressing voter turnout. Their argument is that, since each State is entitled to the same number of electoral votes regardless of its voter turnout, there is no incentive in the States to encourage voter participation. Indeed, there may even be an incentive to discourage participation (and they often cite the South here) so as to enable a minority of citizens to decide the electoral vote for the whole State. While this argument has a certain surface plausibility, it fails to account for the fact that presidential elections do not occur in a vacuum. States also conduct other elections (for U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, State Governors, State legislators, and a host of local officials) in which these same incentives and disincentives are likely to operate, if at all, with an even greater force. It is hard to imagine what counter-incentive would be created by eliminating the Electoral College.
Finally, some opponents of the Electoral College point out, quite correctly, its failure to accurately reflect the national popular will in at least two respects.
First, the distribution of Electoral votes in the College tends to over-represent people in rural States. This is because the number of Electors for each State is determined by the number of members it has in the House (which more or less reflects the State's population size) plus the number of members it has in the Senate (which is always two regardless of the State's population). The result is that in 1988, for example, the combined voting age population (3,119,000) of the seven least populous jurisdiction of Alaska, Delaware, the District of Columbia, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming carried the same voting strength in the Electoral College (21 Electoral votes) as the 9,614,000 persons of voting age in the State of Florida. Each Floridian's potential vote, then, carried about one third the weight of a potential vote in the other States listed.
A second way in which the Electoral College fails to accurately reflect the national popular will stems primarily from the winner-take-all mechanism whereby the presidential candidate who wins the most popular votes in the State wins all the Electoral votes of that State. One effect of this mechanism is to make it extremely difficult for third party or independent candidates ever to make much of a showing in the Electoral College. If, for example, a third party or independent candidate were to win the support of even as many as 25% of the voters nationwide, he might still end up with no Electoral College votes at all unless he won a plurality of votes in at least one State. And even if he managed to win a few States, his support elsewhere would not be reflected. By thus failing to accurately reflect the national popular will, the argument goes, the Electoral College reinforces a two party system, discourages third party or independent candidates, and thereby tends to restrict choices available to the electorate.
In response to these arguments, proponents of the Electoral College point out that is was never intended to reflect the national popular will. As for the first issue, that the Electoral College over-represents rural populations, proponents respond that the United State Senate - with two seats per State regardless of its population - over-represents rural populations far more dramatically. But since there have been no serious proposals to abolish the United States Senate on these grounds, why should such an argument be used to abolish the lesser case of the Electoral College? Because the presidency represents the whole country? But so, as an institution, does the United States Senate.
As for the second issue of the Electoral College's role in reinforcing a two party system, proponents, as we shall see, find this to be a positive virtue.
Arguments for the Electoral College
Proponents of the Electoral College system normally defend it on the philosophical grounds that it:
contributes to the cohesiveness of the country by requiring a distribution of popular support to be elected president
enhances the status of minority interests,
contributes to the political stability of the nation by encouraging a two-party system, and
maintains a federal system of government and representation.
Recognizing the strong regional interests and loyalties which have played so great a role in American history, proponents argue that the Electoral College system contributes to the cohesiveness of the country be requiring a distribution of popular support to be elected president, without such a mechanism, they point out, president would be selected either through the domination of one populous region over the others or through the domination of large metropolitan areas over the rural ones. Indeed, it is principally because of the Electoral College that presidential nominees are inclined to select vice presidential running mates from a region other than their own. For as things stand now, no one region contains the absolute majority (270) of electoral votes required to elect a president. Thus, there is an incentive for presidential candidates to pull together coalitions of States and regions rather than to exacerbate regional differences. Such a unifying mechanism seems especially prudent in view of the severe regional problems that have typically plagued geographically large nations such as China, India, the Soviet Union, and even, in its time, the Roman Empire.
This unifying mechanism does not, however, come without a small price. And the price is that in very close popular elections, it is possible that the candidate who wins a slight majority of popular votes may not be the one elected president - depending (as in 1888) on whether his popularity is concentrated in a few States or whether it is more evenly distributed across the States. Yet this is less of a problem than it seems since, as a practical matter, the popular difference between the two candidates would likely be so small that either candidate could govern effectively.
Proponents thus believe that the practical value of requiring a distribution of popular support outweighs whatever sentimental value may attach to obtaining a bare majority of popular support. Indeed, they point out that the Electoral College system is designed to work in a rational series of defaults: if, in the first instance, a candidate receives a substantial majority of the popular vote, then that candidate is virtually certain to win enough electoral votes to be elected president; in the event that the popular vote is extremely close, then the election defaults to that candidate with the best distribution of popular votes (as evidenced by obtaining the absolute majority of electoral votes); in the event the country is so divided that no one obtains an absolute majority of electoral votes, then the choice of president defaults to the States in the U.S. House of Representatives. One way or another, then, the winning candidate must demonstrate both a sufficient popular support to govern as well as a sufficient distribution of that support to govern.
Proponents also point out that, far from diminishing minority interests by depressing voter participation, the Electoral College actually enhances the status of minority groups. This is so because the voters of even small minorities in a State may make the difference between winning all of that State's electoral votes or none of that State's electoral votes. And since ethnic minority groups in the United States happen to concentrate in those State with the most electoral votes, they assume an importance to presidential candidates well out of proportion to their number. The same principle applies to other special interest groups such as labor unions, farmers, environmentalists, and so forth.
It is because of this "leverage effect" that the presidency, as an institution, tends to be more sensitive to ethnic minority and other special interest groups than does the Congress as an institution. Changing to a direct election of the president would therefore actually damage minority interests since their votes would be overwhelmed by a national popular majority.
Proponents further argue that the Electoral College contributes to the political stability of the nation by encouraging a two party system. There can be no doubt that the Electoral College has encouraged and helps to maintain a two party system in the United States. This is true simply because it is extremely difficult for a new or minor party to win enough popular votes in enough States to have a chance of winning the presidency. Even if they won enough electoral votes to force the decision into the U.S. House of Representatives, they would still have to have a majority of over half the State delegations in order to elect their candidate - and in that case, they would hardly be considered a minor party.
In addition to protecting the presidency from impassioned but transitory third party movements, the practical effect of the Electoral College (along with the single-member district system of representation in the Congress) is to virtually force third party movements into one of the two major political parties. Conversely, the major parties have every incentive to absorb minor party movements in their continual attempt to win popular majorities in the States. In this process of assimilation, third party movements are obliged to compromise their more radical views if they hope to attain any of their more generally acceptable objectives. Thus we end up with two large, pragmatic political parties which tend to the center of public opinion rather than dozens of smaller political parties catering to divergent and sometimes extremist views. In other words, such a system forces political coalitions to occur within the political parties rather than within the government.
A direct popular election of the president would likely have the opposite effect. For in a direct popular election, there would be every incentive for a multitude of minor parties to form in an attempt to prevent whatever popular majority might be necessary to elect a president. The surviving candidates would thus be drawn to the regionalist or extremist views represented by these parties in hopes of winning the run-off election.
The result of a direct popular election for president, then, would likely be frayed and unstable political system characterized by a multitude of political parties and by more radical changes in policies from one administration to the next. The Electoral College system, in contrast, encourages political parties to coalesce divergent interests into two sets of coherent alternatives. Such an organization of social conflict and political debate contributes to the political stability of the nation.
Finally, its proponents argue quite correctly that the Electoral College maintains a federal system of government and representation. Their reasoning is that in a formal federal structure, important political powers are reserved to the component States. In the United States, for example, the House of Representatives was designed to represent the States according to the size of their population. The States are even responsible for drawing the district lines for their House seats. The Senate was designed to represent each State equally regardless of its population. And the Electoral College was designed to represent each State's choice for the presidency (with the number of each State's electoral votes being the number of its Senators plus the number of its Representatives). To abolish the Electoral College in favor of a nationwide popular election for president would strike at the very heart of the federal structure laid out in our Constitution and would lead to the nationalization of our central government - to the detriment of the States.
Indeed, if we become obsessed with government by popular majority as the only consideration, should we not then abolish the Senate which represents States regardless of population? Should we not correct the minor distortions in the House (caused by districting and by guaranteeing each State at least one Representative) by changing it to a system of proportional representation? This would accomplish "government by popular majority" and guarantee the representation of minority parties, but it would also demolish our federal system of government. If there are reasons to maintain State representation in the Senate and House as they exist today, then surely these same reasons apply to the choice of president. Why, then, apply a sentimental attachment to popular majorities only to the Electoral College?
The fact is, they argue, that the original design of our federal system of government was thoroughly and wisely debated by the Founding Fathers. State viewpoints, they decided, are more important than political minority viewpoints. And the collective opinion of the individual State populations is more important than the opinion of the national population taken as a whole. Nor should we tamper with the careful balance of power between the national and State governments which the Founding Fathers intended and which is reflected in the Electoral college. To do so would fundamentally alter the nature of our government and might well bring about consequences that even the reformers would come to regret.
The Electoral College has performed its function for over 200 years (and in over 50 presidential elections) by ensuring that the President of the United States has both sufficient popular support to govern and that his popular support is sufficiently distributed throughout the country to enable him to govern effectively.
Although there were a few anomalies in its early history, none have occurred in the past century. Proposals to abolish the Electoral College, though frequently put forward, have failed largely because the alternatives to it appear more problematic than is the College itself.
The fact that the Electoral College was originally designed to solve one set of problems but today serves to solve an entirely different set of problems is a tribute to the genius of the Founding Fathers.
by William C. Kimberling, Deputy Director
FEC National Clearinghouse on Election Administration
The views expressed here are solely those of the author and are not necessarily shared by the Federal Election Commission or any division thereof or the Jackson County Board of Election Commissioners.
12-12-2004, 04:24 PM #7
The Electoral College Explained
How the vote works, how some post-election scenarios could play out — and why, for all its flaws, this is still a good system
By KRISTINA DELL
Monday, Nov. 01, 2004
Winston Churchill was fond of using the old saw that "democracy is the worst form of government — except for everything else." Many would say the same for the Electoral College. Get ready for its quirks and foibles to dominate the airwaves Tuesday if the election stays as close as the polls indicate. Here's a look at how it works, whom it favors and how it could influence the presidential outcome:
ORIGINS AND HOW IT WORKS
When you head to the booth this Tuesday, you won't actually be pulling the lever for John Kerry or George Bush. Rather, you will be casting a ballot for a slate of electors pledged to a particular candidate, who are then supposed to vote for the person you want to be president. The number of electors in each state is equal to the number of senators (two per state) plus the number of U.S. representatives, which varies according to the state's population as determined by the Census count every ten years. Presently, the Electoral College has 538 electors — 535 for the total number of senators and representatives plus three for Washington, D.C. Today, a candidate must receive 270 electoral votes to win.
The electors will meet in their respective state capitals to cast their votes for president and vice president on the Monday following the second Wednesday in December; it’s as if the founders foresaw the need for recount time. The votes are sealed and sent to the president of the Senate, who opens and reads them before Congress on January 6th.
The reason we arrived at this system: Our founding fathers were all about compromise when they were choosing a mechanism for picking the president. One early idea was to have the Congress or the Senate decide, but that plan was nixed because it was felt that arrangement would have upset the government’s balance of power and fostered corruption.
The founders feared a direct, winner-take-all election would be too reckless. Since travel and communication around the country was slow, they worried that citizens wouldn’t get sufficient information about candidates outside their state and would usually just pick someone from their region. With a direct popular vote, it is more likely that no candidate would receive a majority sufficient to govern a whole country, making challenges more frequent. Even if there was a clear winner, the selection of the president would often be decided by the biggest, most populous state with little attention paid to smaller ones. The Electoral College seemed like a better way to ensure the president had a wide geographic mandate.
State legislatures decide the manner by which electors are chosen, and not surprisingly, different states have adopted different methods. The two most common ways: either the elector is nominated by his or her state party committee (usually as a reward for years of stumping for the party) or the elector “campaigns” for the spot and a vote at the party’s convention decides the winners.
Electors tend to fly under the radar, perhaps because parties usually don’t pick people like Rush Limbaugh or Michael Moore to cast their ballots. Most people, unless they are closely involved with their state party, don't even know who their electors are. Those chosen to be electors tend to be highly engaged in their party or in politics, such as activists, state elected officials or even people who have personal ties to a candidate. Surprisingly, the Constitution stipulates very few qualifications. It speaks more to what electors can’t be rather than who they should be. The following cannot be an elector: 1) a Representative or Senator 2) a high-ranking official in a position of “trust or profit” 3) someone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S.
This past Thursday, one of Kerry’s Ohio electors, Representative Sherrod Brown, resigned because he is a congressman and thus constitutionally ineligible. The Kerry camp can replace him before November 2nd.
THE FAITHLESS ELECTOR
Since there is no federal law that requires electors to vote how they pledged they would, there have been a few instances where electors have not supported their party’s candidate or the state’s popular vote. In the past, electors have done this to make a statement when the election wasn’t close and their vote wouldn’t matter. But a faithless elector on Tuesday could wreak havoc around the country if there is a near tie in the Electoral College. Already one of West Virginia’s five Republican electors, South Charleston Mayor Richie Robb, said that he might not vote for Bush if the President wins West Virginia (but he said it is unlikely he would support Kerry.)
Several states have responded to faithless electors by passing laws that make electors vote as they pledged. Some states have gone even farther by slapping them with misdemeanors or fines. North Carolina, for example, levies a $10,000 fine on an elector who forgoes his or her pledge. However, most scholars believe these state-level laws don’t hold much water and would not withstand a constitutional challenge.
WINNER-TAKES-ALL VS. DISTRICT SYSTEM
Forty-eight states have the standard “winner-takes-all” electoral system: whichever presidential ticket amasses the most popular votes in a state wins all the electors of that state. Maine and Nebraska are the two exceptions. In these states, two electoral votes follow the winner takes all system and the rest (two for Maine, three for Nebraska) follow the “district system,” a popular vote within each congressional district. While neither Maine nor Nebraska has ever split its electoral votes, this election could be a first. Currently, Kerry holds a slight lead in Maine, but if Bush wins in the 2nd District, the President would get one of the state’s four electoral votes.
Another wild card is Colorado’s Amendment 36, which would take effect immediately if it passes on Tuesday. This initiative would split up Colorado’s electoral votes based on the percentage of votes each candidate wins in the state. Since Colorado is currently too close to call, Amendment 36 would most likely result in five electoral votes for the winner and four for the loser, potentially changing the outcome of the presidency and ensuring even more lawsuits than we saw in 2000.
AN ELECTORAL COLLEGE TIE: PARSING THE 12th AMENDMENT
It’s feasible that we will have a repeat of 2000, with one candidate winning the popular vote, yet losing the election. Not ideal, sure, but at least we’d have a president. Even more divisive would be an electoral tie, a real possibility since polls in 11 swing states are too close to call. Assuming the other states vote as predicted, the Washington Post’s computer analysis finds 33 combinations under which the swing states could line up to produce a 269 to 269 tie.
Under the 12th Amendment, if one candidate does not win the necessary 270 electoral votes to become president, the decision goes to the House, where each state has one vote. The House vote is by state delegations, not simple majority, and the winner must get the vote of 26 state delegations. Assuming the states follow party lines, there are currently 30 Republican delegations, 16 Democratic delegations (including Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is independent but liberal) and 4 deadlocked delegations. This formula basically guarantees Bush a Victory — no need to call in the Supreme Court.
PROS AND CONS
Opponents of the Electoral College point to Bush as a reason to get rid of the current system — he’s president even though he lost the popular vote. Since the distribution of electoral votes tends to over-represent people in rural states, opponents argue that the system fails to accurately reflect the popular will. This over-representation occurs because a state’s electors are based upon the number of representatives it has in the House (determined by population) plus the number of representatives it has in the Senate (two, no matter the state’s population, giving more weight to small states.) Some argue that the winner-take-all mechanism in 48 states discourages independent or third party candidates from running because it would be difficult for them to get many electoral votes.
Proponents of the Electoral College system like the fact that a president must have a wide geographic distribution of support to win, believing this contributes to the cohesiveness of the country. They think the College helps minority interests because their votes could make a difference in the state, whereas the national popular majority would probably dilute them in a direct election. Some like that the Electoral College encourages a two-party system, because it forces candidates to move to the center of public opinion to get elected. In a direct election dozens of political parties, many with extreme, fringe ideas, would be encouraged to crop up to prevent a candidate from winning a popular majority. One of these parties could win the run-off and we would have more radical changes in policies from one administration to the next.
After the 2000 election, there was a lot of talk about doing away with this system, but it's unlikely this will happen anytime soon. To do so, we would need an amendment to the Constitution, which requires a two-thirds vote from Congress and then ratification by three-fourths of the states for it to become law. Small, rural states probably wouldn't support any such amendment because it would give them less of a voice.
In the end, the system works pretty well. For the past two hundred years, the Electoral College has picked a president, most of the time without incident. While not without its faults, the College has withstood the test of time, allowing peaceful elections to continue through tumultuous world wars, the civil rights struggle and economic depressions. It’s a testament to the founding fathers' foresight that this ancient system of compromise continues to thrive.
12-12-2004, 04:25 PM #8
Well, I am not an American so what I think in this debate matters very little, but here goes...
From what I know of the way the electoral college works, I'd ditch it... it's time has passed and I fear it doesn't accurately represent the will of the people 100% of the time.
Second thing I would do is federalise the national elections. Establish 1 voting procedure used in the whole country when voting for the president. It blows my mind when I hear that on the same ballot as the prez, you often also vote for minor elected officials, state or county policy and laws, budgets.... sounds so ridiculous.
This is the president of the most powerfull nation on earth you're voting for, not some cowtown mayor or sheriff! Don't you think there should be *1 * thing on the ballot and nothing else? Shouldn't ALL Americans have the same ballot and same voting procedure?
Just my 2 cents worth...
(fyi in case anyone cares, in Canada we have federalised national elections and census).
12-12-2004, 05:29 PM #9
sorry those are way too long to keep my attention on this subject..
12-13-2004, 08:33 AM #10
yeah people stop posting those long articles.
The American Bar Association once called the electoral college "archaic, undemocratic, complex, ambigous, indirect, and dangerous" (American Bar Association, Election the President (Chicago:American Bar Association, 1967), 3
It was mainly implemented because the fouding fathers wanted the president of the United states to be selected by the nation's elite, not directly by the people.
12-13-2004, 08:52 AM #11Originally Posted by RockSolid
One article I posted was a pro, one was a con, and another was a basic history. If you don't want to read the whole thing then I suggest you go to the conclusion of the article and get the basic jist of it.
Oh, BTW, This is a thread I started, so If you dont want to join in, dont post on it.
12-14-2004, 02:00 AM #12
The problem with the Popular Vote is that candidates can focus on cities that have high population densities and win their votes by convincing only highly populated areas to vote for them while smaller states are neglected and really dont make a difference in the election. High population cities are often cities full of poverty with many people who just cant seem to survive the real world. These are the type that tend to rely on welfare and government-aid. Get where this is going? I dont feel that my tax-dollars should go to the weak so they can buy drugs with a welfare check because a candidate promised it to them for their vote.
12-14-2004, 04:27 AM #13Originally Posted by Jdawg50
as mentioned the MAIN goal for the Electoral college was because the American forefathers wanted the American elite to pick a president, not the American people, this is what it saying in my gradute american government text book.
So I would say abolish it.
12-14-2004, 07:26 AM #14Originally Posted by RockSolid
That is the problem with the popular vote. It does not give the little guys a big enough voice, and that was the intention of the electoral college.
12-14-2004, 08:04 AM #15Originally Posted by Jdawg50
Do you know about the Federalists and Anti-Federalists?
12-14-2004, 08:08 AM #16Originally Posted by Jdawg50
with a electoral system, if Kerry sees events in Ohio, and feels there is no chance for him to win that state, he will totally ignore it, but if it is based on popular vote, he might still visit that state and gain some individual votes.
Bush totally ignorned California in this election, why is that? Because he knew he didnt have a chance to win the electoral votes. But lets say it was based on popular votes, he would visit Cali, and gain popular individual votes.
the problem with this argument is, that each side can argue for the same topic and win.
we had a debate about this in class, and both sides were arguing the same point and winning.
The electoral colleage makes sense to me, either method is good, but to me we live in an age where it is ok to have a popular vote.
12-14-2004, 08:12 AM #17
another example, my friend from Jersey, wanted to vote Republican in this election, then he saw the stats and didnt vote, because he felt his vote is useless. It wouldnt count in the end, cause of NJ's usual Democratic leanings.
12-14-2004, 08:35 AM #18Junior Member
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- Aug 2004
Our constitution doesnt guarantee us the right to vote for the president. it gives the states the right to pick him/her. why was this done? not to hold down the common man, but rather to give each state a non-diluted say in who should be elected? What happens if a hurricane is hitting florida during the election? should their voice be diluted due to lower voter turnout?
12-14-2004, 08:43 AM #19Junior Member
- Join Date
- Aug 2004
another example.... lets say 2 candiates are running for president. the republican is a fine upstanding citizen who everyone loves. the democrat is a lying, cheating piece of crap who has just been indicted for possibly murdering one of the interns he was sleeping with. everyone knows that this guy doesnt stand a chance of being elected. so as the polls close on the east cost, record low voter turnout is reported. why even go to the polls? this continues to happen across the country. finally the west coast is looking at an election where the upstanding republican is winning by a good margin, but total voter turnout is so small that the democrat party says, "hey, if we get out the vote, we can win this thing". so they drive around giving away free packs of cigarettes to every homeless person they can find on the street. in the end, California sees record high turnouts and the dirt bag is elected.
12-14-2004, 08:49 AM #20Originally Posted by RockSolid
12-14-2004, 08:54 AM #21Originally Posted by RockSolid
12-14-2004, 08:56 AM #22Originally Posted by RockSolid
This is fun btw.
I really like how this thread is going. good points on both sides
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