This week we`ll be looking at the Electoral College.
In the last few years, the United States of America came off of a contentious presidential election after an ALREADY-controversial presidential term that many feel was caused by the flaws of the Electoral College. Not to mention that back in 2000 we had this debate as well, so it`s obvious that it`s a thing people have strong feelings and criticisms of. So, let`s take a dive in to see WHY what happened did happen, and where it all came from.
The way the Electoral College works is rooted in a point from the 1787 Convention that wanted the US Congress, NOT the people directly, to technically “vote for” the American President. However, the publication “The Federalist Papers,” when in circulation, repeatedly called for the reminding that the US Government should AT THE LEAST be a mixture of both legislative and state-based governance/representation. Therefore, the original plans for the Electoral College were drawn up to basically state;
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.
This means that states will select “electors” or representatives in a unique “college” (group) who, based on votes within the state, then cast a vote in a smaller election. The number of “electors” per state is tied to the number of representatives they have in Congress in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Now, the Senate is made up of two Senators from every state (as of 2022 there are thus technically 100 Senators), but the House of Representatives is made up of a different number every year, as representation there is based on state population. This sounds complex but the basic gist is that since the assumption was that people wouldn`t lie about what votes/candidates their states were putting forward based on LOCAL votes and that there`d be too many people to always get an accurate un-challengeable popular vote, this was a good compromise.
Thus, while people in states vote for President and Vice President, the elected (or chosen) representatives of each state then say what their state voted for and THAT then determined the presidency.
With the formation of political parties for the election of 1796 though, it was clear that the system needed some fine-tuning. With clear partisan divisions now rather than each Congressional representative (in both the House and Senate), the election of 1800 was the last straw (with clashes over equal numbers for candidates meaning that Congress had to essentially have a special meeting (as their bylaws stated) to pick someone themselves rather than just tally votes).
The root of the problem was that there was no clear winner for who the candidate for President (versus Vice-President) was for the Democratic Republicans, Jefferson, or Burr (Burr had also been nominated as VP technically but the votes in the Electoral College didn`t make any clear distinction).
So, in 1803, Congress (to fix this issue) ruled and implemented new procedures for the Electoral College that clearly stated that EACH party had to state which candidate was their candidate for President, and which was for Vice President. Also, each Electoral College representative now had to separately vote for both President and Vice President, so that there`d be no confusion over who was who.
The shorthand version of how it works now is;
Parties hold internal votes to select candidates for both President and Vice President. The campaigning up to that is called the “primary.”
Once candidates for parties are determined and announced, then you have the campaigns up until Voting Day.
As votes in each state are gathered and tallied, the results for that state are delivered to the state`s electors, who then cast a vote. The number of electors and the “votes” (more like points) that each state has is dependent on both A) the population of the state and B) the number of representatives it has in Congress.
Thus, whoever gets the most “points” wins, versus the most “votes”. Rather, votes determine how many points you get access to.
Since then, the Electoral College has had its shares of ups and downs as people have continued to debate the merits of it versus popular vote, which since the 18th century, has gotten easier to count and verify. The usage of this “college” to make the call on the Presidential election has been considered a positive by some as a good way to add a measure of security to the process, an extra counting step between popular vote and announcement. However, others point to its general state of unfairness, a barrier between the will of the people and being able to express it in politics.
Also, as many scholars have pointed out, the system was built to actually still give some level of power in the Congress to states with slavery (since slaves could partially be considered part of a state`s population despite not having rights, which allowed slaveholding states with lower voter populations to beef up the numbers and gain more representation in the House when they technically didn`t “deserve” it), which puts a lot of focus on, since the abolition of slavery, how it can unevenly distribute power across the map of the continental US. This means that at times, the popular vote numbers do not necessarily match electoral college numbers.
When in 2016 Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton for the Presidency to the surprise of many, that election is noted for the discrepancy between the electoral and popular numbers. Going further back to 2000, the state of Florida and the Electoral College were in the news over the recount of FL`s popular vote to figure out who would get the electoral “votes” of that state to confirm the winner of the election, where the state eventually decided that they didn`t want to finish the recount and declared for George Bush.
While not a perfect system by any means, the Electoral College has been a part of the US essentially since the beginning of the modern American government, and has both supporters and critics from across the sociopolitical spectrum.
However, I`m curious as to where you guys all stand on it, especially in light of more recent discussions to to abolish it. What do you think? Should we maintain the current system with all its flaws, or should we completely move towards a popular vote system since the technologies and systems are, in theory, there to support it?
dear writer, please write your thoughts about this topic to participate in the discussion. (150 words minimum).
Then, In a 1.5-page informal essay, address the following prompt;
What could possibly go wrong with attempts to replace the Electoral College?