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logo“Giving a Voice to the People: Reforming the Electoral College”

Brittany Geiser

The Electoral College is flawed and should be reformed. During the 2000 presidential election, the faults of the system were epitomized by ballot recounts, lawsuits, and Supreme Court decisions. Ultimately, George W. Bush was chosen to lead the country on January 6, 2001; sixty days after the election began (Gillman xi). Unfortunately, the factors of an extensive election and a president chosen by the Supreme Court left American citizens alienated by the system of the Electoral College.

The United States of America utilizes the system of the Electoral College when electing our nation's president. However, the system does not comply with the ideals of a democratic society and the principle of "one person, one vote" (Amar and Amar 60). First, the policy was established to increase the voting power of the state and limit the voting rights of the individual. Second, the Electoral College inaccurately represents American citizens because of inconsistent and weighted state electoral votes. Finally, the system ignores the voters' requests because the popular vote is not considered when electing a president.

First, the Electoral College is flawed because American citizens do not possess the right to vote (Keyssar n.p.). For example, when configuring how American citizens would go about electing their president, James Madison, James Wilson, and Gouveneur Morris were all in favor of popular vote. Yet, in order to "appease die-hard defenders of the Articles of Confederation," our Founders settled upon the compromise of the Electoral College (Anderson n.p.). Also, having recently declared independence from England, our Founding Fathers were in support of a system that did not designate too much power to one person. For, they feared that a president selected by popular vote and supported by majority of American citizens would increase the risk of a dictatorship (Amar and Amar 58).

With limiting the potential for a dictatorship to arise, the Electoral College compromise was also an attempt to unify the nation. The compromise worked with Confederate supporters by allowing southern states to count each slave as a 2/5 vote (Amar and Amar 58). The weighted votes of the South sparked an imbalance and inequality in the nation by giving southern states the upper hand in elections. Ultimately, the conditions of the Electoral College compromise thwarted the concept of equal voting rights for all Americans because its conditions were established to appease Confederates, prevent the opportunity for a dictatorship, allocate majority of the voting power to state governments, and limit the voice of the American people.

The Electoral College fails to account for the choices of the people. Alexander Keyssar states that the Electoral College should be reformed so that American voters can possess "a constitutionally-guaranteed right to vote" for their president (n.p.). Currently, it is the state's electors that choose which candidate will receive the state's electoral votes (Keyssar n.p.). Unfortunately, state electors are appointed by state legislators, and not by the people. Therefore, states' residents have little to no knowledge of who is actually voting for them. Also, some electors choose to vote against the candidate that wins their state's popular vote because they disagree with the candidate's policies (Forbes n.p.). For example, in the 2000 presidential election, a Democratic elector from the District of Columbia decided not to place his vote for Al Gore even though he had won the popular vote in D.C. (Tupa n.p.). The fact that state electors do not to abide by the result of the popular vote creates the conflict of the American people being inaccurately represented during our nation's election process.

Another cost of the system is that the Electoral College inaccurately represents a state's population. For example, Senator Tupa writes that the Electoral College is weighted and does a poor job in depicting the notions of voters (n.p.). For instance, a state possessing a small population, such as that of Wyoming (having 494,000 residents), is granted three electoral votes. On the other hand, the state of Colorado, with 4.3 million residents, has only three times the voting power of Wyoming despite having nine times the population (Tupa n.p.). The Electoral College unfairly represents the American people because there are different population standards for each state and the number of electoral votes is not always in proportion with state population.

Along with inaccurately representing voters by population, the Electoral College demonstrates that the laws of the Constitution do not always comply with the people's choice. For example, a presidential candidate is not elected by the millions of Americans that live in the United States, but is instead chosen by 538 state electors (Tupa n.p.). Senator Tupa cites the 2000 presidential election, in that our nation's current president, George W. Bush, was elected constitutionally by the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote (n.p.). Due to the conflicting issue in which a candidate can lose the popular vote, and yet, still be elected as the nation's president represents the irrelevance and unimportance of the people's choice (popular vote) in the election process.

However, there are arguments that support the Electoral College. For example, Walter Berns argues that the Electoral College is valid because it produces immediate results in presidential elections by exaggerating the margins of victory due to the winner-take-all system (51). The winner-take-all principle is a process in which a candidate only needs fifty percent of the state's popular vote to receive all of its electoral votes. This principle creates the appearance that the winning candidate is supported by one-hundred percent of the state's voters, yet ultimately, the votes placed for the losing candidate are thrown out and ignored. Berns also states that the Electoral College should not be reformed because it gives weight to minority voters, protects the interests of the state, and secures the rights of the majority of voting Americans (52-3). Berns concludes his work by demonstrating that Americans and government officials should spend less time debating the "input" of a presidential candidate and focus more on the "output" of the individual selected to run the country (53-4). Therefore, Berns demonstrates that popular voting does not ensure a "better president" and thus, the Electoral College is an efficient and democratic method in electing America's leaders (53).

All of Berns's claims lack legitimacy because they can be rebuked by the example of the 2000 presidential election. For example, the election's results were not immediate in that it took sixty days, numerous lawsuits, ballot recounts, and a decision by the Florida Supreme Court to finally decide who would be our nation's next president (Gillman xi). Berns's arguments are also ineffective because he stresses that Americans should only be concerned with the president's abilities and not worry about how that individual is elected. If Americans are not supposed to care about how their president is elected, then why do we even bother voting in the first place when the popular vote is ultimately ignored? In support of the Electoral College, Berns's arguments disregard the democratic principle of "one person, one vote."

With the numerous arguments stressing the reformation of the Electoral College, there have been proposals on how the system should be amended as well. For instance, there is the proposal that the president should only be elected by winning the majority of the nation's popular vote (Keyssar n.p.). Another idea is that state electors could be appointed their position by means of popular vote (Keyssar n.p.). Third, professors Akhil Amar and Vikram Amar proposed the idea of "instant runoff voting" (55). In compliance with the idea of popular vote, instant runoff voting would enforce the policy that every legal vote placed would be counted in order to acquire an accurate number of votes for a candidate in an election (Anderson n.p.).

Finally, there has been the proposal to remove the winner-take-all system and base electoral votes on congressional districts (Forbes n.p.). Already, the states of Nebraska and Maine have made provisions that award electoral votes based on which candidate wins each congressional district, meaning that both candidates could receive a portion of the state's overall electoral votes (n.p.). Ultimately, congressional districts would increase the accuracy of votes in proportion to the population (n.p.). Reforming the Electoral College would allow voters their chance to be heard as well as solidify the fact that every vote is considered and counted.

I do not agree with the fact that the Electoral College does not comply with the democratic ideals that our nation was founded upon. How is it that a democracy can employ a system that thwarts the voices and votes of the American people? Ultimately, the Electoral College is in great need of reform. A reform in which the American people are accurately represented, each and every vote is counted, and the president is ultimately elected by the people, not by a handful of state electors. Now, more than ever, this country needs to reform its election process in order to restore the voting rights of the people and restore America's pride and faith in its elected leaders.

Works Cited

Amar, Akhil Reed, and Vikram David Amar. "Why Old and New Arguments for the Electoral College Are Not Compelling." After the People Vote: A Guide to the Electoral College. Ed. John C. Fortier. Washington, D.C.: The AEI Press, 2004. 55-65.

Anderson, John B. "The Electoral College Flunks the Test in an Age of Democracy." Human Rights: Journal of the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities. 32:2. (2005): no pagination. Online. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Morgan Lib., Fort Collins, CO. 19 October 2005. <http://web20.epnet.com/citation.asp>.

Berns, Walter. "Let's Hear It for the Electoral College." After the People Vote: A Guide to the Electoral College. Ed. John C. Fortier. Washington, D.C.: The AEI Press, 2004. 51-54.

Forbes, Steve. "Our Founders Got It Right." Forbes. 174:8 (2004): no pagination. Online. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Morgan Lib., Fort Collins, CO. 20 October 2005. <http://web15.epnet.com/citation.asp?>.

Geer, John G. "Parties and Partisanship: A Brief Introduction." Political Behavior. 24:2 (2002): 85-91. Online. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Morgan Lib., Fort Collins, CO. 10 November 2005.

Gillman, Howard. The Votes That Counted: How the Court Decided the 2000 Presidential Election. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. xi-xxiv.

Keyssar, Alexander. "Shoring Up the Right to Vote for President: A Modest Proposal." Political Science Quarterly. 118:2 (2003): no pagination. Online. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. Morgan Lib., Fort Collins, CO. 19 October 2005. <http://web15epnet.com/citation.asp>.

Tupa, Ron. "Electoral College Still Valid? NO: Put Outdated Method in Dustbin of History." The Denver Post December 12, 2004: no pagination. Online. Academic Universe. LexisNexis Academic. Morgan Lib., Fort Collins, CO. 19 October 2005. <http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/document>.

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