An Electoral Update: a Case for Reform of the Electoral College

Following the controversial 2016 election, many unhappy Americans cried out “not my President!” to protest the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency. Although Trump currently sits as the forty-fifth President of the United States, these cries of anguish do hold some merit. Due to the setup of the Electoral College, it is possible to have a president that is not voted for by the majority of Americans.

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Throughout history, the Electoral College has proved controversial by limiting democratic virtues through mitigating popular opinion, curbing third-party participation, distributing vote weight unequally. For these reasons, I recommend the Electoral College be reformed to utilize a proportional distribution of electoral votes amongst the state’s electors in order to ensure a more accurate voting representation and active participation of third-parties. Birthed during the Constitutional Convention and outlined in Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution, the Electoral College is tasked with electing the President and Vice President. The college is made up of 538 electors, which is allotted by the number of representatives per state representing both those in the House and the Senate. Additionally, three votes are given to the District of Columbia per the twenty-third Amendment. Votes are allocated on a winner-take-all system, meaning whichever candidate receives the most votes in that state receives all of the electoral votes. The exceptions to this are Maine and Nebraska which changed over in 1972 and 1992 respectively. These states use a proportional system that divides the electors based on the percentage of the total popular vote. To win the presidential election, a candidate must achieve a plurality of 270 votes to secure the office. If no plurality is achieved, then the House decides the Presidency and the Senate decides the Vice Presidency. This has occurred only in the 1800 and 1824 elections. Because of the Electoral College, it is not guaranteed that the winner of the national popular vote will win. This was seen in both the 2000 and 2016 elections.

The Electoral College was not designed to be as democratic as possible. The electors were designed as a safeguard against a runaway democracy. The founders feared that a popular electoral system could result in a monarchy or control from a radical coalition. They believed the average voter was not well educated enough to make an informed decision that would best suit the nation. To protect against this, the electors were chosen to use their conscience to ensure the best outcome was decided upon. While it is uncommon for electors to vote against the wishes of their state’ voters, it is possible.

As aforementioned, the Electoral College was never meant to be democratic. Inherently, this makes America less democratic. This argument can be broken down into three points. First, the Electoral College mitigates the value of the popular opinion, a core concept of democracy. As explained above, achieving the plurality of the Electoral College vote does not require the majority of Americans support the winning candidate. This means that the President of the nation has the potential to be decided by a minority of the population, which is undemocratic. This was recently seen in the 2000 and 2016 elections. Secondly, the Electoral College reinforces the two-party system and limits the influence of third-parties. The winner-take-all allocation of electoral votes keeps third parties on the periphery due to the fact that many people refuse to vote for them because they feel a vote for a third-party is a vote wasted since the system is dominated by the two major parties. If their candidate does not win out, then they feel their vote was wasted, so many voters instead vote for one of the two major parties’ candidate. This perpetually limits the influence of third-parties, which is undemocratic since it limits participation. Thirdly, the vote allocation is not representative. The Electoral College favors small states since per person, a vote represents a smaller number of people. This means that these individuals’ votes hold greater weight in determining their states’ electoral decision in smaller states, while a voter has less say per vote in a larger state.

To combat the negative trend of American democracy in the Electoral College, I support a reform of the Electoral College rather than either abandoning or replacing it. I do not believe a complete restructuring is a good idea because the amendment process is long and difficult. Additionally, there is no guarantee a better solution would be reached if at all (by replacement?). In this case, path dependence is our best option in improving democracy regarding the Electoral College. The reform that I propose is known as the EQV system, which is a proportional-allocation scheme. In this system, the popular vote within a state determines a split between the electors in order to ensure a more accurate representation nationally. This also has the added benefit of being more inclusive to third-parties since it would eliminate the winner-take-all system that has previously limited their participation and perpetuated the domination of the two major parties. For example, suppose a state has ten electors: candidate A receives 10% of the popular vote, candidate B gets 40%, and candidate C gets the remaining 50%. According to the EQV system, the distribution between electors would be 1/10, 4/10, 5/10 respectively. This distribution method does the best job of ensuring a more inclusive participation and more accurately reflecting the opinions of the people.

To refresh, the current system requires a 270/538 electoral plurality to win the election. The electoral votes are decided by a winner-take-all system except in the states of Nebraska and Maine, which run a proportional system. If there is no plurality, then the Presidency goes to a vote in the House and the Vice Presidency to the Senate. Those who would argue for retaining the current system would say that characteristics such as certainty of outcome, requiring transnational appeal, avoiding runoff elections, swing and big state focus, are reasons to keep the current system. They believe these elements ensure the most orderly and democratic solution possible. However, I disagree. The EQV system ensures all of these elements and improves upon them. The EQV system still has certainty of outcome, avoids runoff elections, and focuses on swing and big states in order to capture the greatest proportion of electors for their campaign. It improves on ensuring transnational appeal by offering a more accurate depiction of the candidates the American people actually want to be in office. It also has the aforementioned benefit of being more inclusive to third-parties by eliminating the two-party system’s high barrier to entry of the winner-take-all system. While the critics have valid points and good intentions, the EQV system proves to satisfy their requisites and goes on to improve upon them and other factors of the Electoral College system to make it more democratic. Talk more about how its better for dem and how other/current hurts dem Use buzzwords of democracy more rather than “it”

Bibliography

Barnett, Arnold, and Edward Kaplan. “How to Cure the Electoral College.” Los Angeles Times. December 16, 2016. Accessed October 24, 2018. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-barnett-kaplan-cure-electoral-college-20161216-story.html. “Electoral College Fast Facts.” US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives. Accessed October 24, 2018. https://history.house.gov/Institution/Electoral-College/Electoral-College/. “FairVote.org | Problems with the Electoral College.” FairVote. Accessed October 24, 2018. https://archive3.fairvote.org/reforms/national-popular-vote/the-electoral-college/problems-with-the-electoral-college/. Posner, Richard A. The Enduring Debate: In Defense of the Electoral College. 8th ed. London, UK: Westchester Publications, 2018. Sammin, Kyle. “You Can Love The Founding Fathers And Still Think The Electoral College Sucks.” The Federalist. January 20, 2017. Accessed October 24, 2018. http://thefederalist.com/2017/01/21/103218you-can-love-the-founding-fathers-and-still-think-the-electoral-college-sucks/.

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