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. Throughout history, the Electoral College has proved controversial by limiting democratic virtues, mitigating popular opinion, curbing third-party participation, and distributing vote weight unequally.
For these reasons, I recommend the Electoral College be reformed to utilize a proportional distribution of electoral votes amongst a state’s electors 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 are allotted by the number of representatives per state in both the House and the Senate. Additionally, three votes are given to the District of Columbia per the Twenty-third Amendment. Votes are allocated using a winner-take-all system, meaning whichever candidate receives the most votes in a state receives all of the electoral votes. The exceptions to this rule 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’s 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 American support for 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. The system is dominated by the two major parties. If their candidate does not win, voters feel their vote was wasted, so many voters instead opt 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 because a vote, per person, represents a smaller number of people. This means that individuals’ votes in smaller states hold greater weight in determining the state’s electoral decision, 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 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 that 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 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 utilize a proportional system. If no plurality is achieved, the Presidency is determined by a vote in the House, and the Vice Presidency by the Senate. Supporters of retaining the current system argue that its essential characteristics, such as certainty of outcome, a requirement for transnational appeal, avoidance of runoff elections, and a focus on swing and big state demographics, contribute to the most orderly and democratic solution. However, I disagree. The EQV system not only preserves these crucial elements but also enhances them. The EQV system guarantees certainty of outcome, eliminates runoff elections, and concentrates on swing and big states in order to commandeer the majority of electors for their campaign. Furthermore, it offers a more accurate representation of the candidates the American people actually wish to see in office, thereby enhancing the requirement for transnational appeal. It also fosters inclusivity for third parties by lowering the winner-take-all barrier to entry set by the two-party system. Although the defenders of the current system offer valid arguments and well-intended justifications, the EQV system sufficiently addresses their concerns. It goes beyond simply meeting these requirements; it enhances other aspects of the Electoral College system to foster deeper democratic values. It is beneficial for democracy itself and counters the negative impacts of the existing system. I will further delve into this topic, highlighting its democratic virtues.
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