The Electoral College and the Problems that Come with it
The year was 1785. America had just won the war against Britain for their independence. Representatives from every state gathered in Philadelphia for the first ever Constitutional Convention, to decide how the newly formed nation would run. It was here that the Founding Fathers created the guidelines for government. While some ideas that were created and approved have long since faded out (for example, the Three-Fifths Compromise that said for every five slaves, a state could get three representatives in Congress), we still see many that are still in use today. One example of these ideas is the Electoral College. The Electoral College has been an issue of debate in recent years. The number of people who want to dispose of the Electoral College seems to be growing with every election. Strong arguments for the removal of the Electoral College include: it is out dated, only “Swing States” votes decide who becomes president, and in the event of a tie, the House of Representatives decides who becomes president. Weaker arguments include: winning the electoral college but losing the popular vote loses legitimacy for the winner, the Electoral College was only created to protect slave owners, and that the Founding Fathers wrote the constitution with only white, male land owners in mind. Overall, the electoral college needs to be removed for the betterment of Democracy in the United States.
Before getting into any specific argument about the Electoral College, it is crucial to understand how it works. The Electoral College is made up of 538 voters that decide on the President and Vice President of the United States. The total of 538 is made up of America’s 435 State Representatives, 100 Senators, and three votes for the District of Colombia (Huffington Post). Each individual state gets two senators each, and get a number of representatives based on that state’s population. The Electoral College takes the combined number of senators and representatives for each state, and gives that number of votes for the presidential election. For example, a smaller state like North Dakota gets a total of three electoral votes, while a much more populated state like California will get 55 electoral votes. The Founding Fathers created this system for a few reasons. First, it was created to be a fair balance between bigger and smaller states, giving each a fair say in who becomes president. Secondly, it was meant to be a defense against uninformed people from voting a potentially dangerous candidate into office (although some could argue that this has failed in previous elections). During the election, a Presidential Candidate needs to get a majority, or 270 votes, to win the presidency. In the rare event where a candidate does not receive the 270 majority, the vote will go to the House of Representatives to decide who wins. What has become more common in recent elections, however, is the case where a candidate will receive the 270 majority electoral votes, but will actually have less votes in total. It is possible for the candidate with the most total votes, or the “Popular Vote” to lose an election due to the Electoral College. It is for this reason that the existence of the Electoral College has been called into question in recent years. It is important to not only look at each individual argument, but also to study each argument in depth to make sure that it is truly a fair point.
The strongest argument for removing the Electoral College is the fact that it is outdated. The Electoral College was first implemented in 1787. That was over 230 years ago, quite a lot has changed during that time. For instance, the first United States Census took place in 1790, in order to determine the population. The grand total for that census comes out to just under four million (Kat Eschner). Today, the population of the United States is over 325 million. The American way of life back then is far different than what the American life is today. The Founding Fathers were without a doubt some of the smartest people of their time, there is no arguing that. However, as smart as they were, they could not see the future. At the time the Constitution was written, they had no idea what the future held for the United States. Who could have predicted all the changes to come over those 130 years? One of the reasons the Electoral College was created to begin with was to keep uninformed people from making uninformed decisions. This made a lot of sense at this time, as many people were uneducated and not informed enough to have a solid understanding of everything the election entailed. In current times, it is almost impossible to be uninformed. People have in their pockets a device that can gather any information every recorded. People get news alerts from across the world in a matter of seconds. While there is certainly a fair share of “uninformed” people today, the term today has a vastly different definition than it did back then. The Founding Fathers were concerned about people coming from the middle of nowhere, with no clue about any political issues or even the political candidates themselves, and deciding the future of the nation. While this is certainly a fair concern to have had back then, it in almost no way correlates to what today’s America is like. Today, both political candidates and issues are watched very closely by the public eye. Everyone in America today, while certainly not at a rocket scientist level of education, is still far more educated than a large majority of Americans in the late 1700’s, 1800’s, and even a large portion of the 1900’s Those in favor of the Electoral College often argue that America’s elections have always used the Electoral College, and that America should continue to use this system. However, this argument falls under the traditional wisdom fallacy, as saying that it has always been done a certain way does not justify continuing to do it that way. The Founding Fathers were some of the most brilliant minds of their time, but it is okay to say that they were wrong sometimes. There have been plenty of other times where Americans realized the Constitution had parts that no longer correlated with the current United States, such as the Three-Fifth’s Compromise. The Founding Fathers knew that there would be times that their rules no longer fit America’s needs. That is why they gave Americans the power to amend the Constitution, to allow it to grow and change along with the needs of Americans. The Electoral College is outdated and no longer fits the needs of today’s America, and therefore, needs to be removed.
Another strong argument for the removal of the Electoral College is that only the “Swing States” decide the outcome of the election. In the Electoral College, all but two states (Maine and Nebraska), are a winner take all in terms of electoral votes. Essentially, if a candidate wins by even a tiny margin, all of the electoral votes go to the winner. This creates a battlefield for political candidates. A majority of states almost always vote in the direction of a certain political party. For example, Texas voters will almost always vote Republican, and New York voters will almost always vote Democrat. Political opponents will fight to try to win these states, as these states are typically the ones that push a candidate over the 270 total electoral votes necessary to win the election. Instead of spending both time and money campaigning in states that tend to vote for the other party, a candidate will devote a large amount of time in states that are on the fence, or could go in either direction. Candidates will pander to the needs of these states in particular in order to win. Those who are seeking reelection will put the needs of swing states in front of those of locked states in order to win. That is why swing states control the elections. Whichever way voters in swing states decide to vote will determine the winner. That creates a major problem with the Electoral College System. A vote in a swing state becomes worth a lot more than a vote in a locked state like Texas or California. The needs of a swing state become more important than those of a locked state. Every vote should be worth the same in a democracy, and that is why the Electoral College should be abandoned.
A third strong argument for the removal of the Electoral College is the fact that there can be a tie. In the event of a tie, the House of Representatives will vote to decide who becomes the next president. The vote would be delayed until newly elected representatives take office in January, as nobody wants a representative who has just been voted out of office to have a major say in who becomes the next president. However, the voting changes in the house for this situation. Here, one state gets one vote. This is arguably one of the craziest, mind numbingly erratic ideas that the Founding Fathers implemented into the Constitution. The population of California gets the same control as the population of North Dakota. This part of the Electoral College is entirely one sided towards small states. Now, it is also a possibility for a state to not be able to vote at all. If a state has an even number of representatives, and they are split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, that state becomes a deadlock state and is unable to vote. Even with the possibility of deadlocked states, a candidate still needs to win 26 states, a majority, in order to win. This is where the logic of the Electoral College begins to spiral out of control. If neither candidate was to win 26 states, then the vice president, who is voted by the senate, takes over as President of the United States. Someone who nobody in the nation voted to be president suddenly wins. While this has never happened, it has come close. If the Electoral College is around long enough, then someday it will occur. The Electoral College needs to be ended before something like this occurs.
Another strong argument, perhaps one of the strongest, against the Electoral College is the fact that while in its creation was intended to be based on population, that mathematically is untrue. The idea that electoral votes are distributed based on population seems right, states with more people have more electoral votes, states with less people have less electoral votes. However, if this were true, small states would be blown out of the water every time. So to ensure that people in smaller states were accounted for fairly, states have a minimum of three electoral votes. Take a state like Wyoming, that has one of the smallest state populations in the United States at a little under 600 thousand people. They get three electoral votes, giving approximately one vote for every 200 thousand people. But take a state like Texas, which has a population of around 28 million. Divide that by the number of electoral votes for Texas, which is 38, and that equals over 700 thousand people per electoral vote. That is a major difference that should not go unnoticed. The Electoral College claims to give votes based on population, but the math shows that it does so unfairly. Any argument that says the Electoral College is fair because it gives votes based on population is using the fallacy of suppressed evidence. While a state with a higher population does have more votes than a state with a lower population, that does not mention the fact that the numbers are highly disproportionate to the number of people per vote. This argument alone should prove that the Electoral College is failing and needs to be removed before the next election.
While there are many strong arguments for removing the Electoral College, there are also plenty of week ones. The most prominent of which being the Electoral College was written to protect slave owners. This argument is a bit of a stretch, and does not tell the full story. When the Founding Fathers met for the Constitutional Convention, a big debate was how to distribute power equally between big states and small states. One of the ways this was done was creating a two house government, the Senate and the House of Representatives. In the senate, each state gets two delegates. In the House of Representatives, each state has its own number of delegates based on population. However, in order to give the smaller states a fighting chance in the House of Representatives, three out of every five slaves would be counted towards that state’s population, otherwise known as the Three-Fifths Compromise. There is no denying that this part of the Constitution was created from a place of pure hate and racism. The Electoral College was based off of these principles, with three-fifths of every slave counting towards the population that determined the total number of electoral votes a state got. This is an example of the division fallacy. The argument here says that the creation of the House of Representatives and the determination of population was based upon racist ideas, the Electoral College stems from the House of Representatives and the determination of population, therefore the Electoral College was based on racism. While the argument could be made that the connection is there, this is ultimately just untrue. The Electoral College would have been created based on whatever the definition of population was decided to be. Had the decision been made that all men and women, regardless of race, would be counted towards the population, the Electoral College would have used those standards. The Founding Fathers did not create the Electoral College for racist reasoning, they created it based on standards that had already been set. This argument, while common for this topic, is ultimately fallacious in reasoning.
Another argument against the Electoral College that falls flat is the idea that a candidate who loses the popular vote but wins the Electoral College loses credibility. In theory, this makes sense. A president who wins but received less total votes will seemingly have that chip on his or her shoulder throughout the presidency. Anytime that president says or does something that the other side does not agree with, they can call back to this fact as an argument. On paper, this fact would be held over a president’s head for years to come. But the key words there are “in theory” and “on paper”. At the end of the day, they are still president. They will still hold all the power. This argument would be true if it were any other job, but the President of the United States has no issue with legitimacy. The President is the most legitimate job in the world. No member of Congress, no foreign power would hold that over a president’s head, because at the end of the day they are still the president. Nobody questions the legitimacy of the most powerful man or woman in the world. This argument uses the questionable premise fallacy. It creates an argument that just is not truly there through exaggeration. This argument should be disregarded in the debate over the Electoral College.
Another weak argument against the Electoral College is that the United States does not use it at the state level to elect Governors. If the Electoral College works properly for the presidential election, then why is it not used for the Governor race? If it truly works so well, then it would be used at both the federal and the state level. But this is not the case. This argument is also based on the questionable premise fallacy. The argument just does not make total sense, the presidential election and the election for governor are two totally different situations. This idea could potentially work for a larger state like Texas or California, but for smaller states like North Dakota or Wyoming it just does not make sense. Also, the Founding Fathers made the guidelines for the federal government and gave states’ rights on what they can and cannot do. If a state felt that an electoral college system worked best for the people of that state, they could pass legislation that does that. This argument does not make a particularly good point, and due to its fallacious reasoning, should be ignored in the debate over the federal use of the Electoral College.
There are a lot of arguments surrounding the Electoral College, bot in support of keeping it and in support of removing it. Everyone has a very strong opinion these days, and that can sometimes make it hard to honestly analyze the arguments that are being made on both sides. It becomes truly difficult to take a step back and really consider every angle. Breaking down each argument is a tough but crucial and necessary part of deciding what the best option is. If everyone stopped to look at everything in depth, people on both sides would switch to the other. At the end of the day, it becomes easy to see that the Electoral College system is failing America and needs to be replaced. What is the right system for American Democracy? Maybe it is the popular vote, maybe Congress and the American People find a new system that is based on the needs of today’s America. It is hard to say what will definitely work. All that can be said for sure as of right now is that the Electoral College has failed and needs to go away for good.