In U.S. presidential elections, close races occasionally occur. The Electoral College is a mechanism, by which ties are nearly impossible, which if that should happen, the nation would have found itself in a predicament and heated controversy. This appears to be a complex solution to a simple problem, a redundancy to a simple popular vote, a one person one vote approach. Voters often question not only what the Electoral College is but also why it is.
It seems to exist simply to amplify the margin of victory in the popular vote and is exclusively employed in presidential elections. Advocates of election reform wish to either do away with the Electoral College system completely and replace it with the direct popular vote or repairing perceived defects in the existing system by implementing one of several Electoral College reform proposals. This discussion addresses the perceived advantages and disadvantages of the system and provides a brief overview of the alternatives.
States that have a small population contend that if the electoral system were eradicated, presidential candidates would have no reason to campaign there or to advertise. “Why visit a small state with a media market that reaches, say, 100,000 people, when a visit to a large state can put the candidate in touch with millions?” (Gregg, 2001). The McConnell Center for Political Leadership at the University of Louisville studied the rationale behind the public’s perception that a direct, one-person-one-vote system would be more equitable than the electoral system. The findings debunked popular perceptions that abolishing the current system of presidential elections would improve the process.
Popular opinion is that if the 2000 election had been based on a national popular vote, the Florida debacle of hanging chads and dimpled ballots would not happened but in reality, the Electoral College saved the nation from a much worse problem. Imagine the distress of the nation in such a close election if a simple plurality of the national vote determined the outcome of the election. “With just a few hundred thousand votes separating the candidates, every vote in every precinct, in every state would have been worthy of a recount and every recount in every county subject to suit and countersuit” (Gregg, 2001). We still might not know who won.
Opponents of the Electoral College argue for a direct national election, arguing that it would more represent the diversity of the nation. In the 2000 election, Al Gore acquired half a million more votes than George W. Bush. It would appear that Gore was able to appeal to a broader spectrum of voters than Bush. But Gore’s support came from heavily inhabited municipal areas. A map of the county-by-county results of the United States following the 2000 vote showed only small areas of Democrat Blue among a wide expanse of Republican Red. “Bush won majorities in areas representing more than 2.4 million square miles while Gore was able to garner winning margins in only 580,000. Vice President Gore could fly from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles without flying over a county he was able to win” (Gregg, 2001).
A system of direct elections would inherently create incentives for candidates to campaign in small states. They would receive some electoral reward for their effort, since even if a state were lost; the votes gained there would still count in a popular vote system. Even more importantly, “the financial calculus of election campaigns in a direct-election system might help level the playing field between large and small states. Large states have more voters to be sure, but reaching these voters are very expensive propositions since advertising rates are often astronomical. On the other hand, small states tend to have less-expensive media markets.
Thus, campaigns might find that for every dollar spent in a large-state media market, an equal number of voters might be reached for the same or lesser amount of money in a small state” (Klinkner & McClellan, 2000).
Alternatives to the current system include the Direct Election, National Bonus, Proportional Plans and District Plans. Under the District Election plan, each voter would be eligible to directly cast a vote for the president, one person; one vote. The Electoral College would be eliminated. The National Bonus plan calls for amending the Electoral College to retain the advantage it gives to the two-party system while enhancing the power of the people.
The popular winner of each state would be given an extra two electoral votes, resulting in an extra 102 electoral votes (including an extra two votes for the District of Columbia). “This plan would presumably preserve the power of the states to function as organic units, while dispensing with the most undemocratic feature of the Electoral College, the tremendous weight given to small states” (Schlesinger, 1973).
The Proportional plan would eradicate the winner-take-all system for each state’s electoral vote and do away with the state’s electors. Each state would preserve its current number of electoral votes but these votes would be divided in proportion to the division of the popular vote within each state (Whitaker & Neale, 2001). The District plan would maintain the Electoral College but each state would use its Congressional house districts as ‘elector’ districts.
The candidate who receives the most votes in each district would win the electoral vote from the district. “In those states dominated by one political party, the district plan might also provide an incentive for greater voter participation and an invigoration of the two-party system in presidential elections because it might be possible for the less dominant political party’s candidates to carry certain congressional districts” (Sayre & Parris, 1970).
Proposals to abolish the Electoral College have failed largely because alternatives appear more problematic than the current system. The Electoral College, though an antiquated and imperfect system, is not on the way out and most likely never will be. While reforms continue to be proposed, there are few true movements toward actual change as issues regarding the voting process continue to arise with each new election cycle, taking precedence over reform measures.
Gregg, Gary L. II. “Keep the College, Debunking Myths.” National Review Online. (2001). Web.
Klinkner, Philip & McClellan, James. “Symposium – The Electoral College.” Insight on the News. 2000. Find Articles. Web.
Sayre, Wallace S. & Parris, Judith H. Voting for President. Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institution.
Schlesinger, Arthur. The Imperial Presidency. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1973.
Whitaker, L. Paige & Neale Thomas H. “The Electoral College: An Overview and Analysis of Reform Proposals.” National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington D.C.