The Electoral College: Why Now and Why Not?

A testimony to our founding fathers is not that they set up the perfect constitution but that they set one up that could be perfected. Although there have been a little less then half a dozen amendments to the constitution regarding our elections, we have not changed the essential process by which we elect the President.

Even after all the outrage in Florida and the 2000 election, there was simply no movement to get rid of the electoral college and move to a popular vote to elect the President. While many could argue for a different voting system, I want to take a moment and argue for our electoral college system.

Much of this argument stems from the fact that people are better educated and that the media covers the election in real time. Although, some are admittedly mad because of Gore's loss last election, there are some people that have been consistent in their call for a popular vote to decide the Presidency. At the same time though, they ignore the implicity of states rights and proper representation in our only national election. Major points are outlined below:

The Only Way to Run a National Election

The office of the President is the only national candidate on the ballot. Since we are a republic, it makes sense to have representatives show up and vote on various issues to a national legislature. Why not use this same idea (but with the electoral college) to pick a nationwide candidate? There is a reason that we don't directly vote for all the issues that are brought into the House and Senate. We vote through representatives at the national level for law and the same should be applied to voting for the President.

Localized Voting Disparity and States Rights

Let's say one large state turns out the vote to a much larger percentage than it's neighboring states. Much of the time, higher than average turnout in Presidential election years has to do with local issues that bring more people to the polls. So in our example, California has a ballot measure that everybody is passionate about and it turns out an obscenely high margin of voters in comparison to its normal presidential election cycle. Now turning out another 5% in California could completely wipe out the votes of several states. In an electoral college system, California will be designating the same amount of votes to candidates for ten years.

A big reason is the states rights issue. Those of us who are familiar with US history know that the reason for a bicameral legislature is to balance out the votes of the population and the votes of the state. By keeping this process in place, it preserves the root of the Connecticut compromise by recognizing that both people and states should have rights at the federal level. Though I am sure Wyoming doesn't brag about it's three electors, I am sure there are more happy to have the extra representation through the "gift" of two senators.

Encourages Local Campaigning

On a large, national scale, campaigning would be a drop in the water if only the votes of the population counted. You can campaign to the best of your abilities and have a big grassroot movement and while a million man march to the steps of the capital is an impressive gathering of people, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the 125 million that are expected to vote this election. By confining the election to the state, you give a greater impact to the grassroots and to real people. This serves as a segway to my only beef with the electoral college system.

It Can Be Improved Easily at the State Level

Much like Colorado, states can change the way their electors are divvied out to candidates. There is no constitutional principle that guides how a state's electors can be divided, in fact, it is quite the opposite.

My preference would be that the congressional district elector follows the vote of their district and that the senatorial elector follows the vote of the state as a whole. This would give Democrats in Texas, Republicans in California and third parties everywhere reason to celebrate. People's voices are represented without feeling that they are a drop of water in an endless sea. States rights are preserved.

Disregarding the electoral college for a popular vote would, in my opinion, end the usefulness of states. If we are to decide everything by strictly popular opinion, why would we have senators or states? It would throw out the window the idea that a state has a useful purpose inside a large national government.

As far as other methods for elections, a third party person might be able to describe them better than I would. I would just say this as a word of caution, people had a problem with butterfly ballots and simply following the arrow to punch the correct candidate. I couldn't imagine a ranking voting system could do any good and would probably provide for chaos on election day.

Posted by Lance T. Haun at October 16, 2004 4:47 AM