After the 2016 presidential election, many people declared the Electoral College to be an outdated piece of our election cycle that needed to be reformed or abolished. The Electoral College is in fact, a very important part of the presidential election process and serves its function properly as is.
Before it can be discussed whether or not the Electoral College needs to be reformed, it is very important to know what exactly the Electoral College is and does. The Electoral College is a process established in the Constitution, by the Founding Fathers, and serves as a compromise between the votes of the citizens and the votes of Congress electing the President. Firstly, each state is granted Electors equal to its number of members in the House of Representatives and its two Senators.
The District of Columbia is treated as a state in this process and is thusly allotted three Electors, making the total five hundred thirty-eight in all. The Electors will meet during the election and vote on a president and vice-president. Most states use a method known as the “winner-take-all” method, awarding all of its electoral votes to the candidate that wins the majority vote in the majority of that state’s districts.
There are two exceptions that use “proportional representation” instead of “winner-take-all”, those being Maine and Nebraska. In these states, the candidate to receive a majority vote in each district is awarded that district’s electoral vote, and the candidate with the majority of that state’s district votes is awarded the two leftover electoral votes.
Whenever a candidate gets a majority of electoral votes, two hundred seventy, that candidate is elected. Naturally, there are requirements to be met for an Elector. No person currently serving in Congress, holding an Office of Trust or Profit, having previously engaged in an insurrection or a rebellion opposing the United States, or given aid and comfort to its enemies can serve as an Elector.
Electors are decided by a process consisting of two steps. First, political parties with candidates running make a list of potential Electors long before the general election. Then, voters elect their state’s Electors by casting their ballot for a presidential candidate. Electors can be bound to vote for their parties’ candidates by either making them pledge allegiance to their party or even by state law, but it should be noted that no Elector has ever been prosecuted for being a “faithless Elector” – an Elector that failed to vote for their own parties’ candidates.
However, it is very rare for an Elector to vote “faithlessly”, occurring only one hundred sixty-seven times in the history of the United States, accounting for less than one percent of all electoral votes. Occurring less frequently is when a president loses the popular vote, but still wins the majority of the electoral votes, having only occurred five times out of forty-five.
Another important piece of information to take note of is that “faithless Electors” are not necessary for a candidate to win the majority of electoral votes whilst losing the popular vote, simply winning the right states, like Florida, can be enough to ensure victory.
Now, onto the matter of why the Electoral College was established in the Constitution. The primary reason for the Electoral College’s establishment was to balance the power of the smaller, emptier states with the larger, more populated states.
The Founding Fathers had reached an impasse, and had to determine how to rule a country without using the failed systems previously established. The Founding Fathers had known that the unrestricted democracy employed in republics of the past lead to problems for those nations, and feared the same problems would arise here using the same version of democracy.
Alexander Hamilton had also pointed out that, while it is important for the people to have a lot of power in elections, it was equally as important that the people electing the president be sensible, knowledgeable of politics, aware of the current state of the country, and each candidates potential impacts to the country as well. With all of this in mind, the Founding Fathers surmised that a system in which leaders were elected with the involvement of the people, but with an intermediary in place to avoid the problems brought about by true democracy.
On to the main event, why we should not reform or abolish the Electoral College. As mentioned previously, one of the biggest perks of the Electoral College is the protection from pure democracy that it provides. Contrary to what is taught in grade school, pure democracy is at best, a ticking time-bomb, and at worst, a tool of mass oppression.
The reason why the Founding Fathers feared pure democracy is because the majority could use their power to suppress the minority factions, or worse. To put it simply, under a pure democracy, if fifty-one percent of the population voted that it was a felony to disagree with the majority, forty-nine percent would be forced to join the majority out of fear or face jail time and lose the right to vote.
This example may be seen as extreme, and surely it is, but an unrestricted democracy does not prevent this, or similar, less extreme scenarios. Another big problem with unrestricted democracies is having an uninformed voter base. If the majority in this scenario is ignorant to politics and easily manipulated, then it only takes a mildly popular, mildly charismatic candidate to convince the majority to vote them into office, regardless of what the majority actually wants for their country.
The second perk the Electoral College provides is allowing every part of the country to participate in the election, rather than just a handful of places. The current population of the U.S. is about three hundred thirty million people, with fifty-one percent of the population living in only nine states, the other forty-one states could be entirely ignored.
In such a scenario, a majority of the government would be centered around trying to appease nine or ten states and ignoring the rest because they are more trouble than they are worth. Such a system would likely lead to one of the greatest divides in the history of this country, and possibly a second Civil War. This system would also likely see a rise in third parties, as they compete for the forgotten states, of course they would still only get a minority of the votes, but it would make majority votes very difficult to achieve.
The Founding Fathers did not devise the Electoral College simply because they thought it would be neat if the state with the least population had a lot of voting power, they devised it because they had to balance power between the population and the states. The system they devised has provided us protections from majority rule whilst also allowing every part of this country to have a say. There’s no need for the Electoral College to be reformed, as that would likely take way these very protections just so the majority can freely use this country as a playground.