Monday, February 4, 2008

The Electoral College: Is It Necessary?

Map of number of electoral votes by state after redistricting from the 2000 census.

With every Presidential election, the subject of the Electoral College always comes up. Or maybe it’s really the question of whether we need the Electoral College. I always have to refresh my memory on how the Electoral College works, and a simple Google search turns up many references. But, after reading a few articles on the subject, I find my head spinning and my stomach turning. Here’s the shortest overview of the process that I could find, from the Congressional Research Service, prepared in 2004:

"When Americans vote for a President and Vice President, they actually vote for presidential electors, known collectively as the electoral college. It is these electors, chosen by the people, who elect the chief executive. The Constitution assigns each state a number of electors equal to the combined total of its Senate and House of Representatives delegations; at present, the number of electors per state ranges from three to 55, for a total of 538, a figure which includes three electors for the District of Columbia. Anyone may serve as an elector, except for Members of Congress, and persons holding offices of “Trust or Profit” under the Constitution. In each presidential election year, a group (ticket or slate) of candidates for elector is nominated by political parties and other groups in each state, usually at a state party convention, or by the party state committee. It is these elector-candidates, rather than the presidential and vice presidential nominees, for whom the people vote in the election held on Tuesday after the first Monday in November (November 2, 2004).
In most states, voters cast a single vote for the slate of electors pledged to the party presidential and vice presidential candidates of their choice. The slate winning the most popular votes is elected; this is known as the winner-take-all, or general ticket, system. Maine and Nebraska use the district system, under which two electors are chosen on a statewide, at-large basis, and one is elected in each congressional district. A second alternative, the proportional system, would award electors to presidential tickets in direct proportion to the percentage votes they received in a particular state. Electors assemble in their respective states on Monday after the second Wednesday in December (December 13, 2004). They are pledged and expected, but not required, to vote for the candidates they represent. Separate ballots are cast for President and Vice President, after which the electoral college ceases to
exist for another four years. The electoral vote results are counted and declared at a joint session of Congress, held on January 6 of the year succeeding the election. A majority of electoral votes (currently 270 of 538) is required to win. Constitutional amendments to abolish or reform the electoral college system are regularly introduced in Congress. For information on legislative activity in the current Congress, please see CRS Report RL32612, The Electoral College: Reform Proposals in the 108th Congress, by Thomas H. Neale."

(You can find the full report and explanation here.)

Is YOUR head spinning yet? And do you get the feeling that now your vote counts even less? If you need a recent example where the need for the Electoral College was in question, look to the 2000 election, when Republican George W. Bush won the electoral vote, and the election, over Democrat Al Gore, who won the popular vote. Cries of a stolen election and conspiracy still circle.

There are pros and cons to the Electoral College. Both sides hinge a lot of their argument on whether or not the EC accurately reflects the voting numbers. The pros think it does, by preventing overly populous states from having too much clout; the cons think eliminating the EC would prevent smaller or rural states from having too much clout for their small populations. Both have valid point. A popular election could be decided easily by just the populations of New York, California, Texas and Florida. But the EC could give proportionately more votes, and therefore voting power, to smaller states like North Dakota, Wyoming, Vermont, etc. And I also think both sides cringe at the prospect of “faithless electors” who do not vote in the manner in which they were pledged.

My opinion is that an election should only have one winner, and it should be chosen by the people. The Electoral College seems just another way for the bureaucrats to inject themselves into what should be a simple process. The manner in which Congress is allotted House and Senate members is already skewed, with every state given two Senate seats, regardless of population. And some states, because of their population, have more member of the House than others, giving them more weight.
Why shouldn’t the popular vote reflect the winner of the election? Maybe if we eliminated the Electoral College, we would see people from other states working more closely together to align voters to their regional needs to ensure their voting power is better represented for Presidential elections.

There has to be an easy – and fair – way to elect a President. Ideas welcome.
Cartogram for US Electoral College in 2008. 1 square equals 1 electoral vote.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information, HERE!

No comments: