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Electoral College: Should the U.S. Push for Reform or Elimination?
When citizens of the United States vote in a presidential election, many believe that they are taking part in a direct election of the president (Sutin 2003). However, because of the existence of the electoral college, established in the U.S. Constitution, this is not really true.
The electoral college is a set group of "electors" who are nominated by political activists and party members in America, 2003). When it is time for the presidential election, these electors, dedicated to one or another candidate, are popularly elected. A few months after the presidential vote, the electors meet in their state capitals and vote for president and vice president. To be elected, a president must obtain 270 electoral votes.
In recent years, the electors have developed a habit of never casting their ballots against the winner of the popular vote (Sutin, 2003). Today, the electoral college vote, which is weighted in favor of whoever wins the popular election, simply increases the majority of the winning candidate and promotes the popular choice. It is still possible, however, that in a close race or a multiparty race the electoral college might not cast 270 votes in favor of any candidate -- in this case, the House of Representatives would choose the next president.
The 2000 Presidential election is considered the closest election in the history of the United States (Wikipedia, 2004). The results of the 2000 election were not known for more than a month after the election, due to the counting and recounting of Florida presidential ballots, which significantly changed the course of the election. The Florida vote was the closest of all of the states and state law enabled an automatic recount due to the small difference. Many U.S. citizens expressed concern regarding the fairness and accuracy of the voting process, especially since a small change in the vote count could change the result. The final (and disputed) official Florida count was awarded to President George W. Bush over Al Gore by 537 votes.
The Democratic Party argued against the state's election results, demanding that disputed ballots in three heavily-Democratic counties be counted by hand (Wikipedia, 2004). Numerous local court rulings resulted in different orders -- some ordered recounts because the vote was so close and others declared that a selective manual recount in a few heavily-Democratic counties would be unconstitutional. Finally, the Gore campaign appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which ordered that the recounting process proceed. The Bush campaign appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which nullified the decision of the Florida Supreme Court saying that the court's decision to bypass state election laws, which stated that results had to be certified by a certain date, was dubious, as there was "considerable uncertainty" as to the specific grounds for their ruling.
In early December, the Republican-dominated Florida House of Representatives voted almost perfectly on party lines to certify the state's electors for Bush (Wikipedia, 2004). Later that afternoon, the Florida Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings that enabled recounts in several south Florida counties. However, these decisions were overruled when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down two decisions in favor of Bush, the critical one 7-2 and the other 5-4, ending the election. Bush became President.
According to Wikipedia (2004): "The U.S. Electoral College vote was so close that a shift from Bush to Gore in almost any state won by Bush would have swung the election to Gore (271 Electoral College votes for Bush and 266 for Gore)." The fact that Gore lost the election even though he received the majority of popular votes (Gore got 500,000 more popular votes than Bush) contributed to the controversy of the election. Many people argued that, too many time, a candidate who did not receive a plurality of the popular vote received a majority of the electoral college vote. The 2000 election, for many reasons, brought the debate over the effectiveness of the Electoral College to the forefront of politics.
The Electoral College was originally created for a variety of reasons (UVCGS, 2001). The system was mainly created to give all states a voice in the selection of the president. The founding fathers of the Constitution found it hard to believe that a national mandate, like that of George Washington, would be within reach for candidates in the future. Author Frederick D. Schwarz wrote in American Heritage magazine that the founding fathers intended for the Electoral College to serve as a rational gatekeeper, a "nominating committee" that would send the top candidates to the U.S. House of Representatives for a final choice. Virginian George Mason, quoted in James Madison's notes, "conceived it would be as unnatural to refer the choice of a proper character for chief Magistrate to the people, as it would, to refer a trial of colors to a blind man. The extent of the Country renders it impossible that the people can have the requisite capacity to judge (Schwartz, 2001)."
However, the Electoral College quickly became controversial. In 1796, John Adams beat Thomas Jefferson by a mere three electoral votes (UVCGS, 2001). In 1800, Jefferson, then a vice president as a result of his second-place finish four years earlier, ran again, against President Adams. Jefferson and his ticket mate, Aaron Burr, were the leaders in the Electoral College. At that time, each elector voted for two men, and the top two candidates served as president and vice president. The Jefferson electors had voted for both men, so Jefferson and Burr each held 73 of 138 electoral votes. While Burr was the clear choice for vice president and not president, his political ambition would not allow him to step aside. As a result, it took thirty-six ballots in the U.S. House of Representatives, with votes cast by state delegations, not by individual members, to vote Jefferson in as the third U.S. president.
This controversy led to the Twelfth Amendment, which requires electors to vote for presidential and vice presidential candidates separately (UVCGS, 2001). To date, this is the most significant change to the Electoral College. However, in recent years, many Americans believe that it is time for a drastic reform or even elimination of the Electoral College. Consideration of the intentions of the founding fathers in establishing the Electoral College is important for gaining historical context, something that deserves complete consideration whenever reform is discussed.
Despite criticisms, the Electoral College offers Americans a variety of benefits. Throughout history, the Electoral College has been a stabilizing factor in American politics, as it has limited the emergence of multiple parties (UVCGS, 2001). This benefit exists solely because of the winner-take-all allocation of electors in all states but Maine and Nebraska, neither of which have ever split their votes. According to UVCGS (2001): "Forcing consensus and coalition building at the party level has protected our system against the fragmentation often seen in other nations. When multiple parties develop, they often do so along single-issue, ethnic, socioeconomic, religious, or regional lines. This could prove quite divisive, especially in a very heterogeneous nation such as this one. Also, when many small parties or factions participate independently in the process, majorities are very difficult to build, and small groups often attain disproportionate power, because they are the key to a coalition. If small parties were suddenly able to play a role in presidential politics, they would likely begin to see greater success at the local, state, and national levels, perhaps changing the face of our Congress and transforming the legislatures in all of the states."
The Electoral College also ensures that candidates cannot run campaigns focused entirely on population centers (UVCGS, 2001). Without the Electoral College, America's small states could not compete for attention with large cities like New York and Los Angeles, where candidates can shop for votes with greater ease. In addition, the College forces candidates to pay attention to all fifty states. It compels candidates to "pay more attention to local issues" and "wage a national campaign," according to former GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes at the Symposium (UVCGS, 2001).
There are also some disadvantages to the Electoral College (UVCGS, 2001). Perhaps the most important of these is the fact that the winner of the popular vote does not necessarily win the presidency. While this does not seem to be a big problem, many people feel that it makes the Electoral College fundamentally undemocratic.
Also, in the presidential election, the votes of individuals in each state do not count equally (UVCGS, 2001). The basis of the Electoral College is not a "one person, one vote" concept. Many people find this hard to accept and even undemocratic. It is important to note that the founding fathers were not concerned with popular votes. They assigned the responsibility of allocating electoral votes to the state legislatures. Under America's current system, individuals do not really vote for president.
One major criticism of the College is that it is susceptible to a tie (UVCGS, 2001).…[continue]
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