Many argue that the electoral college undermines the democratic power of voters; others believe the system is essential to a fair election.
But why was the electoral college established in the first place? What role did it play when our country was just starting out and is it still relevant today? Our country has changed dramatically since the 1700s, and politicians and ordinary citizens are wondering if the electoral college should be abolished or if it is still essential to our democracy.
The Creation of the Electoral College
After the Revolutionary War, prominent political figures were faced with a daunting task: putting together a country. As was inevitable, not everyone agreed on the best way to run the government and give power to the people. At the Constitutional Convention, parts of the New Jersey Plan and the Virginia Plan were put together to form the legislative branch as we largely know it today.
One of the biggest issues at the convention was the argument between large states and small states, in terms of population, and this conflict led to the two-branched legislation we have today. In the House of Representatives, representation is given based on how many people live in a state. For example, California has more members in the House than Wyoming, simply because California is more heavily populated.
But, these states that were less populated wanted part of the legislation to focus on equality, no matter the number of people that lived in each state. This led to the creation of the Senate, in which every state gets two Senators, no matter the population. The biggest reason the Electoral College was created was for a reason similar to the reason why we have bicameral legislation.
With this election system, presidential candidates are forced to campaign in more rural, less populated areas, and a few major cities aren’t the only ones that decide the election. However, like all things, the Electoral College is far from perfect, and its flaws always become more glaring around election time.
Does the Electoral College Value Every Vote?
The 2016 election results gave those who opposed the Electoral College more ammunition for their fight against the system. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote; she received just shy of three million more votes than Donald Trump, yet she still lost. How is this possible? Maine and Nebraska are the only two states out of 50 that still divide their electoral votes. Maine has 4 votes, so if fifty percent of the people who live in Maine vote for one candidate, that candidate receives two electoral votes.
Their system allows for more accurate individual vote counting, and more proportional distribution of electoral votes. However, most states do not utilize this method and instead take an all-or-nothing approach. In all other states, even if 49% of people vote Democrat, and 51% of people vote Republican, all of the electoral votes will go to the Republican candidate. Many Americans believe that the Electoral College discounts some votes in situations like the one described above.
Even if a candidate wins the popular vote, they are not guaranteed the presidency, demonstrated in 2016. Politicians and ordinary citizens alike have suggested that using the popular vote only and abolishing the Electoral College would be more fair and democratic, while others believe the exact opposite.
Other Issues With the Electoral College
Another issue many Americans have with the Electoral College is that it encourages a two-party system, which some Americans do not support. Today, many people are members of the Republican or the Democratic party, but a lot of people don’t want those to be the only options and consider themselves an Independent or a member of a lesser-known third party.
Because third-party candidates do not receive many votes, they don’t often win electoral votes, and thus the only real contenders are the nominees of the two major parties. Additionally, those who disagree with the concept of the Electoral College believe that it focuses too much on a few swing states, like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, and allows for the candidates to largely ignore the rest of the country.
Supporters of the Electoral College argue that without the system, a few select cities in the United States would determine the elections, but opponents argue the same about a few crucial states. It is unlikely that we will see significant change concerning the Electoral College soon; a decision as major as one that abolishes or even reforms the Electoral College would require a lot of thought and changes to the Constitution.
There is a reason the Founding Fathers established the Electoral College but is the system outdated? Is there a need to modernize the election process? If there is, we have to remember what our ultimate goal should always be: the freedom to vote and to have our voices heard.
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