The Electoral College was developed for the United States Constitution over 200 years ago by the Founding Fathers. It is not a place; it is a process in which citizens (or chosen electors) elect the President and the Vice President of the United States. Most citizens aren’t aware that their votes don’t count as much as they thought. When citizens cast their votes for president in the popular vote, they elect a group of electors who then cast a vote for the president of the United States. The candidate who gets the most votes in a state gets all its electoral votes.
The United States only uses the Electoral College process to elect the President and the Vice President of America. It is not used for any other election of a government official. Whichever candidate for president gets 270 electoral votes first is the winner of the presidency. Each state receives a particular number of electors based on population size. The Census is conducted every ten years, so states might gain or lose a few electoral votes every time the Census happens.
In the 1700s, when the Founding Fathers were discussing possible ways to elect a president, the founders wanted to use electors so a president could be selected to prevent a corrupt national election. According to U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates of 1774-1875, “each state shall appoint, in such manner as its legislature may direct, several electors equal to the whole number of senators and members of the House of Representatives which the state may be entitled in the legislature. [N]o persons shall be appointed an elector who is a member of the legislature of the United States, or who holds any office of profit or trust under the United States…The electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for two-person…at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves.”
The Founding Fathers decided to have the state electors make the final decisions regarding the presidential election by approving the Committee’s Electoral College proposal on September 6, 1787. One of the biggest reasons they chose this process is because they did not trust the people to vote directly because of the population of enslaved people. The Founding Fathers feared the power in the bigger states. The Northern States, which at the time were anti-slavery, wanted only the free people to count in the population towards electoral votes. The Southern States, mainly pro-slavery, were worried that they would be constantly outvoted. They wanted the enslaved people to count in determining the population even though they could not vote. As a compromise, they settled on the Three-Fifths Clause. The Three-Fifth Clause allowed enslaved people to count as three-fifths of an individual increased the political power of pro-slavery states and gave southern states a significant amount of influence in presidential elections.
Throughout the years, there has been opposition to the Electoral College. There have been various attempts to abolish it and establish the popular vote as the way to elect the president. One of the Founding Fathers, James Madison, preferred the popular vote to the electoral college. He expressed his preference several times, once during a speech at Philadelphia Convention in 1787, where he stated that “the people at large was…the fittest to choose an executive.”. He also argued that the Electoral College would give southern states a significant disadvantage; however, he was willing to compromise for the good of American democracy at the time.
In 1816, when slave states had the advantage in the elections, Congress had a resolution for a national popular vote to be the primary way to elect a president. However, the answer was shot down by the protests of the Southern senators. Georgia Senator William Wyatt Bibb objected by saying that the slave-holding states “would lose the privilege the Constitution now allows them, of votes upon three-fifths of their population other than freeman…It would be deeply damaging to them”
Again in 1969, there was significant bipartisan support for the popular vote to replace the electoral voting system. The majority of the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve the proposal. The House of Representatives passed the proposal, as well, with a vote of 339 to 70. Even President Nixon supported the popular vote proposal and encouraged the Senate to give the proposal. However, in 1970, when the Senate debated the proposal on the floor, it quickly became filibustered by mostly Southern senators, Democrats, and Republicans conservatives from small states who believed that abolishing the Electoral College would lessen their political influence. Eventually, the proposal was set aside so Senate could attend to other businesses and was never considered again. The proposal died when the 91st Congress ended in January 1971.
The Electoral College, throughout history, has made some voters and states more potent than others. Half of the population in the U.S. is just in nine states. That allows for certain conditions to have more leverage in presidential elections. For example, California has more electoral votes than Hawaii, Oregon, Montana, Kansas, New Mexico, Nevada, Connecticut, Louisiana, and Utah combined. On the other hand, citizens of smaller states, like Wyoming and Alabama, have more voter power and influence than a citizen in a large state with a larger population. Since California has 55 electoral votes, that would mean one electoral vote for each group of 411,000 voters. For a state like Wyoming, which has three electoral votes and a smaller population, it would take fewer people to earn an electoral vote. A citizen’s vote can count for less based on where you live.
Giving states an advantage is dangerous. It can allow a candidate for president only to receive just enough electoral votes to win the presidency even if they lose the popular vote. This has happened several times, in 1876, 1888, and recently in 2000 and 2016. The Electoral College allows a president that is not chosen by the majority of the U.S. citizens. The Electoral College also allows a candidate to focus only on certain Swing States during the campaign instead of on the entire country. Swing states have way more influence in the presidential election than other states, getting all the attention. A presidential campaign should be about reaching as many people as possible.
However, the Electoral College has made campaigning about reaching a certain amount of states. According to the New York Times, during the 2020 election, both the Biden and Trump campaigns spent a combined $700 million on TV ads in just 14 states. 85% of the money spent went to only six states. The most money was spent in Florida, with $74 million spent by Biden and $53 million spent by Trump. Meanwhile, several forms, such as Connecticut and Montana, where the candidates spent no money on ads. These states are the ones with fewer electoral votes.
If there were a popular voting system in place, everyone’s votes would matter equally, regardless of their condition. The Electoral College has allowed this practice to occur and has made certain states insignificant. Rural states that do not swing states are typically ignored.
The Electoral College should be abolished, and the popular vote should be the system in which the president is elected. The U.S. is one of the few developed nations that still use the electoral college system. The only countries with the electoral college systems are Burundi, Estonia, India, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Myanmar, and Pakistan. Trinidad and Tobago, and Vanuatu. Meanwhile, the majority of the world trusts their citizens enough to allow them to choose the leader of their country.
In Article II of the Constitution, the Founding Fathers argued on behalf of the Electoral College, listing two reasons. The first reason is to give the states with smaller populations more equal weight in the presidential election. Their reasoning lacks logic because states with larger populations usually have more electoral votes and are the states with the most influence in an election.
The second reason stated was that they didn’t trust the ordinary person to be well-informed enough to make a proper decision regarding the presidential election. Times have changed, and we have a wealth of information. In modern times we have the capacity and the intelligence to choose a leader correctly. Additionally, the United States government is undemocratic to undermine the notion of “one person, one vote.”
The Electoral College is why voting participation in the United States is so low. Although it is untrue that our votes are entirely worthless, indeed, votes in certain states don’t have a tremendous amount of power in electing the president. If the U.S. used the popular voting system, then more citizens would show up to the polls because they would have reason to believe that their vote matters. The United States isn’t a direct vote democracy. U.S. citizens should live in a democracy where an individual’s vote makes the difference and one where the candidates for president try to gain the voice of the entire nation, not just the swing states.
Since the vote is for the president of the United States critical role, it should reflect the national opinion. The person who wins the presidential election should be the person who gets the most votes, just like when we vote for other governmental officials. If the U.S. followed the popular vote model, then every voter would have equal power and influence in the election of our leader.
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