The Electoral College: Not So Popular
Why the Electoral College Should be Replaced by the Popular Vote
The establishment of government is inevitable in the presence of any civilization. As the centuries have transpired, however, government has deviated from the autocracy that defined earlier frameworks and moved closer to the the ideals of the various lines of Enlightenment thought. The United States is a nation that embodies this shift in the political landscape over time, but certain aspects seem to reveal a deeper and less conspicuous issue. In an attempt to create a representative democracy, the framers of the Constitution designed a system known as the Electoral College in order to accommodate their fears of majority rule. I feel that In the modern era, however, the electoral college has become a sort of “rigged game” that must be manipulated rather than standing for honorable campaigns of purpose. Ultimately, this arcane system has various detrimental implications for American government in the modern era and we must consider revamping the system if a truly fair electoral process is the end goal.
First and foremost, the purported fairness of the system is based entirely on outdated fears that no longer justify ignoring the voice of the majority. The most pivotal decision in the creation of such a government is the election of the commander in chief. Opponents of the electoral college claim that a direct election of this highly prestigious position would actually yield a situation in which the majority is capable of oppressing the minority. This fear of mob rule was one that stemmed from the first constitution known as the Articles of Confederation, in which a lack of a centralized power led to the uprising known as Shay’s rebellion (2). This was the birth of modern representative democracy, where more educated elected representatives have the final say in political affairs. The electoral college was a part of this system in that it prevented the commander in chief from being elected by popular vote. Instead, the Constitution hands this power to a certain number of electors designated to each state and associated with one of the two major parties, who then make the final contribution to the national election (2). There is no restriction on these electors that forces them to abide by the will of the people in a particular state. In fact, as of 2008, there have been a grand total of 157 “faithless electors” who went against the will of the people which they have been elected to represent” (5). Personally, I feel that this “faithlessness” is an abuse of one’s power as a government official. To abandon the group of people or ideological constituency that one is elected to represent is akin to abandoning a campaign promise. However, the electoral college does give these electors the constitutional right to abandon the will of the people. This speaks to the lack of trust the founding fathers had in the intelligence of the common man to make societal decisions, as the “electors” were better off having the final say even if it meant flip flopping and going against the will of the people. It is important to note, however, that this fear of mob rule was one that existed under a Constitution with only one branch of government (1). Thus, there was a much greater scope for the majority to abuse their power through direct influence in government. Under the 2nd Constitution, however, separation of the 3 branches of government along with checks and balances on the executive branch became a reality. This meant that the direct influence of the public in the executive branch would be futile in achieving mob rule simply because representative democracy coexisted in the others. Through my civics education and following of Politics, I can safely say that the Legislative and Judicial branches of government are relatively autonomous and follow the Trustee model of representation. In a sense, supreme court justices are not even elected by the people, while those that occupy the Legislative branch have significant autonomy to act on their own judgement. It is necessary that the men and women of this nation have some say in what goes on in their own government. Without a popular vote for president of the United States, our government is further from the democratic ideals that we hold so dear simply because there is a greater distance between the government and its people.
In addition, the Electoral College undermines the basic principles of democracy through its fundamental structure. The system was designed in such a way so that some Americans’ votes seem to be worth more than others. For example, “Wyoming has one “elector” for every 177,556 people and Texas has one “elector” for about every 715,499” (5). As I first encountered this statistic, I questioned how one citizen’s vote can count for approximately 4 votes of another citizen. This is because the electoral college favors less populated states by redistributing the votes that more populous states should have (5). This unfairness renders the system undemocratic in that individuals between states have different abilities to make an impact on the political system, undermining the very ideals of equality preached within the Declaration of Independence. This, however, is even before considering the implications of the “winner take all system” that is at the core of the system. A large number of states tend to overwhelmingly associate with one of the two parties, and so presidential candidates choose not to campaign in these states, taking them for granted. It is the ¨swing states” where the largest amount of funding per candidate goes, as these are most likely to determine the result of the election (4). In this way, the electoral college becomes a sort of “game” that consists of politicians bending their policies to suit the desires in the few states in which they are to most campaign. Thus, the overwhelmingly partisan states get ignored and so do the minority party voices in those states. A liberal voter in Texas is not likely to be represented in government in terms of the presidential election because no matter how many liberals vote, it is practically impossible for Liberals in the state of Texas to outnumber the overwhelming Conservative majority. This was the case in the election of 2000, when the will of 37.98% of Texas’s population of 26.96 million people was ignored as a result of the winner take all system (6). In the end, there is a direct correlation between the implementation of such a system and low voter turnout, as I studied in my Civics high school education. Although the winner of the electoral college has lost the the popular vote 3 times throughout the course of American history, this number could have been far greater without the pervasive issue of low voter turnout. This electoral process is essentially an assault on democracy in that individuals have given up on their own electoral system knowing its undemocratic nature.
The electoral college is an institution that raises significant concern for me as a citizen as I watch the presidential candidates manipulate the political landscape in order to achieve the highest degree of political power. The most obvious example that comes to mind is the election of 2000, in which President Bush won the electoral college without winning the vote of the majority of people (3). The fairness of these outcomes comes under question because of the democratic society that we claim to be. By giving a certain group of people the power to have the final say irrespective of the will of the majority is undemocratic. In addition, the change in the political landscape over time is evident. In my opinion, the advent of technology has resulted in a mass dispersal of information. The credibility gap and cynicism that existed between the Federal government and its people during the 1970s has been mitigated as a result. In addition, the presidential race is one in which there is a great deal of publicity involved and a great deal of information is available to the public due to the excessive hype. The debates and town halls that I continually watch have comprehensively informed me on the specific policy stances of every candidate. Public ignorance may still be a factor, but in the 2016 election it is evident that the public is informed about the candidates to an unprecedented extent. The dangers that still exist with regard to the current process are more so due to inflammatory rhetoric and the obsession with “soundbites” that has taken over the political landscape. This is not enough reason to completely ignore the will of the people, and this nation is ready to move beyond this in the 21st century, where the government should be both for and by the people. In the end, a change in the electoral process will likely not change the results of most elections; however, it is essential that we as a nation restore the legitimacy of the political process by which the leader of the free world is elected.
The advent of the electoral college was a reaction to a failed Constitution known as the Articles of Confederation, in which the states were so loosely joined that central actions became impossible. In the modern era, the scope of the Federal government has increased to an unprecedented extent. In addition to an increase in scope, the Federal government has also increased in terms of the sum of its divisions. The diverse range of agencies and branches of government that are a part of modern American society means that the fear of mob rule is no longer justifiable and simply irrational. In the end, the ability to apply this system fairly and effectively has come under serious scrutiny, and it is time that we design a more valid way to elect the most powerful man in the free world.