The Electoral College: A Threat to Democracy As We Know It?

Elliot Akman
May 9, 2017 · 6 min read
The White House (Credit: Getty Images)

Every democracy in the entire world elects their leader by popular vote; except for one. The United States of America is different because the country relies on a unique system put in place by the founding fathers that elects the office of the President of the United States based on regions of the country instead of majority rule, called the Electoral College. Since the 2016 presidential race the Electoral College has re-ignited the debate as to what the best method of voting for the office of the President as the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, defeated Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote by more than 3,000,000 individual votes.

How we got here?

Donald Trump (R) vs. Hillary Clinton (D) at the Second Presidential Debate, Sunday, October 9 2016 at Washington University in St. Louis

Since the 2000 election, but more recently the disparity in the 2016 election many Americans have been interested in why this form of electing a president is used as opposed to the popular vote method used in literally every other electable position in America. This is a popular issue because America just elected a president with no prior political experience and a long history of failed businesses and countless other violations.

There are many people in favor of ridding America of the Electoral College, such as Akhil Reed when he contributed to the New York Times article “Should the Electoral College Be Abolished?” As with most things in the United States there is opposition. Aaron Blake’s New York Times article “Abolish the electoral college? Dream on, Democrats” highlights how this is the status quo and one bad presidential choice should not change the will of the states. There are a lot of differing opinions on if the country should continue to pursue a popular vote for the Presidency and time will tell what the best course of action is. For the most part, Republicans want to stick to the status quo and Democrats want to get rid of this system of voting, citing unfair advantages to conservative states. The Electoral College has a legitimate founding, but as America changed, so too must the way America elects the president.

Credit: Giphy.com

Framing A Better Country?

The reason why America adopted the Electoral College is not without merit. According to a host of The Electoral College, a History.com video, host David Eisenbach explained how the framers of the constitution “believed that the general public did not know enough about politics to form a well-rounded opinion and decide who to vote for” (Eisenbach). In the late 1700’s when America was in its infancy, a valid argument could be made that the framers were right because a lot of the land-owning male population that could vote did not have the funds necessary to go to college and therefore were unable to make an informed decision. Because they could not go to school they did not have access to libraries. They believed that while each citizen should be able to vote their vote should only count towards how an elector should vote for them. This eventually paved the way for a man with no political experience and a history of sexual assault taking residency in the White House.

There was no way for the framers to predict services such as Google and public libraries which every citizen has access to. Because of the invention of computers and subsequently, search sites such as Google, Bing, every citizen has the opportunity to access a plethora of information about each candidate to make an informed decision on who benefits their needs and will do the best job of running the country.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Because this system of voting was introduced in the constitution, the easiest way to change from the Electoral College voting to a popular vote is through a constitutional amendment. According to Archives.gov, the way to create a constitutional amendment is as follows: First, “two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate need to approve of the amendment” (Archives.gov). This differs than a regular bill because since the President of the United States does not have constitutional authority they do not need to approve of the amendment. What is required is that 38/50 states (75%) approve of the new amendment. After these criteria are met the amendment is then ratified, becoming law.

Excuses, Excuses?

President-Elect Donald Trump (left) shakes the hand of former President Barack Obama (right) at the White House. November 9, 2016

There are a lot of excuses that proponents of the Electoral College will give as to why the voting system should remain in place. Robert Speel, Associate Professor of Political Science at Pennsylvania State University, writing for The New York Times recently debunked a few myths about why this voting system works.

The first myth is that “electors fill the passions of the people” (Speel). The electors act a check on the American public in case a poor choice for president is made. This is no longer the case because electors are now chosen for party loyalty and there have been less than five faithless electors in every election.

“Rural areas would get ignored” is another myth that he debunked because as the Electoral College stands now, candidates “only focus on ten to twelve states” (Speel). If the vote switched to a popular vote candidates would need to focus on 30–50 states instead of the ten they do now. Candidates would need to go out and get votes and they would still focus on areas with a higher population as they do now because that’s where the most amount of votes are. Rural America would get more attention than they do now but the difference in attention between an election with the Electoral College and a popular vote is insignificant to warrant a legitimate concern.

The final myth that Speel debunked is that “it creates the mandate to lead” (Speel). Because the states have a winner-take-all system a candidate can and often wins the Electoral College by a landslide but the actual vote tallies are much closer to 50/50. It creates a mandate to govern and get their ideas passed by congress by the candidate who won the Electoral College. While this can be a good thing for the winner it can often lead to resentment for the people who are in the majority but do not have their voices heard. This happened in all 50 states after the 2016 election.

Speel does propose a viable solution to fix the Electoral College without a constitutional amendment. The “National Popular Vote Interstate Compact” is a deal where individual electors for each state would vote for the national popular vote winner instead of the Electoral College winner. This would create a 538–0 victory for one candidate in every presidential election as the national popular vote winner would see all of the electoral votes goes to them as well. Speel notes that because a lot of states are strongly controlled by Republicans this compact is unlikely to pass. This is the easier of the two main options to changing the voting for elections.

Works Cited

Blake, Aaron. “Abolish the Electoral College? Dream on, Democrats.” The Washington Post. 16 November 2016. Date Accessed: 31 January 2017.

“Conservative Vs. Liberal Beliefs.” Student News Daily. 10 November 2010. Date Accessed: 25 April 2017.

Fried, Charles and Amar, Akhil Reed. “Should the Electoral College Be Abolished?” The New York Times. 16 November 2016. Date Accessed: 31 January 2017.

National Archives. “Constitutional Amendment Process.” Federal Government. 15 August 2016. Date Accessed: 2 March 2017.

Fried, Charles and Amar, Akhil Reed. “Should the Electoral College Be Abolished?” The New York Times. 16 November 2016. Date Accessed: 31 January 2017.

Speel, Robert. “These 3 Common Arguments For Preserving the Electoral College Are Wrong.” The New York Times. 15 November 2016. Date Accessed: 20 April 2017.

Elliot Akman

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I am a senior at San Francisco State University. I am finishing up my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and am writing to fulfill my english 214 requirement :)

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