The Electoral College and Reform

The Electoral College and Reform

In recent years, the role of the Electoral College has become an intense and partisan issue, with many arguing for their side’s stance with little to no desire to hear the opposing point of view. As a result, any argument for reform or change to the current Electoral College system is seen as either a leftist position or a conservative position, stirring up tribal sentiments and allowing for greater partisan hackery that does nothing for anyone. Still, incremental change and reform are necessary for the Electoral College, and unless we do something about it, the system will remain a point of political contention and our Republic will suffer as a result.

Whenever someone discusses either removing or changing the Electoral College, critics will inevitably point out that the Electoral College prevents smaller, rural states from being dwarfed by the bigger cities when it comes to voting power. If the Electoral College were to be removed, the Presidential election would be dominated by the big cities. This idea is, at best, false and numerically improbable. If you look at the population data for the 10 biggest cities in the United States for 2015, their collective populations add up to only 25.7 million people and for the eleventh city, Austin, the population is below a million. At that same time, there were approximately 321.4 million people living in America, meaning that the top ten cities in 2015 only counted for about 8 percent of the entire U.S. population. There is no guarantee that every person in these cities would vote in every election either, further lowering the influence of the cities by an even greater margin. A popular vote—as unlikely as it may be to exist in the American system—would not mean cities would be the only places that matter to winning an election. The senate already addresses the population issue, and as such, the Electoral College is a failed redundancy that flies in the face of the popular will.

Others make the argument that the Electoral College protects smaller states, but this is also absurd. In 2016, two-thirds of all 399 Presidential campaign events were in just six states. These states were Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Michigan. The two smallest states, Wyoming and Vermont, received no visits at all, and most of the country had little to no campaign events in their state. If the Electoral College is meant to protect small states, it’s doing a terrible job at it. In 2016, 94 percent of presidential campaign events were in just 12 states, which prompted former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to exclaim: “The nation as a whole is not going to elect the president. Twelve states are.” These states, like most of the country, had no connection to the presidency or the candidates running to hold office in it, alienating them from their eventual president. Furthermore, if you live in a heavily partisan state like California, which only received one presidential event, you are not only disconnected from the presidential election, but you could plausibly see your vote as useless if you are on the “other” side. In 2012, 4.2 million people voted for Mitt Romney, yet all 55 of the state’s electoral votes went to Barrack Obama. The simple reality is that the voices of millions of Americans are either not heard or heard and then disregarded at the expense of a false sense of protection for small states who are themselves neglected.

That said, I am not in favor of a popular vote as it will likely never come to pass. The political reality is that no matter how much we may want something on principle, we are not guaranteed the measure we intend to enact. The Electoral College has been in America for centuries—since the Constitution was ratified in 1789—and to remove it would require a constitutional amendment. Such an amendment would require either a two-thirds majority vote in the House and the Senate or a Convention of states called by two-thirds of the states. The partisan atmosphere of American politics today makes such an effort impossible. The only path forward is not on the national level, as the federal government will do nothing for us here.

The best path forward is on the state level. As established in Ray vs. Blair (1952), states have the right to compel electors to vote according to their state’s popular vote, with criminal repercussions if they do not. Indeed, 29 states and the District of Columbia already do require it from their electors, while 21 states have no such requirements. States are the key. Although this is not an exact popular vote, it still allows for a fairer and more balanced election, allowing for electors to be split according to the popular opinions of each state’s electorate. Thus, the people will truly be permitted to vote for their president and, with luck, will be able to find more faith in their system of government.

Sources:

“American FactFinder – Results.” American FactFinder – Results, United States Census Bureau, 5 Oct. 2015, https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk.

“Constitutional Amendment Process.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/constitution.

FairVote.org. “Faithless Electors.” FairVote, https://www.fairvote.org/faithless_electors.

Lovett, Ian. “California.” The New York Times, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/elections/2012/results/states/california.html?mtrref=www.nytimes.com&assetType=PAYWALL&gwh=697A0AE1DB8992D62D0A856CA94A3A6C&gwt=pay.

“Ray v. Blair, 343 U.S. 214 (1952).” Justia Law, https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/343/214/.

Sawe, Benjamin Elisha. “The 50 US States Ranked By Population.” WorldAtlas, 17 Nov. 2016, https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/us-states-by-population.html.

“States That Bind Electors.” FairVote, http://archive.fairvote.org/?page=967.

“The 50 Largest Cities in the United States.” PolitiFact, 1 Apr. 2015, https://www.politifact.com/largestcities/.

 “Two-Thirds of Presidential Campaign Is in Just 6 States.” National Popular Vote, 14 Apr. 2019, https://www.nationalpopularvote.com/campaign-events-2016.

“Voter Turnout.” FairVote, 2 Apr. 2016, https://www.fairvote.org/voter_turnout#voter_turnout_101.

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Conor Kelly

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Conor Kelly is a staff writer for The Lorian.

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