Abolish the Electoral College

The system is a vestige of an era long past

A new poll from Gallup confirms once again the widespread support for amending the Constitution to provide for presidential election by popular vote. For those unacquainted with the issue, in the United States, the president is not elected by direct popular vote. Rather, the framers of the Constitution saw fit to create a college of electors, appointed and regulated by their respective state legislatures, to choose the president by majority vote. While the procedure for the selection of electors has been modified in the intervening 200 years — for example, electors are now nominated by state political parties and elected on Election Day — the gist is largely the same. Currently, 48 states and Washington D.C. allocate their electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis; only Maine and Nebraska delegate part of their votes on a district-by-district basis.

Gallup has been tracking the level of support for an amendment to establish direct presidential election since 1967, when they found that 58 percent would approve and only 22 percent would disapprove. Approval peaked in 1969 at 80 percent and has since leveled off to 62 percent according to their polling this year. In 1970, a popular resolution to amend the Constitution passed the House but died after a successful filibuster by small-state and Southern Senators.

The original logic behind the college is that the President is not elected to govern a people, but a federation of states, each with their own right to an equal place at the table. According to its modern proponents, it has a number of other benefits. For instance, it prevents candidates who are regionally popular in densely-populated areas but unknown elsewhere from winning. Other touted advantages include its ability to negate factors like bad weather that affect voter turnout within a state. It also skirts the issue of candidates ignoring minority groups, since these groups often mean the difference between winning a majority of the statewide popular vote, and thus all of the electoral votes, and receiving no electoral votes at all. And in the end, the college has had a pretty decent record of ensuring that the winner of the popular vote has won the general election.

However, many of these concerns are no longer valid, if they ever were. Ease of communication and travel make it an economical use of time to reach out to all corners of the country. Members of several minority groups can testify to the fact that they have been, and continue to be, categorically ignored or even used with an electoral college system. And I don’t think I have to remind people how even though it has failed to move the popular winner into the White House “only” four times, indirect election can still have disastrous consequences when it does fail. Ultimately, none of these factors matter if we as a country wish to adhere to the principle of “one person, one vote.”

Ironically, while small states are often considered to have the greatest interest in preserving the status quo, under the Electoral College system, citizens of larger states may have the greatest voting power, or probability of casting the deciding vote.

Some say the index used to reach this conclusion, the Penrose-Banzhaf Power Index (BPI), may not be the most realistic way of modeling an election; the BPI assigns each voter a probability of one-half of voting for either candidate. Regardless, a 2002 study by Gelman, Katz and Tuerlinckx at the Institute for Mathematical Statistics reveals that, while the relation between state population and voting power is not nearly as simple as the BPI-model suggests, one thing is clear: dividing voters into “coalitions,” e.g. states, causes voting power to vary drastically. The only way to ensure that each vote has the same power is a direct election. Conveniently, this system also maximizes the average voting power.

For many people, this is a no-brainer: we cannot simultaneously keep the Electoral College and claim to have democracy. Unfortunately, widespread belief in the near-infallibility of the Founding Fathers is at least partly responsible for preventing progress. What people who hold on to this notion must realize is that the Framers had flaws: stunning hypocrisy and a belief in their superiority as rich, white men, for example. While not infinitely so, many of them were indeed wise. Hence, foreseeing that social mores and technology would change, they granted their future countrymen the opportunity to amend the Constitution as needed. Let’s take them up on that offer and move toward real democracy.

Anonymous almost 12 years ago

Well written and well argued-- nice piece!

oldgulph almost 12 years ago

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. There would no longer be 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of other states.

In the current system, battleground states are the only states that matter in presidential elections. Campaigns are tailored to address the issues that matter to voters in these states.

The more than 2/3rds of the country and voters in safe red and blue states, like 12 of the 13 smallest states, are considered a waste of time, money and energy to candidates. These "spectator" states receive no campaign attention, visits or ads. Their concerns are utterly ignored.

The influence of minority voters has decreased tremendously as the number of battleground states dwindles. For example, in 1976, 73 of blacks lived in battleground states. In 2004, that proportion fell to a mere 17. Just 21 of African Americans and 18 of Latinos lived in the 12 closest battleground states. So, roughly 80 of non-white voters might as well have not existed.

The Asian American Action Fund, Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, NAACP, National Latino Congreso, and National Black Caucus of State Legislators endorse a national popular vote for president.

When the bill is enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes-- enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. . It does not abolish the Electoral College, which would need a constitutional amendment, and could be stopped by states with as little as 3 of the U.S. population. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

oldgulph almost 12 years ago

(percent signs do not post. The earlier post meant 73 percent of blacks, a mere 17 percent, just 21 percent, and 18 percent of Latinos, roughly 80 percent of non-white. And 3 of the U.S. could stop)

Since World War II, a shift of a few thousand votes in 1 or 2 states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 13 presidential elections. Near misses are now frequently common. There have been 6 consecutive non-landslide presidential elections. A shift of 60,000 voters in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 Million votes.

With the current system, it could only take winning a plurality in the 11 most populous states, containing 56 percent of the population of the U.S., for a candidate to win the Presidency -- that is, a mere 26 percent of the nation's votes.

Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided Battleground states: CO - 68 percent, FL - 78 percent, IA 75 percent, MI - 73 percent, MO - 70 percent, NH - 69 percent, NV - 72 percent, NM-- 76 percent, NC - 74 percent, OH - 70 percent, PA - 78 percent, VA - 74 percent, and WI - 71 percent; in Small

states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK - 70 percent, DC - 76 percent, DE - 75 percent, ID - 77 percent, ME - 77 percent, MT - 72 percent, NE 74 percent, NH - 69 percent, NV - 72 percent, NM - 76, OK - 81, RI - 74, SD - 71 percent,

UT - 70 percent, VT - 75 percent, WV - 81 percent, and WY - 69; in Southern and Border states: AR - 80 percent, KY- 80 percent, MS - 77 percent, MO - 70 percent, NC - 74 percent, OK - 81 percent, SC - 71 percent, TN - 83 percent, VA - 74 percent, and WV - 81 percent; and in other states polled: CA - 70 percent, CT - 74 percent, MA - 73 percent, MN - 75 percent, NY - 79 percent, OR - 76 percent, and WA - 77 percent. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA ,RI, VT, and WA. The bill has been enacted by DC, HI, IL, CA, NJ, MD, MA, VT, and WA. These 9 jurisdictions possess 132 electoral votes-- 49 percent of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


David almost 12 years ago

We are a republic, not a democracy, but I support Veldman on this issue, as a republic should allow it's leader to be elected by its people.