Why I’m Interested
In my research, I wanted to learn more about the history of the Electoral College and what changes have been proposed in the past. I also wanted to uncover the thought process of the founding fathers when they came up with the system, and see if anyone foresaw these flaws.
I am interested in researching the flaws of the Electoral College because I think it’s a very important topic, as it affects the entire voting population of the country. I first became interested in the Electoral College and the election mechanisms in the United States election system overall when we studied all of this back in the fall semester. I want to look into this issue more deeply than I was able to in the fall to hopefully find solutions to the many flaws in this archaic system.
Prior Attempts at Reform
There have been hundreds of proposals to remove or reform the Electoral College over the nation’s history, but all of them have failed. One such attempt at reform was the Lodge-Gossett Amendment, which was proposed in 1950 by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and Representative Ed Gossett. The Amendment proposed a system where electoral votes would be allocated proportionally per state, but it failed in the House of Representatives(FairVote). While all the nationwide attempts at reform have failed, several states have reformed on a more local level. Nebraska and Maine both implement a proportional district system. The way their voting works is the popular winner of each congressional district within the state gets an electoral vote, with the popular winner of the whole state getting an additional electoral vote(FairVote). Maine has used this system since 1972, and Nebraska since 1996.
One issue caused by the electoral college that was brought to light during the 2016 election was the role of so-called “swing states”. Because many states lean heavily in favor of one party, they are essentially decided before the campaign, let alone the election, even starts. Because of this, candidates do not have to campaign very much in more than half the states. For example, in the 2016 election, Trump and Clinton visited Florida a combined 71 times, but left many other states such as New York, Kentucky, and Tennessee completely neglected (National Popular Vote). This means that they don’t have to consider any of those states’ issues at all, since they know that many of the states favor one party heavily enough to be decided already. While this is partially caused by the extreme partisanship in America, the winner-takes-all system acts as an enabler for this behavior.
Another problem with the current electoral college is that some states’ citizens get more representation in the presidential election than other states’. For example, Wyoming has a 200,000:1 ratio of citizens to electoral votes, whereas California has a 750,000:1 ratio (Williams). This means that while California has a much larger population than Wyoming, it doesn’t have a proportionally larger amount of popular votes. Because of this, a popular vote in Wyoming is worth about four times as many electoral votes than a popular vote in California. This great inequality shows that the Electoral College does not accurately represent the nation.
However, many states have tried to remedy this by joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which is currently the main organization working on fixing the electoral college. Because the Constitution does not say how states must allocate their electoral votes, states ARE allowed to pass bills regarding how their electoral votes get allocated (National Popular Vote). The states that are in the compact have agreed to give all of their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner (FairVote). The compact’s final goal is to get a nationwide popular vote so that every vote in the nation is counted equally. The movement has received bipartisan support in many states, and 12 states that possess a total of 172 electoral votes have completely passed the bill. Additionally, the bill has passed in one house in another 11 states, holding a total of 89 electoral votes. This will bring their total electoral votes to 261 votes, just 9 shy of the 270 they need to have a nationwide majority. Once they have the majority, the presidential position will effectively be determined by the popular vote.
The issue of gerrymandering is also a huge flaw with winner-takes-all systems like the Electoral College. Gerrymandering is the act of dividing county lines in a way that favors you in order to win an election(Wikipedia). This process requires that you already are political allies with the people drawing the lines, or have paid bribes to said people. The way gerrymandering works is the people drawing the lines try and pack as many of your political opponents as possible into as few districts as possible, then spread all the people that you know will vote for you into as many districts as possible, making sure that they always have just barely more than a 50% presence in the districts(Wikipedia). Because of the winner-takes-all system, even without getting a majority, you could win more districts and therefore the election.
One thing that could happen nationally to fix these problems is the removal of electors. While a nationwide popular vote might be too radical and come with its own slew of issues, there is no real reason to have electors instead of a fully direct electoral vote in the current era with near-instant communication over the internet. The current issue with having electors is that, in some states, they aren’t actually required to vote for the party or candidate that the state that they are representing voted for. In the 2016 presidential election, for example, four of the electors from Washington decided to vote against their state’s decision.
Full Historical IssuesEssay: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1cui-bzOLMhHznjdxJUDp9JvrZKBbf49-puO5RrPldqM/edit?usp=sharing
Current-day Issues Essay: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QAVDYrd8D1MOK-LWIEQJ0ZUezOPjJS-aeh0hPQ_mTBc/edit?usp=sharing