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Electoral College Reform

There are parts of the Electoral College that are still valid despite all of the rhetoric being posted on mainstream and social media calling for its elimination.

Someone once said "There are times when we are 50 states, and times when we are one country and have national needs." Local elections (if we define "local" as being within a state or district) serve to elect the people that we choose to represent the "local us" in the Federal government. Hence, all elected Federal officers serve as a representative of one of the 50 states or a portion thereof; all of them except two. The President/Vice-President ticket is the only instance where we elect a single representative for all 50 states, and it is the only election that is covered by the Electoral College. And while we now look at the office-holder as a representative of the 'one country', they are in truth a representative of the 50 states which means that each state should have a voice in whom they want as a representative.

One valid point is that the Electoral College turns the election of this one ticket -- and only this one ticket -- from a single national campaign into 51 local campaigns. This means that the candidate must compete in each state (plus the District of Columbia) instead of in a handful of major metropolitan areas, and must appeal to a wider variety of voters.

I have two relatively simple ideas about reforming the Electoral College that I believe would address most of the issues presented against it.

Return the distribution of electoral votes to the candidate who won in each Congressional District.

A 2015 Gallup poll determined that about 43% of eligible voters do not vote because they believe that their vote won't matter, especially in a presidential campaign. These voters are currently less likely to vote because they feel disenfranchised, especially in a presidential election, because they believe that their vote wouldn't count except in a "battleground" state (e.g., conservative voters in California, or liberal voters here in Texas).

The current "winner-take-all" system of electoral vote distribution is a bastardization of the original system; electoral vote distribution by congressional district. It was adopted in the mid-1800's by state politicians who wanted to give their political party's candidate an added boost at the expense of disenfranchising any other party's voters (about whom they really don't care).

Returning the electoral vote distribution to a representative vote base on congressional district would go a long way to address the disenfranchisement felt by a large majority of voters.

Eliminate the "270 to win" threshold.

Requiring 270 electoral votes (50.4%) to win the presidency presumes, on its face, that only two candidates can campaign for the seat. This not only effectively eliminates any possibility of a third-party candidate acceding to the seat, but also serves to perpetuate political power into the current two-party system -- which seems stupid to me because no other country in the world is limited to two political parties.

By eliminating the 270 vote threshold, the candidate who accumulates the greatest number of votes after all of the votes are tallied would be declared the winner. If there is a tie for the top vote-receiver, then the current rules could be applied: the tickets of the top three vote-receivers would be sent to the House of Representatives who would vote until one ticket came out as the clear winner.

The Electoral College is actually a very well-designed system; it's just poorly executed. Returning the vote distribution to one based on congressional district would effectively eliminate voter disenfranchisement, and eliminating the "270 to win" threshold would allow the possibility for third-party or independent candidates to accede to the presidency.

 

A Tangent: Populism vs the Electoral College

There are two primary arguments made by populists against the Electoral College. The first (and by far most prominent) is that "democracy is 'one person, one vote'" and that "democracy" (by this definition) does not factor in the states, only the individual voter. Another idea bolstering populist ideology is that many believe that the President - like every other elected office - should be elected by popular vote. That second argument appears to be the only salient point to their list of arguments because any other related idea that I can see leads back to that singular point.

But the idea that the President should not be elected by popular vote was the intent of those who drafted the Constitution. The sole purpose of the Electoral College is to elect the heads of the Executive Branch. There is no other reason for its existence, and it has no other effect in any other area of the government. The Executive Branch is intended to be directly responsible to the states, not directly responsible to the people. The "will of the people" (i.e., the popular vote) is intended to be represented by the Legislative branch via the House of Representatives. But our culture has (more and more over the past century) made almost everything into a popularity contest, with the race for president being the penultimate challenge.

Then there's the argument about a state's power in relation to Electoral College votes actually benefitting less populated states where they have a greater power ratio of popular to electoral votes than states with higher populations. While this is ostensibly true, the focus of the argument is completely in the wrong place. The tally of electoral votes per state is based solely on state populations with the more populous states (e.g., California, New York, Texas, etc.) having a higher count of electoral votes while less populous states (e.g., Wyoming, Montana, etc.) have a far lower count.

So, let's look at the "one person, one vote" idea for a moment. If this were actually the measure by which a president is elected to office, then the presidential candidate would only need to concentrate their efforts on about 20-25 large American cities. That would absolutely ensure that they attained the necessary threshold of popular votes required. But if the President is supposed to represent ALL of the people, then the "one person, one vote" idea is a logical fallacy because, in this case, the President only represents the majority, and that majority is mostly in the cities. The "one person, one vote" argument only benefits urban areas, and disenfranchises rural areas. Essentially, stating the idea another way, "one person, one vote" means that "city areas are more important than country areas". The Framers understood this, and that's why they set up the system the way that they did. (Federalist Papers, 68) According to them, the Electoral College exists to limit the opportunity of factions (referred to as "the tyranny of the majority") to select a President that may be unfit to hold office. It's not always successful, but nothing ever is.


Committee to Elect Darren Hamilton
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