The Case for Dumping the Electoral College

from The New Yorker

In 1961, Estes Kefauver, the crusading Democratic senator from Tennessee, denounced the Electoral College as “a loaded pistol pointed at our system of government.” Its continued existence, he said, as he opened hearings on election reform, created “a game of Russian roulette” because, at some point, the antidemocratic distortions of the College could threaten the country’s integrity. Judging from Twitter’s obsessions, at least, that hour may be approaching. The polls indicate that Donald Trump is likely to win fewer votes nationally than Joe Biden this fall, just as he won fewer than Hillary Clinton, in 2016. Yet Trump may still win reëlection, since the Electoral College favors voters in small and rural states over those in large and urban ones. Last week, a new book by Bob Woodward revealed how Trump lied, in the early weeks of the pandemic, about the severity of the coronavirus, even though that put American lives at risk; the thought that a reëlected Trump might feel triumphantly af­firmed in such mendacity is terrifying. But criticizing the Electoral College simply because it has given us our Trump problem would be misguided. His Presidency, and the chance that it will recur despite his persistent unpopularity, reflects a deeper malignancy in our Constitution, one that looks increas­ingly unsustainable.

James Madison, who helped conceive the Electoral College at the Constitutional Convention, of 1787, later admitted that delegates had written the rules while impaired by “the hurry­ing influence produced by fatigue and impatience.” The system is so buggy that, between 1800 and 2016, according to Alexander Keyssar, a rigorous historian of the institution, members of Congress introduced more than eight hundred constitutional amendments to fix its technical problems or to abolish it altogether. In much of the postwar era, strong majorities of Americans have favored dumping the College and adopting a direct national election for President. After Kefauver’s hearings, during the civil-rights era, this idea gained momentum until, in 1969, the House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment to establish a national popular vote for the White House. President Richard Nixon called it “a thoroughly acceptable reform,” but a filibuster backed by segregationist Southerners in the Senate killed it.

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4 Comments

  1. The Electoral College has always intrigued me because of its complexity when determining the next President of the United States. Ever since I was young I always wondered why we never had a direct vote; no point system, just candidate A or B. Other countries have this system and there is no debate on whether or not it’s rigged or faulty. I understand the idea behind the Electoral College, giving states with more representatives in Congress more electoral votes, but a direct voting system cuts out any doubt. If more people vote for one candidate over the other there is no debate on the voting system, the loser simply got outvoted. Another reason why the Electoral College is an inferior system is because it doesn’t give everyone equal voting power. The state of Wyoming has three electoral votes, while California has 55. The electoral vote to resident ratio is Wyoming is one vote per 190,000, while California is one vote per 715,000. People in Wyoming have more than three times the voting power than people in California because of the Electoral College system. Multiple states are actually working towards abolishing the Electoral College and have passed several bills to indict the new direct method system. The last constitutional amendment addressing the Electoral system was over two hundred years ago and I believe it is time for change.

    There have been multiple instances where a presidential candidate lost the popularity vote but still won the election via the College. This in turn sparks debates over which system is better. There will continue to be articles regarding the college system in the future if it continues to stay in effect. We should adopt the national popular voting system that many other countries use because it is simple and gives the power back to individual voters. There are millions of citizens that feel their vote doesn’t amount to anything, mainly because of the electoral college. If a state is swaying towards one side, as it always has in the past, there’s no reason to vote. For example, New Jersey has always voted democratic as a whole for as long as I can remember. Since I know the electoral points will go to the blue side, my one vote doesn’t matter. But in a majority rules popularity vote, it doesn’t matter what my state’s majority is. It depends on the nation as a whole and my vote can potentially matter down the line.

  2. The title of this article intrigued me, as the presence of the Electoral College is one that I indeed, have an opinion on. I personally believe that the Electoral College needs to be reformed, and maybe even abolished. I know the benefits the College presents, in giving small rural communities a larger voice in elections, that voice however is shifting. When one party has won the last 5/6 popular votes, yet only 3 elections, there is a flaw somewhere in the system. It could be that the number of “votes” allotted to each state has not been revised to accurately represent movement among citizens. I think that flaw is deeper than “fraud” or “rigged” elections, but a matter of power and control that was created hundreds of years ago and maintained to this day for predominantly white-conservative men. The College, created in the 1780s (by wealthy white men) was a rushed process that would not take into account changing demographics and societal norms. Throughout history the College would continue to mold to individuals who thrived off of slavery and anti-suffrage sentiment. The voting districts within the College are conveniently shaped to “balance” elections, when actually this gerrymandering is a tactic that has been utilized for decades to cancel votes made by POC and women (often liberal votes). The Electoral College does not account for its population with its unequal ratio in rural to urban states. When thinking about this issue, it makes sense for conservatives to be pro-Electoral College. Scientific data shows that the more exposure to different cultures an individual has, the more likely they are to be liberal. Urban settings contain more cultures, and liberal voters, making the Electoral College a perfect design for rural populations. I also feel that simply put, the College does not represent democracy. I understand the concept that the College is a podium for all voices to be heard, but it has been corrupt for years and it achieving only the opposite. As mentioned previously, the borders in the College are not divided just by population, but also be strategic party powers. A true democracy would account for every vote. I find it unfair that the Electoral College has an “all or nothing” precedent. Votes from both parties, are disregarded depending on the location that they were casted, making many question why they even vote at all. In the future, the National Popular Vote would be much more digestible by more people, if America abolished its two-party system, but alas that is an issue that will take hundreds of years to resolve.

  3. When I was younger, aware that the United States is a democratic nation, I had always assumed that the popular vote was ultimately the way that presidents were elected. When the 2016 election rolled around, I had gained interest as to why and how the Electoral College is the way that it is and ultimately why it even exists. I would like to mention early in my response to this article that I believe the Electoral College is fundamentally corrupt and is either in need of massive reform or in need of abolition. This article highlights how the College was built on a system that disproportionately disadvantages minorities and people of color, but that comes as no surprise as this is America after all. The majority of laws and systems put in place were created in the eyes of white, landowning men that were more concerned with maintaining a country that helps people like them more than anyone else. Today, the College continues to dilute the votes of those who live in populous states – notably African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans.
    The article, written by Steve Coll, mentioned how in 2016, Trump said in an interview that he believes more in the popular vote than an election decided by the Electoral College. Honestly, I don’t know why he would have said such a thing, as he lost significantly in actual votes to Hillary Clinton in that election. Although, his open ignorance and lack of basic competence suggests that this quote – which directly opposes himself – goes right along with a whole slew of misinformation that he continues to perpetuate to this day. Coll also pointed out how in 2012, “54% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents favored replacing the College with a national popular vote… and only a third of them take that position as of 2020” (Coll). As evident in the 2016 presidential election, statistically red states have an unfair advantage over blue states, as the votes in those states hold more value in the Electoral College process over their counterparts. At the end of the day, the candidate with the most votes should ultimately be the winner of an election, as that is a true representation of what the American people want. This country is supposed to be a democracy, which by definition means “a government by the people.”

  4. The existence of the Electoral College has been a highly political issue debated by both major political parties. It is a system which is extremely important for our democracy, even though it has led to serious controversy. While this system of electing presidents and vice presidents devalues the popular vote and emphasizes the power of swing states, it has led to decades of peaceful transition of power from one party to the other. There have always been calls to reform this system, in fact there have been around 800 different attempts by members of congress to either reform or eliminate this system. None of these attempts have been successful. Withstanding these reforms is a true indicator that this system is fundamental to the proper operation of the American government. Furthermore, this system was designed to protect equal representation throughout the entire country. Smaller rural states can actually make an impact in an election because of this system. Eliminating the electoral college silences the voices of these Americans. In fact, having elections based on the popular vote forces candidates to flock to large cities, in order to secure votes. States with large urban populations will become the swing states in this method of electing a president. Small states and rural states will not be equally represented in this method of conducting an election. While it might seem nice for each vote to be directly counted for a candidate, small and rural states will not have equal representation. Elections which are nationalized will not represent the interests of all the states. Every state should have an equal say in important political matters. It is quintessential that the electoral college is maintained as its removal puts American democracy in danger. I believe it will be interesting to see how the electoral college influences future elections, and to see if it is reformed to a certain extent. I am also curious to see how many politicians make reforming the electrical college a key campaign issue in the coming years. If reforming the electoral college gains the support of more politicians in the near future, I am eager to hear their arguments about why it should be replaced, and what new system should replace it. Otherwise, the electoral college is the best way to make sure that small town USA’s problems and concerns are still recognized in the political process.

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