Michael Wade Jackson A02-92-6779 Warren 11B 14 March 2000
The Electoral College: Voting for the People not by the People The right to vote and elect officials is by far the greatest power allotted to the citizens of the United States of America. The most significant aspect of this right pertains to the selection of the President and Vice President of the United States. In reality the President and Vice President are not elected through direct popular vote but by the Electoral College system. The Electoral College was developed over 224 years ago during the Constitutional Convention. The founding fathers, in an attempt to bring the nascent nation into existence, felt it was necessary to craft a system that would be accepted by all states and not stall the development of our nation. The Electoral College is an archaic system that is not an appropriate means for electing the President of the United States and therefore it should be removed and replaced by a direct popular vote system. This determination is based on the review of the historical actions of the College, the proposed reforms to the College, and the current state of technology that would allow a direct vote of the people.
The Electoral College was the creation of a compromise between the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The options open to the panel of eleven delegates varied from congressional appointment of the president to the direct vote of the citizens of the United States. The congressional approach was dismissed, as it was the feeling of the delegates that if the congress selected the president it would place the leader of the nation in a subservient position to the whims of Congress. The direct vote of the people faced considerable objections consisting of: (1) the lack of awareness and knowledge of candidates by the people, with unforeseen consequences resulting from the scattering of votes by the electorates in the various states among favorite sons they new best; (2) the loss in relative influence of the South because of its large nonvoting slave population; (3) the dislike, on the part of small, less populous states, of too open an admission of an inferior role in the choice of the president; and (4) the fear of many that direct election of the president would consolidate too much power and influence in one person (Longley 19). With these two systems of electing the president lacking significant backing by the delegates, a third option was proposed in which an intermediary would go between the vote of the people and the election of the president, creating the Electoral College. The delegates accepted this system with little enthusiasm and no unanimity of conviction based upon certain practical considerations of the time (Glennon 11). These considerations ranged from a desire to reach an agreement to lack of concern about the operation of the Electoral College. Thus the Electoral College was created as a system that was left for the future to fix, as it was obvious that Washington would be the first president.
The ultimate error in the Electoral College system is the ability to appoint the candidate that did not receive the majority of the popular vote. The Electoral College on three occasions (1876,1888,1960) has proceeded in this manner, the most recent of cases being the election of 1960 between Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy. In the election of 1960 Richard Nixon received 34,108,157 popular votes whereas Kennedy received 34,049,976 however Kennedy received 303 electoral votes and Nixon 219. In this instance the popular winner did not win the election but the reverse. The Electoral College is designed according to the population of the State (according to the most recent Census) plus 2 electors based upon the members of the Senate from that state. The Electoral System was designed to be a means in which free willed electors were able to decide based on their own intelligence the choice of the President of the United States. This however is not the reality as the Electoral College is now adjusted to vote en bloc for the popular winner of the state. This means that in the election of 1996 Clinton won the State of California by the popular vote and thereby received all 54 electoral votes. This in turn cancelled all of the votes by the citizens of the state who voted for Dole or Perot. This is a reality when it is observed that when all the electoral votes go to Clinton the popular votes cast for Dole or Perot are lost as they now carry no weight or significance. The Electoral College in turn through these weaknesses places the security of the election process in question as a situation could occur in which the electoral college does not grant a majority of the votes to one candidate and the fail safes of the system are enacted. The procedures pertaining to the election of a President when the Electoral College does not reach a decision is complicated and tedious at best. The decision reverts to the House of Representatives where each state is given one vote in the decision and selection of the next president. If the state is equally divided between the candidates their vote is not counted and the final outcome is the candidate with the most votes wins the election. If the House is unable to determine the next president and the Senate is unable to determine the next vice president by January 20th (Inauguration day) the speaker of the house will become the acting president by the 25th amendment. This seems an absurd outcome to an election in which the acting president did not campaign or run for the office. This is another inherent flaw of the system. The Electoral College is an inappropriate means of deciding the presidency of the United States.
The Electoral College has been the focus of reform since its inception in
1787. The proposals for Electoral College reform range from a district system to a direct popular vote. The first proposed modification of the Electoral College was the district system (Best 25). The district system would break the states electoral votes into the congressional districts and in turn the popular winner from each district would win the electoral vote. The remaining 2 electoral votes from the senate would go to the electoral vote winner. The second attempt at changing the Electoral College was the proposed proportional plan (Pierce 162). This plan would maintain the elector system but it would divide the states electoral votes according to the respective proportion of the popular vote to that candidate. An example would be that if a candidate received a third of the popular vote of a state a third of the 15 electoral votes (5 votes) would go to that candidate. The third proposed change to the Electoral College system was the automatic system (Best 32). This system would end the role of the elector and replace the vote of the elector in the hands of the populace. The system would in turn grant all of the states electoral votes to the candidate with a plurality of the popular vote. The final proposal for Electoral College reform was the direct vote plan (Pierce 170). The first presence of the direct vote system was addressed on March 20th, 1816. The direct vote would now allow the populace to approve the president directly. This system would remove the Electoral College and allow the nation to vote directly for the president. These proposals have not received the required majority in the House or Senate to be enacted but it is clear that the most effective system in today's society would be the enactment of the direct vote system.
The possibility of the direct vote is now a reality that was not possible in the years prior to the revolution of the Internet and the prevalence of personal computers in the households of America. The most significant development in the democratic process would be the direct election by the people of the president. The Internet today unites Americans in a way that was unheard of during the inception of our nation in 1787. The worry of the delegates that the direct vote would be unable to count is now unfounded and most recently the Arizona democratic primary was replaced by an Internet vote and the voter turn out was the highest it had been in years. The direct vote system is now a possibility in part to the development of the company called election.com (www.election.com) in which the ability to access and vote for the office of the president is made possible. The direct vote system will also replace the inconsistency in the number of electoral votes designated by the Census as the people will directly vote and there will be no need for representation by an Electoral College. The popular vote is the true nature of democracy and it is through the development of the Internet and the accessibility of computers in everyday life that will allow the citizens of the United States to gain their rightful place in the election of the president.
The Electoral College is a system that was designed to solve the deadlock amongst the founding father at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The college itself was a means to voice the opinion of the citizenry in an appropriate manner due to the inadequacies of communication in the nascent nation. The college today is however not a useful system of election but a ticking time bomb waiting to unbalance the democracy that it was formed to protect. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "I have ever considered the Constitutional mode of election ultimately by the legislature voting by states as the most dangerous blot on our Constitution, and one which some unlucky chance will some day hit"(Longley 32). The advancement of communication and the Internet will now allow the citizens of the United States to vote directly for the presidency and it is but only a matter of time before the Electoral College shall be amended and removed from the Constitution of this great nation.
Quarterly Inc., 1992 Longley, Lawrence. The Electoral College Primer 2000. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.
Pierce, Neal. The People's President: The Electoral College in American History and the Direct Vote Alternative. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.
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