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Theresa Golding PSCI 201 American Government Dr. William Shendow April 25, 2010 The Electoral College The Electoral College is a body of popularly elected officials who are the formal electors of the President and Vice President of the United States. It has served this function since the time of the founding fathers and the drafting of the United States Constitution. It is this body, not the popular vote that determines who holds what is viewed as the highest position in the country. There are problems associated with the Electoral College. Many feel as though it should be abolished especially after the 2000 Presidential Election in which Al Gore garnered the popular vote but did not win the election as the Electoral College went to George Bush. While I do agree that some reform needs to take place, I do not believe that the Electoral College as a whole should be abolished. Again, reform is necessary but abolishment of the Electoral College will cause more problems than would be solved. The Electoral College is, in fact, a compromise. At the time of writing of the Constitution, some thought that Congress should directly elect the President; while others believed the countrys leader should be elected by a popular vote of the citizenry. The voters do elect the representatives by popular vote and then those electors vote for the President and Vice President. The electoral votes allotted to each state are equal to the number of Senators (always two) plus the number of Representatives the state has in the House of Representatives. For example, in the 2008 election the Commonwealth of Virginia had thirteen Electoral College votes (equal to 2 Senators and 11 Representatives). Representation in the House is determined

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by the Federal Census every ten years with 2010 being one of those years. The number of electoral votes per state could possibly change depending on the results of the census. The laws governing the Electoral College are found in Article II, Section 1 of the U. S. Constitution. As it stands right now, the majority of states in the Union cast the electoral votes based upon the candidate that wins the popular vote in the respective state. For example, in 2008 President Barack Obama won the popular vote for the Commonwealth of Virginia and thus, was awarded all thirteen Electoral votes for Virginia. In other words, it is a winner-take-all situation. This currently applies to forty-eight of the fifty states. Nebraska and Maine currently apportion electors based upon a district method. Each states legislature determines the method of apportionment at this time. There are no definite rules as to who an elector should be or what he or she should know or be able to do. However, the following suggestions do exist regarding electors: He or she cannot be a Representative or Senator He or she cannot be a high-ranking official in a position of trust or power He or she cannot be someone who has engaged in insurrection against the country

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Electors, for the most part, tend to be politically active within his or her respective party and can often have ties to the political arena itself. The votes these individuals cast are usually in favor of the candidate with the majority vote in the state but there is no law that says this is how it has to be. In fact, there have been electors that have not voted the partys conscience as is expected. The term given to such men and women is faithless elector. Many states have enacted laws to serve as incentive to an elector to honor his or her pledge. It is important to note that many feel these laws of our no true bearing and would not survive constitutional testing in the courts.

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Understanding the how and why of the Electoral College is important when considering the debates that surround the institution. As stated in the opening paragraph, many forms of reform have been suggested. As with all things, each has both pros and cons. There seems to be no definitive answer as to whether reform will ever come and it is likely that if it does, some of the suggestions will be a part of the plan but none provide the lone answer. It is important to remain cognizant of the fact that it would require a Constitutional amendment to reform or abolish the Electoral College. One suggested form of reform is Proportional Allocation of Electoral Votes. In its simplest form, each states electoral vote would be split according to the popular vote percentages. In other words, one candidate has received sixty percent of the popular vote with the other receiving forty percent. The votes would be divided as such. The candidates would receive the same percentage of electoral votes. According to, many believe that this policy, if initiated, would greatly increase voter turnout and the representation of all parties in a state. It would bring a sense of fairness in that the minority would still be heard. In theory, this is a good plan. The nuts and bolts of it show the problems that would likely arise if this was to be implemented. First and foremost, votes are never evenly divided and there is no way to divide an electors vote accordingly. There are mathematical solutions however these do not eliminate the likelihood of error and would not result in the actual purpose of making each vote count equally. This type of reform would be difficult to pass on a national basis which would mean it would require state-by-state approval. While the reform was being adopted in the likely case that some states do not adopt, one party might garner a distinct advantage over the other which again defeats the goal the reform is aiming to achieve. states that this type of apportionment would not accurately reflect the

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nationwide popular vote and does not ensure election of the winner of the nationwide popular vote. It is hard to say what effect this particular reform would have but it is likely to create more problems should it not come down in the form of a constitutional amendment and left to state adoption. Another reform that has been protested is the Congressional District Method. With this allocation of electoral votes, the electoral votes would be divided by Congressional district with the two remaining votes going to the winner of the states popular vote. Maine and Nebraska both use this form of allocation at this time. While this is the method in place, the electoral votes have never been split as the statewide winner has swept all the districts as well. A possible side effect of this particular reform is that a state who adopts the measure could, in fact, reduce its own influence with those states that are considered battleground states would receive all the focus. Under the current system, it is not uncommon for a candidate to all but abandon efforts in a state that is historically known for going for the opposite party. Congressional district reform would intensify that behavior. A third method of reform that has been suggested is the Automatic Plan. In a Congressional Service Report presented to Congress in 2004, this reform would amend the present system by abolishing the office of presidential elector and by allocating state electoral votes on an automatic winner-take-all basis to the candidates receiving the highest number of popular votes in a state. There is a provision for contingent elections in most proposals of this type. The provision is in place in the event no one candidate receives the majority of the electoral votes. This proposed reform provides for the least deviation from present system. It would not be realistic to think these are the only propositions regarding reform of the Electoral College. They are, however, the three most relevant and have received the majority of

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attention. There is also a proposition that would work with or without the Electoral College. This proposition is a Direct Election with Instant Runoff Voting. In this situation, voters would not simply pick one candidate; instead, they would rank their preferences. At the counting of the votes, if no one candidate has a majority, the candidate with the lowest votes is eliminated. The process is than started again and the rankings are taken into account. It would continue as such until one candidate receives the needed majority. The pro side of this argument is that this reform would [reduce] the time and money wasted in a normal runoff election ( Those in favor of this reform argue that it has the potential to solve many of the current dilemmas introduced by the Electoral College ( Reasons given include: the elimination of the spoiler effect of a third party candidate and the ability of voters to actually choose their favorite candidate with fear that may mean election of their least favorite. Another advantage is that there is no need for a Constitutional Amendment (unless abolishment of the Electoral College is considered) and it would not have any drastic impact on the results if only a few states choose to adopt it unlike proportional allocation. Those against this proposition argue that it does not work as advertised( Contrary to those in favor of the proposal, dissenters argue that it does not save money, does not reduce negative campaigning, does not simplify elections, does not increase voter turnout, and does not provide a majority outcome in most elections ( According to this same website, Instant Runoff Voting will often result in plurality. While the concept is interesting, the dissenters are vehement in their argument and it seems logical that the initial cost to states to implement an efficient system would be extremely high and that more problems would likely arise, and the likelihood of recounts would grow exponentially.

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Finally, there always exists the possibility of abolishment of the Electoral College. The likelihood is slim given it would require a Constitutional Amendment. It is doubtful that a Constitutional Convention would be convened for this point so as there has not been one since the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Also, given that many states are satisfied with the status quo, there is little chance that the requisite number of states would ratify the Amendment if put forth. The plan calls for the complete abolishment of the Electoral College and for election of the President and Vice-President directly by popular vote. Most direct election proposals would require that the winning candidates receive at least forty percent of the votes cast, and provide for a runoff election between the two presidential and vice presidential tickets receiving the greatest number of popular votes if no candidates receive the requisite percentage (Whitaker). Those in favor of this proposition argue that this is, by far, the most simplistic and direct form of democracy. It is also their contention that this would give equal weight to every vote regardless of where it is cast. The opponents direct election could further weaken the two-party system and ultimately lead to the emergence of more narrowly focused parties [that] could have a divisive effect on national politics (Whitaker). Another point opponents raise is that this system would likely diminish the influence of less populous and geographically smaller states. Opponents also question the forty percent requirement included in most proposals. Forty percent is well under a definite majority and opponents view this as the antithesis of a popular vote. In their eyes, a candidate only receiving forty percent would not be the majority winner. Yet another argument is that, direct popular election would be a serious blow to federalism in the United States (Whitaker). It is also important to note that closely contested elections (such as 2000) would be more difficult to solve without the existence of the Electoral College.

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Reform is necessary. However, are any of these proposals the answer? The truth is: probably not. The system works as intended by the founding fathers and alleviates situations such as massive recounts and complicated tallying processes. One of the fears that existed at the time of the founding was that of the smaller states having no say. The Electoral College alleviated that. It also alleviated the concern of mobacracy coming to rule the country. Third-parties are on the rise in this country with ballots containing the names of candidates from not only the Independent party, but others such as the Libertarian party and the Green party. I believe this shows the movement of this country from a strictly right or left mentality. A path Congress would do well to follow. However, with this emergence, the proposals included here would likely feel the effects and naming a truly definitive winner could prove quite difficult. I came into this assignment as a supporter of proportional allocation but have come to appreciate the system as it is. In my opinion the best reform that can occur is education. People need to be reminded of the why and how of the Electoral College coming into existence. Giving the electors a public face might serve to humanize the process which I feel is a lacking characteristic. The balance of power federalism provides our nation is one of the many reasons our Constitution and country has survived as long as it has. The Electoral College is a major component of that structure and should remain as is.

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References Whitaker, L. Paige and Thomas H. Neale. The Electoral College: An Overview and Analysis of Reform Proposals. CRS Report for Congress. Updated: November 5, 2004. Accessed via: