Electoral College Who is really voting, the people or the selected few. The recent election involving Bush and Gore has heated up a fifty year old debate. The debate is about whether the Electoral College is still an effective system considering the circumstances the United States now faces compared to when it was created by the founding fathers. The Electoral College is an outdated system of election that misrepresents the people of the United States today. The college was created in a time where communication was limited. Treason, tyranny, and oppression from foreign countries were still a serious threat.
In order to protect the people and the institution of America, the government created an election system that allowed the final vote to rest in the hands of a trusted and respected few. These selected few could disregard the popular vote because there was and still is “no Constitutional provision or federal law requiring electors to vote in accordance with the popular vote in their states (National Archives and Records Administration).” For about one hundred and fifty years the United States has used a system that does not coincide with the most popular opinion, but yet, it has been the prevailing system that has not substantially changed with the evolution of American society. By the definition given by The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary Encyclopedic Edition, Democracy is a “Government by the people, usually through elected representatives.” People elect representatives to represent them in the in the overall government. For example, if the people of the state of Florida vote in the election between the two candidates Bush and Gore, and the majority of the people vote for Gore and the representatives, meaning the twenty-five electors of the state, vote for Bush, then there has been a misrepresentation. How is this country a Democracy when such a flaw would destroy the sole purpose of a democracy, which is to represent the majority of the people? According to William C.
Kimblerling, Deputy Director FEC Office of Election Administration, the founders created a system that has performed its function for over 200 years and any alternatives to it appear more problematic than is the College itself. This system has performed its function of electing a President and does fully represent the selected few who get to actually vote, but the nation of citizens who think they are voting are being mislead. When the founders created this system of election, they accounted for the many problems faced by a new nation with new citizens. Because of the pristine age of the country, the founders knew they faced different problems of creating a system compared to the older powers of the world. The influence from other world powers was a foreseeable problem, so the founders had to limit the public vote in order to protect the new nation.
The Electoral College was a brilliant 18th century device to solve the problem of electing a president with states ranging in size. The problems faced by the founders were the difficulty of travel and the absence of political parties during the 18th century. Because traveling and communication from one state to another took days and sometimes months, it was almost impossible for any normal farmer or shop owner to make an educated guess with lack of up to date information. Also, considering there were no political parties at the time, no person could chose a candidate with common beliefs of their own unless they had some form of information that would be distributed to every citizen. The founders agreed that the best way to select a president would be to elect responsible trusted people of the government to become apart of the Electoral College.
Each state is allowed a vote for the “total number of senators and representatives it sends to the U.S. Congress (National Archives and Records Administration).” With this system in place, each state would have fair representation. The system would hopefully have trusted and educated Electors who would be unaffected by partisan politics. The problems faced were more numerous than just travel and communication during the 18th century, William C. Kimberling explains why the Electoral College was created. William C.
Kimberling wrote an essay pertaining to the creation and effectiveness of the Electoral College. The first problem was the fact that the Union “was composed of thirteen large and small states jealous of their own rights and powers and suspicious of any central national government (Kimberling).” In a sense all states are still competing but are no longer suspicious of any central government because of the fact that the United States has had standing central government of its own for about two and a quarter centuries now and no militant state such as Montana could over throw the government. The threat of an oppressive leader is not obsolete, but nowhere near as apparent as it was in 1776. The second problem the founders faced was that the United States “contained only 4,000,000 people spread up and down a thousand miles of Atlantic seaboard barely connected by transportation or communication (so that national campaigns were impractical even if they had been thought desirable) (Kimberling).” A thought to remember for future consideration would be that the country is no longer inaccessible, meaning candidates do stage national campaigns and have been for the last hundred and seventy years. This simple fact would allow people to make a good conscious choice now that a candidate is fully accessible to all. A third problem facing the founders was how to elect a president in a nation that “believed , under the influence of such British political thinkers are Henry St John Bolingbroke, that political parties were mischievous if not downright evil, and felt that gentlemen should not campaign for public office (The saying was “The office should seek the man, the man should not seek the office.”) (Kimberling).” This is completely true in a sense of what Americans believe in, but what people believe in is not necessarily what people do. People are inherently power hungry and selfish to some degree, so the idea that people should not seek the most powerful position in the world is a flaw in the founders thinking.
Also, in order to come to power, there must be support from others, and people only support what they believe in. If people unite for common beliefs, a group is formed. If the beliefs of a group deal with politics, a political party has formed. This is another flaw the founders made because again they based their thinking on that which people believed in and not with what a people would actually do. Kimberling goes on to explain that “The Electoral College was designed to represent each state’s choice for the presidency (with the number of each State’s electoral votes being the number of its Senators plus the number of its Representatives). To abolish the Electoral College in favor of a nationwide popular election for president would strike at the very heart of the federal structure laid out in out Constitution and would lead to the nationalization of our central government – to the detriment of the states.” Kinberling agrees that the states have adopted a method of appointing Electors by a popular vote through out a state. Meaning that when Electors are elected to the College they usually pledge their vote to the party that they received their support from. Again, this means that if the popular vote for the presidency in Florida was for Gore, and the majority of the Electors in Florida were pledged to the Republican Party who was backing Bush, all of the elector votes would go to Bush even though the majority of the population of Florida voted for Gore. Although this could happen, it most likely won’t.
With the media today, the nation would be in an uproar if this situation occurred. Whether it could or could not happen, it is still a flaw or loophole that could create serious problems during the election process. There are many flaws in the Electoral system that backers of the system refuse to acknowledge. If they do acknowledge the flaws, they answer them by saying that the current system is better than any others out there. But there are better systems out there that could be used. This is where the major flaw in the Electoral College is: the mere fact that the elected are not required to represent the people that they work for.
Kimberling’s response to this flaw is that “Proponents of the Electoral College point out that it was never intended to reflect the national popular will.” In other words, representatives were never intended to represent. An example would be found in the Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland race for the presidency in 1888. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, states that the “defeated candidate (Grover Cleveland), polled 5,540,050 popular votes to 5,444,337 for Benjamin Harrison; however, Cleveland received only 168 electoral votes to Harrison’s 233.” The reason given for this upset by Kimberling is that “Democrat Grover Cleveland, ran up huge popular majorities in several of the 18 States which supported him while the Republican challenger, Benjamin Harrison, won only slender majorities in some of the larger of the 20 States which supported him (most notably in Cleveland’s home State of New York).” Cleveland’s majority of the popular vote throughout the population of the nation did not matter to four hundred and one electors who decided that Harrison should win. Because of cases such as Cleveland vs. Harrison, the country has tried to fix and even abolish the Electoral system. One idea to abolish the Electoral system came from Steven Hill, a writer from the Christian Science Monitor.
He believes that the U.S. should incorporate the use of an “instant runoff” system. This system is used in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Ireland. “An instant runoff allows voters to rank their top, second, and third choices on the same ballot.” By doing this, a voter has allowed the government to use their second and third choices as votes if the party candidates do not meet a required majority for presidency. At the same time you could eliminate the Electoral College and let the people vote directly for the presidency.
Another fix the critics of the Electoral College would push for would be the elimination of the “winner-take-all” system of the Electoral College. This system of which presidential candidate that wins the most popular votes within a state wins all of that States Electors ( Kimberling, 6). In Microsoft Encarta, an article that describes the overall view of the Electoral College, the critics of the “electoral method contend that the true sentiments of the voters are distorted by the winner-take-all system, as well as by the fact that population and voter turnout are not accurately reflected.” Critics agree that this system is unfair and should be replaced with a direct popular election and thus eliminating the winner-take-all system is a step in that direction. After considering all of the pro’s and con’s, I still believe that the Electoral College is an outdated system. All of the backers of the system are still paranoid of presidential take over from extreme parties because they believe the public is not educated enough to make the proper choice.
Maybe it is true, many people do not know the first thing about politics. Personally, I believe I am to inexperienced in the field of politics to be voting for candidates that would put them in the most powerful seat in the world, but whether I am experienced or not, I believe the selected few should not decide the future of the whole. Because many people like myself are inexperienced, does not mean the entire United States is inexperienced. There are many politically inspired and educated people besides the elected 538 that should decide the future of this nation. The future should be left to the open mind of the entire population, and not to the limited mind of the few.