The Electoral College is a group of representatives derived from each state and the District of Columbia, whose major role is to elect the president and the vice president of the United States of America. The College is established by the constitution of the United States, and it has been a critical part of America’s political system for decades. The candidate who gets the majority of the electoral votes is given authority to lead the country after the outcome of an election is certified by Congress. The College has been a hot topic for discussion that has attracted the attention of two different schools of thought. The first group comprises critics who oppose the system, and who have made several calls for either reforms or abolition. The second group is comprised of opponents who support the system and who have rejected calls for its abolishment. Both sides have compelling arguments that support their different political ideologies.
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Pros of the Electoral College
The Electoral College has been in operation for more than two hundred years. Since its adoption as part of the US political system, several elections have been conducted and it has played a key role in facilitating the democratic appointment of a president without the influence of population numbers in different regions (Connors 13). The pros of the system include protecting the interests of the minority, facilitating a two-party system, directing more power to the states, and promoting the distribution of popular support.
Protecting Minority Interests
In contemporary America, the population of urban areas is higher compared to that of rural areas. Therefore, there is an uneven representation because of the differences in population density. Some states have low populations and a high number of rural metropolitans. The people in these areas mainly include farmers whose interests are not as valued as those of the middle class in cities are (Reed 64). In that regard, the Electoral College protects their interests because the president and the vice president are not elected by a popular vote (Houser 18). The system enhances political cohesiveness because it compels politicians to campaign in all areas of the country (Connors 17). If the top positions were filled through a popular vote, then candidates would focus their campaigns on highly populated areas. The need to acquire votes from multiple regions necessitates the creation of a campaign platform that has a national focus and appeal (Levine 53). Without the college, people in densely populated areas would be marginalized due to poor presentation.
Facilitating a Two-Party System
The US has two predominant political parties, namely the Democratic and the Republican Party. The political system has been widely criticized by historians and political scientists. However, research has shown that the structure creates more stability in the nation because issues of national concern are usually generalized and not specific (Houser 19). The system enhances the cohesiveness of the country because a candidate’s support must be distributed throughout the country for them to be elected president (Reed 75). In that regard, presidential candidates increase their chances of winning by forming coalitions of states and regions. This unifying mechanism is beneficial to national cohesiveness. Moreover, the two-party system absorbs third movements that have been historically shown to propagate radical views (Connors 24). The assimilation encourages the proliferation of two pragmatic political parties that focus on public opinion rather than extremist views that are characteristic of smaller parties.
Directing More Power to the States
The political system directs more power and control to the states because of the power to select representatives to the Electoral College. These delegates participate in the election of the president and represent the interests of all states regardless of their population (Levine 54). In that regard, the system maintains and enhances the success of a federal system of government and representation (Houser 23). The states have important political powers that allow them to address the interests of the citizens both in rural and urban metropolitans. For example, each state participates in the political decisions of the nation through its representatives in the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Electoral College (Houser 29). Proponents of the system argue that abolishing the Electoral College would necessitate the abolishment of the Senate and the House of Representatives because they are comprised of individuals who represent all the jurisdictions of the US.
Promoting a Distribution of Popular Support
According to the structure of the Electoral College, a presidential candidate must receive support from all parts of the nation to win an election. A candidate’s popularity must be distributed nationally because electors are representatives of all the states (Levine 62). This system promotes political cohesiveness because people from different regions and states must come together to provide support to a certain candidate so that they can have a majority of the electoral votes (Medvic 42). This structure eradicates the probability that a candidate might spend their campaign resources on highly populated regions (Levine 64). Some states are considered swing votes. However, a candidate must receive support from all the regions of the country to win. No single region has the necessary number of electoral votes needed for a presidential candidate to win. A candidate who is popular in a certain region must appeal to voters in other regions to receive the necessary majority for victory.
Cons of the Electoral College
Opponents of the Electoral College have criticized its effectiveness in fostering democracy and national cohesiveness, and have argued that it should either be reformed or abolished. They have presented several reasons that support their argument that the system does not foster democracy, even though its proponents claim it does. The cons of the Electoral College include the possibility of electing a minority president, a failure to reflect the will of the nation, the uneven distribution of power to certain states, and the depression of voter turnout.
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The Election of a Minority President
The major disadvantage of the Electoral College system is the probability of the election of a minority president. There is a risk of electing a president who does not have the majority of popular votes (Dufour 8). This occurrence could happen in three main ways. First, if more than two candidates vied for the presidential seat and shared the votes, there is a possibility that none of them would garner the necessary majority. This would happen if the people were so divided that the candidates shared the votes. In 1824, 1948, and 1968 the situation was witnessed (Medvic 63). Second, a minority presidential candidate could win if one of the candidates garnered the most votes in a few states while the other got enough votes to win the necessary majority of the Electoral College (Dufour 10). Third, an independent candidate could alter the numbers such that none of the two top candidates gets over 50% of the votes cast (Levine 78). Smaller states could have a larger percentage of votes because compared to their populations, thus compromising the integrity of the election about the will of the majority.
The Failure to Reflect the People’s Will
The Electoral College system fails to reflect the collective will of Americans in two ways. First, there is an over-representation of people in rural metropolitans because of the uneven distribution of votes based on population. Electors that represent each state in the College are determined by the number of representatives in the House and the Senate (Levine 49). In that regard, votes in different states carry different weights. Second, the system supports a winner-take-all approach as the candidate takes all the Electoral votes in the states they win the popular vote (Dufour 15). This makes it harder for independent candidates and third-party candidates to have any significant political influence in the Electoral College. For example, if an independent candidate received the support of 30% of the votes, he would still not qualify for any Electoral College votes (Levine 72). Therefore, the system discourages the participation of independent and third-party candidates, and so, it denies the electorate the opportunity to choose from a wide variety of candidates.
The Uneven Distribution of Power
Opponents of the Electoral College system argue that it gives too much power to smaller and swing states. This argument can be explained by comparing the states of California and Wyoming. California has 55 Electoral College votes, while Wyoming has three. Consequently, each Californian vote represents 705,454 citizens while a single vote in Wyoming represents 191,717 citizens. In that regard, there is an uneven distribution of power since one vote is not equivalent to one person (Dufour 19). Voters in less populous states have more power than voters in highly populated states have. The major political parties aim to win the support of voters in certain states to emerge victoriously. For instance, the Democratic Party aims to win the votes in California while the Republican Party aims to win the votes in Indiana (Klepeis 11). The concentration of electoral votes in certain states compels presidential candidates to focus their campaign efforts in specific states that have higher political influence. In 2016, a report by PBS NewsHour revealed that presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had concentrated their campaigns in 11 major states, among them Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina (Ross 84). Some states have fixed voting patterns: Minnesota is largely Republican and Utah votes for the Democrat (Levine 83).
The Depression of Voter Turnout
The structure of the Electoral College discourages some voters from participating in elections because of the feeling that their preferred candidate might lose the election. For example, in the 2016 election, Hilary Clinton (the Democrat candidate) had a 15-to-20-point lead over Donald Trump (the Republican candidate) for a long period as shown by the results of the polls (Ross 91). However, the outcome showed a big difference with Donald Trump in the lead. Such an outcome could discourage some people from voting because of the poll’s indication that a win for their candidate of choice was inevitable as indicated by the polls. Another reason why the system depresses voter turnout is the effect of swing states. Some states are considered more important than others are because they are highly populated (Klepeis 14). For instance, California and New York are swing states (Ross 92). Many voters feel like these states are the sources of votes that count. Therefore, they fail to vote based on the assumption that their votes do not count.
The Electoral College has been part of the United State’s political system for more than 200 years. During that period, the system has been discussed and debated from both positive and negative perspectives. Opponents argue that it promotes inequality and it should be abolished. On the other hand, proponents argue that it enhances cohesiveness and political stability. From the foregoing discussion, it can be deduced that the Electoral College does not reflect the nation’s popular will due to the uneven distribution of votes in the Electoral College for each state. Moreover, presidential candidates pay more attention to swing states that have more electoral votes. The system favors poor rural regions over populous urban metropolitans.
The main goal of developing the system was to solve the problem of population disparity in the country. Since its creation, the population of the US has changed immensely. Moreover, the distribution of people in different states and regions has changed. Therefore, the system is ineffective in contemporary America. The system promotes the distribution of popular support. However, candidates pay more attention to states that might “swing” votes in their favor. They focus on states that include Ohio, California, New York, Iowa, Nevada, and Virginia. The importance of minor parties and representation is low because the Electoral College system encourages a two-party political structure. Therefore, the system should be abolished to create a more democratic the United States of America.
Connors, Kathleen. What is the Electoral College? Gareth Stevens Publishing LLLP, 2017.
Dufour, Fritz. Is the US Electoral College A Polite Fiction that Should Be Abolished: The Harbinger Signs vs. The Perennial Head in the Sand Policy. Fritz Dufour, 2017.
Houser, Grace. Understanding U.S. Elections and the Electoral College. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc, 2017.
Klepeis, Alicia. Understanding the Electoral College. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc, 2017.
Levine, Herbert. What If the American Political System were Different? Routledge, 2015.
Medvic, Stephen. Campaigns and Elections: Players and Processes. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2013.
Reed, Melody. Voting in America: Are we voting in Vain? Booktango, 2013.
Ross, Tara. The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founder’s Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule. Simon and Schuster, 2017.