Many people argue that the Electoral College is an outdated system. After all, many things have changed in the last two centuries. For one, technology is much more advanced now than it was two hundred years ago. With the internet and television, we can now learn everything about a candidate regardless of where the come from in the nation. It is feasible to have direct election of a president because of these improved methods of communication and the evolution of technology in general. There are many arguments against the Electoral College.
The most common attack on the system is that it enables a president to lose the election when they have won the majority of the popular votes (Polsby and Wildavsky 171). Voter turnout in the United States is always low compared to most other advanced nations of the world. Voter turnout varies from state to state, and one state may have less electoral votes but a higher number of people voting. This certainly gives the more populous states an advantage in the electoral process, because even if few people vote their votes carry a lot more weight (Best 207).
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People often site the Electoral College as a reason they do not vote, because if you vote for the losing candidate in your state your vote is, in effect, thrown out. All of the state’s electoral votes will go to the winner in the state. Well organized and politically active groups have much more power when very few people are actually turning out to vote (Best 208). It seems that the direct election of the president would increase voter turnout and participation because voters would have no doubt that their vote would be equal to every other and would always be counted (Longley and Braun 83).
One of the problems of the Electoral College system is that it allows one-party states, states that almost always go to one party or the other. A Democrat who casts a vote in a largely Republican state will feel that his vote is wasted, because there is no way that the state will go to the Democrats. This is a self-perpetuating problem in that because people perceive their votes for one party will not matter they choose not to vote, strengthening the hold of a party on a state.
Allowing the direct election of the president will insure that everyone’s vote counts, even if you are voting differently from a majority of your state (MacBride 44-45, 53). The more common and strongest argument against the Electoral College is the event of a minority president. Though the likelihood of a minority president is rare (Bickel 31), it has happened in four elections, with one being caused by the House Contingency vote. A minority president occurs when the candidate who receives the most popular votes losing the election in the Electoral College (Longley and Braun 33).
Surely it is damaging to democracy when the candidate that a majority or plurality of the people vote for loses an election. In the following section, these instances and one other election resulting in the use of the House Contingency vote will be discussed. In the 1800 election, both Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr received the same number of electoral votes. Eventually the decision went to the House of Representatives where Thomas Jefferson was elected president (Kimberling This led to the creation of the 12th Amendment (Longley and Braun 36) which forces electors to cast separate votes for president and vice president (Kimberling 4).
In the 1824 election, there were four strong candidates, Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William Crawford, and Henry Clay, who divided the votes between them. No candidate received a majority of the votes, so the election decision fell to the House of Representatives, which selected Adams to be president even though Jackson had more electoral and popular votes (Kimberling 7). It was Speaker of the House Clay, who was eliminated from the selection process because he came in fourth, that wrapped up the election for Adams by openly supporting him in the House of Representatives.
The issue did not end there, however. The populace was none too happy about this incident; four years later Jackson defeated Adams (Longley and Braun 36-37). In the 1876 election, Samuel Tilden gained about 250,000 more popular votes than Rutherford Hayes, but still lost the election by an electoral vote of 185 to 184 (Longley and Braun 33-34). The contest had been so close in South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana, with both sides claiming fraud, that each of these states cast their electoral votes for both candidates.
Congress eventually set up a commission which, with a bit of politicking, chose to give Hayes the electoral votes of all three states, thus securing his election. Later, Congress passed a law that gave the states the right to determine the legality of their own elector choices and required a majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in order to reject the electoral vote of any state (Kimberling 9). By far, the most disturbing instance of Electoral College failure is that even in the year 2000 a minority president was able to be elected.
In the 2000 election, Al Gore received over 500,000 more popular votes than George W. Bush, but lost the electoral vote by a 271 to 266 count (“2000”). Indeed, this election has led to a new call for reform or elimination of the Electoral College. Many voters felt that their voices were not heard and that the election robbed Americans of their democracy. Though it is impossible to claim that anyone was robbed of an election, because our Constitution clearly sets out the election process by which Bush was elected, it does point to the original problems of the Electoral College.
There is basically one viable option when it comes to Electoral College alternatives, the elimination of the College and movement toward direct popular election. The elimination of the Electoral College would result in the election of the president by the same means that we elect state governors, U. S. Senators, etc. , a direct popular election. This plan has been supported throughout American history and has been seriously considered by many generations (Longley and Braun 64).
Alexander Bickel worries that direct election of a president would result in the end of the two-party system and give rise to political extremism (22), but many would see the end of the two-party system as a favorable occurrence. Works Cited “2000 Presidential Electoral and Popular Vote. ” FEC Office ofElection Administration. 28 Feb. 2005 www. fec. gov/pubrec/fe2000/elecpop. htmBest, Judith. The Case Against Direct Election of the President. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1975. Bickel, Alexander M.
Reform and Continuity: The ElectoralCollege, the Convention, and the Party System. New York: Harper and Row, 1971. Kimberling, William C. “TheElectoral College. ” FEC Office of Election Administration. 28 Feb. 2005www. fec. gov/pdf/eleccoll. pdfLongley, Lawrence D. and AlanG. Braun. The Politics of Electoral College Reform. New Haven, CT: YaleUniversity Press, 1972. MacBride, Roger Lea. The American Electoral College. Caldwell, ID: The Caxton Printers,Ltd. , 1963. Polsby, Nelson W. , and Aaron B. Wildavsky. Presidential Elections. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964.