Laying Out the Case for the Electoral College

by Michael Acciavatti

Widener University Political Science Major

I believe the electoral college should be retained for various reasons. First the system is a balance between two alternate systems. One where Congress chooses the president which goes against all the stances of separation of power, and two where the president is elected by a full popular vote.

I’d like to highlight a few reasons why change would not work and why our current system is best. First to win a candidate needs to win multiple majorities in various states which is very important. Secondly, if the election were fully popular vote then campaigns would focus on large metropolitan and population centers rather than the entire country as it should be. Also to change the Constitution it would take a 3/4 state majority, and you would need to change the Constitution in order to change the election process. Finally for practical purposes state-wide recounts are much simpler than a national one which could take so long it would hurt America’s image.

The Electoral College, Federalism and the Small State Bonus, Part 1

by J. Wesley Leckrone

Assistant Professor of Political Science, Widener University

The 2012 presidential race is close enough that some pundits are predicting the winner of the Electoral College (EC) will differ from the popular vote. Whether or not this happens, there will likely be a post-election debate about the utility of the EC and whether it contradicts notions of democracy in the 21st century.

There are numerous arguments against the Electoral College (see The National Popular Vote for a list).  One of the most contentious is whether the “federalism bonus” gives too much representation to small states. Randall Adkins and Kent Kirwan address this issue in their 2002 article “What Role Does the ‘Federalism Bonus’ Play in Presidential Selection” (Publius: The Journal of Federalism). They address why the Founders created the Electoral College, whether it actually has any effects on the outcomes of presidential elections, and whether there is any chance of reforming  or abolishing the EC given our constitutional amendment process. I’ll address how the “Federalism Bonus” has affected presidential elections in this post and explore their other arguments in future blogs.

Adkins and Kirwan argue that

“If each state receives a number of presidential electors equal to that state’s number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives plus the two senators, then the ‘federalism bonus’ represents the two electoral college votes that correspond to the position of each state as an equal entity in the Senate.”

This has been criticized by contentions that

“the ‘federalism bonus’ causes a distortion of the popular vote, leading to unequal representation by providing  disproportionate influence into the citizens of small states. For example, in the 2000 presidential election, each of Wyoming’s three electors ‘represented’ 151,196 persons in the state. At the other extreme, each of California’s 54 electors represented some 551,112 persons.”

The authors examined all elections between 1856 and 2000 to see if the “federalism bonus” played any part in the outcome of the Electoral College vote. To do this they compared the EC vote under the existing system and then created another EC vote that subtracted the EC electors attributed to a state’s Senators (i.e a state with only one House member and two Senators would normally receive three electoral votes. However, minus the “federalism bonus” they would receive only one).

They found that there were only three elections where the “federalism bonus” influenced the outcome of a presidential election: 1876, 1916, and 2000. Missing from this list is the 1888 election between Cleveland and Harrison that was decided by the EC. The 1916 election is not typically an election associated with a divergence between the EC and the popular vote, but Adkins and Kirwan show that absent the “federalism bonus” Hughes would have defeated Wilson.  The chart below shows the stats on these elections:

Here is the breakdown of how small states affected the EC vote in these elections.

Adkins and Kirwan have two meaningful conclusions about this data. First, between 1856-2000 only 3 of 37 elections were affected by the “federalism bonus” (8.1%). Second

“[w]hile two-thirds of the states enjoy some degree of over-representation in the electoral college… the states with only three to five electoral votes often represent the margin of victory in these very close elections.”

A future blog will explore the authors’ arguments as to why it is unlikely these states will give up their “federalism bonus” through a change in the EC.

The Need for a Change

by Ryan Devine
Widener University American Government Student

The Electoral College was, at one time, the single most efficient and reliable way to conduct a presidential election.  Due to geographical and technological deficiencies, it provided an accurate and time efficient manner with which to conduct a democratic election.  However, it is a product of an era that is now the past instead of the present. 

The Electoral College does not allow the opinion of the people to be heard, opting for a point based system that puts higher value on states with higher populations.  In this year’s election it will take a minimum of 11 states to win.  They combine to represent 59.81 percent of the population based off the 2010 consensus.  However, it will only take 50.01 percent of the vote in each state to secure their Electoral College votes.  That means a candidate could win the presidency with as small as 29.91 percent of the country voting for him or her. 

America was founded to be a country of the people, by the people and for the people.  I can’t imagine our Founders believed in a democracy where less than 30% of the population could choose the president. In a country where we can communicate face to face with anyone we wish, it is time to begin electing or presidents through the popular vote.  The technology has arrived to allow us to do so and anything short of a complete move away from the Electoral College is as irresponsible as it is archaic.

Revamping the Electoral College

by Andrea Stickley

Widener University Political Science Major

The current Electoral College should be abolished and a new one instituted in America. While the foundations of our current Electoral College are very strong and make sense, some tweaking needs to occur to make the system better. The main issue is the possibility of a presidential nominee winning the popular vote, but not getting enough votes from the Electoral College to become president. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen. There is a reason that one candidate receives the most votes from the people- because the voters believe that person would make the best president out of the candidates. The whole purpose behind the founding of America was that the people would be represented by who they felt had their best interests at heart; hence, the presidential nominee who receives the most votes in the popular election. When this isn’t allowed to happen, it brings into question why someone is president that most of the people don’t have faith in.

The other problem with our current Electoral College is that it basically eliminates a third-party candidate from having a chance at winning. This comes back to Duverger’s Law and the fact that with a winner-take-all method implemented in states to delegate votes in the Electoral College it doesn’t allow a third-party candidate to ever receive votes really, despite the possibility of winning a percentage of the popular vote. With a plurality system in place, it doesn’t place any emphasis on the smaller parties, leading to a two-party system essentially. America is supposed to be about the minority and representing them and giving them a voice, but with this method of voting, it is repressing the smaller parties and what they stand for. Especially in these times when other parties are starting to gain more support, they need to have a chance to gain votes in the Electoral College and make an impact in the election.

This isn’t to say that everything about the Electoral College is bad. There are some positives to it, such as having the people elect who becomes part of the Electoral College and the fact that it is based off of the number of representatives a state has in Congress. The problem becomes when candidates receive votes from the Electoral College that they shouldn’t because it doesn’t reflect the popular vote. The key is to give the American people what they want, which means making sure that whoever receives the most national votes should win the election in the Electoral College, too. That’s the main issue.

The Case for the Electoral College

by Stephen Scuderi

Widener University Political Science Major, Class of 2012

The Electoral College should be retained. Many argue that a simple direct majority vote should take its place but that opinion is wrong. It is true that a direct vote would appear to be more democratic, but the Electoral College creates a safety net for equality. The Electoral College protects small states with low populations from being overlooked by Presidential candidates. If the election was a direct vote, campaigning and candidate favor would focus only on large metropolitan centers where a majority of population resides. Small population states such as in the Midwest could have their interests severely ignored. In relation to ensuring the interests of low population states are not ignored, the Electoral College promotes thorough coast to coast campaigning. To win the election, candidates must visit a majority of states and conduct a long drawn out campaign. This allows citizens to receive maximum exposure to the candidates and have ample time to decide who they want to support.

It may seem unrealistic, but the Electoral College system also prevents the election of a charismatic tyrant who gained the support of the ignorant masses. In that situation, the members of the Electoral College would know better and prevent such a travesty to occur.

The Electoral College & The Federalist Papers

by Mary Rohweder

Widener University Political Science Major

The Electoral College should be retained due the successful fulfillment of its original goal – creating a barrier in the event that the popular vote should cast a man unsuited for the role of President into office. The Electoral College exists, according to the Federalist Papers, in order to account for the opportunity of the tyranny of the majority or factions to select a President that may be unfit to hold office. The members of the Electoral College are entrusted with the responsibility of choosing the President and members are chosen by the people of the states per presidential election. Members are well-educated about the candidates as well as the American political structure, thus removing them from bias and ensuring that a president is chosen, according to Hamilton, “by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.” General citizens are certainly well advanced in literacy and political knowledge since the days of the Federalist Party. However, the Electoral College rarely opposes the popular vote – but when it does, the opposition is executed in wise conscience based upon the Federalist’s intentions. The President has the capacity to leave a significant historical impact, even in the term of four years. A politician who is highly popular at the moment may not make the best candidate for the full term, and so the Electoral College considers such with greater reverence. The Electoral College serves as a successful method of checks and balances for voters during the Presidential election.