Essay On Keeping The Electoral College

The Electoral College is widely regarded as an anachronism, a nondemocratic method of selecting a president that ought to be superseded by declaring the candidate who receives the most popular votes the winner. The advocates of this position are correct in arguing that the Electoral College method is not democratic in a modern sense. The Constitution provides that “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” And it is the electors who elect the president, not the people. When you vote for a presidential candidate you’re actually voting for a slate of electors.

But each party selects a slate of electors trusted to vote for the party’s nominee (and that trust is rarely betrayed). Because virtually all states award all their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote in the state, and because the Electoral College weights the less populous states more heavily along the lines of the Senate (two Senators and two Electoral College votes for every state, and then more electoral votes added for each state based on population), it is entirely possible that the winner of the electoral vote will not win the national popular vote. Yet that has happened very rarely. It happened in 2000, when Gore had more popular votes than Bush yet fewer electoral votes, but that was the first time since 1888.

There are five reasons for retaining the Electoral College despite its lack of democratic pedigree; all are practical reasons, not liberal or conservative reasons.

A dispute over the outcome of an Electoral College vote is possible—it happened in 2000—but it’s less likely than a dispute over the popular vote. The reason is that the winning candidate’s share of the Electoral College invariably exceeds his share of the popular vote. In last week’s election, for example, Obama received 61.7 percent of the electoral vote compared to only 51.3 percent of the popular votes cast for him and Romney. (I ignore the scattering of votes not counted for either candidate.) Because almost all states award electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis, even a very slight plurality in a state creates a landslide electoral-vote victory in that state. A tie in the nationwide electoral vote is possible because the total number of votes—538—is an even number, but it is highly unlikely.*

Of course a tie in the number of popular votes in a national election in which tens of millions of votes are cast is even more unlikely. But if the difference in the popular vote is small, then if the winner of the popular vote were deemed the winner of the presidential election, candidates would have an incentive to seek a recount in any state (plus the District of Columbia) in which they thought the recount would give them more additional votes than their opponent. The lawyers would go to work in state after state to have the votes recounted, and the result would be debilitating uncertainty, delay, and conflict—look at the turmoil that a dispute limited to one state, Florida, engendered in 2000.*

2) Everyone’s President

The Electoral College requires a presidential candidate to have transregional appeal. No region (South, Northeast, etc.) has enough electoral votes to elect a president. So a solid regional favorite, such as Romney was in the South, has no incentive to campaign heavily in those states, for he gains no electoral votes by increasing his plurality in states that he knows he will win. This is a desirable result because a candidate with only regional appeal is unlikely to be a successful president. The residents of the other regions are likely to feel disfranchised—to feel that their votes do not count, that the new president will have no regard for their interests, that he really isn’t their president.

The winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes induces the candidates—as we saw in last week’s election—to focus their campaign efforts on the toss-up states; that follows directly from the candidates’ lack of inducement to campaign in states they are sure to win. Voters in toss-up states are more likely to pay close attention to the campaign—to really listen to the competing candidates—knowing that they are going to decide the election. They are likely to be the most thoughtful voters, on average (and for the further reason that they will have received the most information and attention from the candidates), and the most thoughtful voters should be the ones to decide the election.

The Electoral College restores some of the weight in the political balance that large states (by population) lose by virtue of the mal-apportionment of the Senate decreed in the Constitution. This may seem paradoxical, given that electoral votes are weighted in favor of less populous states. Wyoming, the least populous state, contains only about one-sixth of 1 percent of the U.S. population, but its three electors (of whom two are awarded only because Wyoming has two senators like every other state) give it slightly more than one-half of 1 percent of total electoral votes. But winner-take-all makes a slight increase in the popular vote have a much bigger electoral-vote payoff in a large state than in a small one. The popular vote was very close in Florida; nevertheless Obama, who won that vote, got 29 electoral votes. A victory by the same margin in Wyoming would net the winner only 3 electoral votes. So, other things being equal, a large state gets more attention from presidential candidates in a campaign than a small states does. And since presidents and senators are often presidential candidates, large states are likely to get additional consideration in appropriations and appointments from presidents and senators before as well as during campaigns, offsetting to some extent the effects of the malapportioned Senate on the political influence of less populous states.

5) Avoid Run-Off Elections

The Electoral College avoids the problem of elections in which no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast. For example, Nixon in 1968 and Clinton in 1992 both had only a 43 percent plurality of the popular votes, while winning a majority in the Electoral College (301 and 370 electoral votes, respectively). There is pressure for run-off elections when no candidate wins a majority of the votes cast; that pressure, which would greatly complicate the presidential election process, is reduced by the Electoral College, which invariably produces a clear winner.

Against these reasons to retain the Electoral College the argument that it is undemocratic falls flat. No form of representative democracy, as distinct from direct democracy, is or aspires to be perfectly democratic. Certainly not our federal government. In the entire executive and judicial branches, only two officials are elected—the president and vice president. All the rest are appointed—federal Article III judges for life.

It can be argued that the Electoral College method of selecting the president may turn off potential voters for a candidate who has no hope of carrying their state—Democrats in Texas, for example, or Republicans in California. Knowing their vote will have no effect, they have less incentive to pay attention to the campaign than they would have if the president were picked by popular vote, for then the state of a voter’s residence would be irrelevant to the weight of his vote. But of course no voter’s vote swings a national election, and in spite of that, about one-half the eligible American population did vote in last week’s election. Voters in presidential elections are people who want to express a political preference rather than people who think that a single vote may decide an election. Even in one-sided states, there are plenty of votes in favor of the candidate who is sure not to carry the state. So I doubt that the Electoral College has much of a turn-off effect. And if it does, that is outweighed by the reasons for retaining this seemingly archaic institution.

Correction, Nov. 13, 2012: This piece incorrectly stated that a tie occurred in the Electoral College in 1824. (Return to the corrected sentence.) It also misstated the situation in which candidates would have an incentive to seek a recount if the winner were determined by the popular vote. (Return to the corrected sentence.) Thanks to Texas State Representative Scott Hochberg and Barnard professor Scott Minkoff for the corrections.

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Electoral College: The Democratic Process - With A Free Essay Review




The Electoral College system used in the United States to elect the President was created to make voting a smoother process when the country was first founded. At the time, the fastest way to transport people’s votes was by horseback. To speed up the voting process, U.S. leaders devised the Electoral College system, so the electors who represented each state could keep each other updated without the delay of travel. In today’s world, we have the Internet. Information is transmitted instantaneously through the web, resulting in no delay when votes are coming in from states during Election Day. Why does a country, as technologically advanced and prosperous as the U.S, keep using this age old process today? That is an excellent question. The Electoral College system in the U.S. is unfair, outdated, and should definitely be replaced. That being said, the Electoral College system is not the only problem with voting in the U.S., but also the two-party system which often has voters picking a candidate because they do not like the other.

The major issue with the Electoral College is how it allots voting power. Instead of the citizens being given votes, they are actually given to states based on their population. However, states are automatically given three votes no matter their population. This is giving votes to people who are not actually in the states, and takes the votes away from citizens that actually exist in other states. For example, ten votes are taken away from California and redistributed among smaller states such as Wyoming and Vermont. This means that a vote in smaller states is worth more than a vote in a larger state. Also, the whole population of the United States is not represented by these votes. Approximately eleven million people live in the territories of the U.S., which include Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These millions of people are U.S. citizens and are governed by the same federal laws, but they do not get to vote for their leader? That goes against the republican values the country was founded on. What makes the issue even worse is that U.S. citizens who are traveling abroad are able to mail in their votes, but if you travel to these territories, you are not even allowed to do that. These territories are being treated as if they don’t even exist in the Electoral College. Another issue is that even though the majority of the population does not vote for you, you can still win the presidency. This has happened three times in American history, and if you figure there have been fifty six elections, that is the five percent chance that a president who was not supported by the majority of the U.S. will lose. Why should the loser be the winner of the contest for the most powerful man or woman in the world? According the Electoral College, it can happen.

Instead of the Electoral College system, the United States should use the simple, but effective popular voting method. This ensures that every citizen’s vote is equal and that whoever wins the majority of the votes, will win the election. An argument usually used against this system is that presidents will most likely abandon smaller states in favor of larger states in terms of population to win more votes. However, this is already happening as presidents seldom visit the less populated states, but rather the states that flip flop. In other words, candidates usually focus on states that change the party they vote for each election and ignore the states that are defined as either Democratic or Republican. Also, if a candidate were to only campaign in large cities for the votes, he or she would still not be reaching the amount of people needed to get the majority. Yes, most of the population lives in urban areas, but these urban areas are numerous and spread out across the U.S. and there is no way that a president would be able to cover them all to win a majority.

Another problem with the voting system in the U.S. is the two-party system. In every election, there are two main candidates running for each major party, Democrat and Republican. This leaves the three hundred million people in the U.S. to decide between two people. Voters may not agree with everything a candidate is supporting, however they are forced to vote for him or her anyway because they are picking the candidate they have the least issues with rather than the candidate they support. The two party system also keeps candidates not in these two parties basically no chance of being elected. The two parties restricts a person’s right to choose who they think they can do the job the best. To fix this problem, more political parties should be involved with the election. However this creates more issues. For example, if ten candidates are running and a certain candidate receives twenty percent of the vote, eighty percent of the population did not want him as president. A resolution to this issue could be for voters to list the candidates that they would most like to see in office. If the number one candidate on this list is not elected, than the vote that would go to that person, go to the second person on their list and so on. This is known as instant-runoff voting and is more balanced system than the current two-party system in place today because the candidate who most people support, is placed in office.

The Electoral College was a good system for the time period it was founded. But in today’s world, where the presidency had an effect on the rest of the world, we cannot afford to keep using this unfair voting method and should instead use popular voting as well as the instant-runoff vote. These two methods allow the correct candidate to be elected as well as the one who most citizens support.

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ESSAY REVIEW

Because you are writing about several distinct problems, as you see it, with the way in which presidents are elected in the U.S., you should probably revising the beginning of your essay. As it stands, the beginning suggests that your focus will be on the electoral college system, but that is in fact only one part of the larger problem you want to analyze. Your essay is about all the problems with the electoral system, and for that reason you ought to clarify at the outset that you are speaking about the general situation.

The problem with the way you set up your essay from the outset is reflected in the way the essay is organized. You begin by talking about the electoral college system, and end by talking about it too, but in the middle you present a list of disparate things that you find problematic with the way the president is elected.

Consider the second paragraph. In the topic sentence (the first sentence) of that paragraph, you raise the issue of the electoral college. You identify a problem with the electoral college system and then, in the same paragraph, announce another issue: residents of US territories that have no vote. Then, in the same paragraph, you announce another issue: the possibility that a candidate can be elected without winning the popular vote.

Divide that paragraph up into three separate paragraphs. The beginning and end of the paragraph (the first and third issue you address) relate specifically to the question of whether the electoral college system is a good system. The second issue (about the lack of representation in territories or dependencies) is a separate issue. Perhaps there is a resistance to allowing residents of those areas to vote because of a sentimental attachment to the electoral system, but in truth it seems like a separate issue altogether. One could certainly imagine the U.S. changing to a popular vote for the president while still excluding the residence of those territories from voting.

Sorry this is such an curt response to your essay, but it's a holiday here. Happy Thanksgiving!

Best, EJ.

Submitted by: Radomile

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