Choosing The Next President- Truth About The Electoral College

Choosing The Next President- Truth About The Electoral College

Over two years ago, a minority of voters put someone in the highest political position for our country. Nearly twenty years ago, a minority of voters put someone in the highest political position for our country. On six occasions in United States history, a minority of voters put someone in the highest political position for the country. How and why can this happen? The Electoral College is the reason.

Electoral College

Origin of the Electoral College

The following are typical rationale attributed to the adoption of the Electoral College by our founders:

Electoral College
  • Create a separation between the population and election of a President—The founding fathers feared direct election by voters, concerned an individual without regard for the best for the country could manipulate public opinion and achieve the Presidency.
  • Feared the general population of the sparsely-populated, new country would vote for a local, familiar candidate since information about candidates in other states would be difficult to obtain.
  • Provide more influence for smaller states—Appease smaller states concerned about having little influence on the presidential election because of their population.
  •  Have the most informed and knowledgeable individuals from each state select the president based solely on merit.
  • National campaigns were considered inappropriate—gentlemen should not campaign. “The office should seek the man. The man should not seek the office.)

The Electoral College Today

Electoral College

The most significant change in the electoral college today is state requirements to mandate all Electoral College delegates to cast their votes for the candidate with the majority of votes in that state. The only two states that do not have a “winner take all” system for Electoral College delegates are Maine and Nebraska.

Electoral College
Pizza While Waiting In Long Lines To Vote

Seemingly, states tried to move closer to true voter representation by requiring delegates vote the way of the majority in their individual states, so why do we still have the electoral college? These are some of the reasons stated by current politicians:

  • “Though occasionally maligned, this system of electing the chief executive has been successful for the American people…Over 200 years if success.”
  • “The system empowers states, especially smaller ones, because it incentivizes presidential candidates to appeal to places that may be far away from population centers.”
  • “If the president were elected by unfiltered national vote, small and rural states would become irrelevant, and campaigns would spend their time in large, populous districts.
  • “While they’re clear problems with the Electoral College and there are some advantages to it, changing it is very unlikely. I would take a constitutional amendment ratified by ¾ of states to change the system…unfortunately the party that has the advantage in the state is unlikely to agree to a unilateral change.”

How are the Prime Ministers Selected in the U.K. and Australia?

As benchmark comparators to our country’s leader selection process, I thought it interesting to summarize those used in two other countries. Why the U.K. and Australia? Simple…following people from the U.S., those from the U.K. and Australia most often view my posts. (Although at this point in time, the most often viewed is my post on Plastic Cheese which has little to do with politics.)

Electoral College

U.K.—During a general election, local areas of the country elect an MP (Member of Parliament) from one of the parties by a simple majority of votes. These MP represent their area in the House of Commons. The party with the most representatives in the House of Commons forms the government and the leader of that party becomes the Prime Minister. Technically, the Queen invites that party’s leader to become the Prime Minister.

Electoral College

Australia—Interestingly, the Australian Constitution specifies that the executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen (of England) and delegated to the Governor-General as the Queen’s representative. In practice, the Prime Minister (position not mentioned in the constitution) is the head of the government. The leading party for House of Representatives in Parliament decides on the Prime Minister. Traditionally, that individual is the leader of the party. Members of the House of Representatives are elected by an absolute majority of votes from 150 electorates in the country. Each electorate covers an average of 100,000 voters. Registration to vote and voting are required by law in Australia.

So, both the U.K. and Australia, as is the United States, are not true democracies for selecting their top leader.

Is The Electoral College The Right System?

After reading the points that follow, see if you come to the same conclusion I did.

  • There were several reasons the 1787 Constitutional Convention decided on the electoral college format, but protecting smaller states was not one of them. Some feared direct democracy but that was only one consideration. Direct election for the president posed an issue for slave states. They had large populations but fewer eligible voters (slaves could not vote.) The electoral college would allow representation for presidential election by population, not voters. The Convention agreed to count each slave as three-fifths of a person. For example, Virginia which had the largest population in the 13 original states would have more say for choosing the president with an Electoral College system then by popular vote. The framers of the Constitution protected the interests of the smaller states by creating the Senate which gives every state two votes regardless of population.
  • Factors were vastly different in 1787. The map below shows what our country looked like then.
Electoral College

Note: North Carolina and Rhode Island had not yet ratified the Constitution so were therefore ineligible to choose electors. The New York legislature was deadlocked so therefore no electors were chosen. Vermont is not included on the map because at the time it was a separate independent nation.

It was made up of thirteen large and small states, each jealous of their rights and powers and untrusting of a central, national government. The United States population was only four million distributed along a thousand miles of Atlantic seaboard, transportation and communication being weak. National campaigns were impractical even if desirable.

  • Additional distortion to the Electoral College concept has been fostered by the requirement for all delegates in a state being required to vote for the candidate who wins most votes in that state. As mentioned earlier, all but two states have instituted that mandate. If 51 percent of a state’s population votes for a candidate, the votes of the 49 percent of that state are discounted for election of the president. This has the potential to elect a president that is popular only in most large metropolitan areas but not rural.

We have had two cases in the past twenty years where a President has been elected by a minority of votes from the general population. Regardless of personal opinion about those individuals elected to office, they were not the choice of the American people. Given current state of “instant communication” across the United States, there is no longer any compelling rationale for an Electoral College system.

For Additional Information:

Five Myths About the Electoral College-Washington Post

Reasons For The Electoral College-William C. Kimberling, Deputy Director FEC

Note:

I am a fiction writer, but research topics and provide posts like the one above for enlightenment and entertainment. If you liked it, please take a look at some of my other posts and my home page, R. A. Andrade. This post was prompted by the following passage in my novel, Three Remain:

“The storm theory, however improbable, does have some plausibility,” Sunshine commented. “As I see it, we have the option of staying put, exploring the area bounded by the fog, or trying to penetrate through the fog.”

“I vote for trying to get through the fog,” Glen offered first.

Sunshine agreed, then turned to Traci, and asked, “What do you think?”

“Really, you’re asking me? It looks spooky, but maybe I can get a text out on the other side.”

5 Replies to “Choosing The Next President- Truth About The Electoral College”

  1. Thanks for the background, Ron. Great job. I can’t say I totally buy in to the analysis though. It is lacking enough commentary on what is lost if the old system is abandoned and what is the corrective in the event of negative circumstances that could ensue. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. In today’s instant communication world, the minority voice can be heard loudly and clearly. It is much different than the years of slavery when the Democrats won out over the Whigs keeping slavery alive for nearly a century before the Republican party was formed, elected Abe Lincoln and at the cost of roughly 600,000 lives, freed the slaves. Only about a third of the country voted for Lincoln, which is about normal. Everything great that’s been done in this country has been done by about one-third of the population. At the time of the revolution, only abut a third wanted freedom from England. A third wanted to stay loyal and a third were in the middle. Until the advent of advocate judges, when things people largely disagreed with could be found to be “rights” by combining one part of law with another in new and arguable unintended ways, we decided things as a people through the process we have today. We, the people, have used the current process to slowly correct even those mistaken decisions. Could we correct mistakes faster through instant communication? Sure. We could make mistakes faster, too. The ability to commit wide spread tampering out of the sight of the people is also possible. What about the unfairness of the technology gap. Those savvy in the use of technology get an advantage. Is that what we want? What is the corrective?

    These are just a few comments off the top of my head, but I think this needs a lot more thought put in to it before we abandon a system in which we know the flaws. The devil you know is always less dangerous than the devil you don’t. Great read though.

    1. Paul–Thanks for the insightful and thoughtful comments. The post is primarily intended to enlighten about why the Electoral College was put in place at the Continental Convention in 1787 as a process to select a president, more than 10 years after the formation of the nation in 1776. I fully respect your view which I believe aligns with the point of “Though occasionally maligned, this system of electing the chief executive has been successful for the American people…Over 200 years if success.” It is only my view, but I believe the president should be elected by the majority of votes. I have not read any compelling rationale to do otherwise. Lincoln was elected by the Electoral College but also won the popular vote. Regardless of my personal preference for President in the last election, Clinton received 2.9 million more votes for the presidency than Trump. Trump was not the choice of the American people. He was elected by Electoral College math. I simply believe this traditional process no longer serves the intent of our forefathers or the best interests of our country because of the instant communication available to the population today, enabling knowledge about Presidential candidates to be shared nationwide. Just my view, but I certainly would be interested in learning about any benefit concerning the Electoral College that I missed.

      1. Hi Ron–
        Thanks for the response. Sorry for my delay. (I forgot how to find the site.) It’s great that we can discuss things calmly and rationally even if we have some points on which we disagree. If only our leaders could do the same!

        I know that a few times in the past 200+ years, the result of the Electoral College and the individual vote count did not match. I certainly recognize the truth in the statement that Donald Trump was not the people’s choice by the popular vote. I’d be upset too, if my candidate got the bigger vote count but did not win but those were the rules of the game for 200 years prior and they weren’t a secret. I don’t believe the Electoral College is the perfect solution but it is far better than pure majority rules. The success of the American system has been in getting all the States, with their disparate interests, aligned around core principles. For this reason, the Founding Fathers purposely designed America not as a democracy but rather a Representative Republic. In a “majority rules” democracy, the smaller states would be overwhelmed by the larger ones. They would never be able to influence the decisions of the government. Decisions that would be beneficial to the more populated states and without regard for the effect on the less populated states would become the norm. Small states would have no reason to remain invested in a government that continuously overlooks their interests. Our Congress and (in my view) our Electoral College are designed to balance the interests of the larger states with those of the smaller. With a pure individual vote count, the voice of entire states become lost. In fact, 45 states. One could make an argument that far more people are disenfranchised when 45 states become inconsequential to a presidential selection. Presidents and presidential candidates would only need to cater to the interests of California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois. The principles of a representative republic says that we need to represent ALL the people not just those who live in the population centers.

        Jordan Peterson is a Psychologist who has become sort of famous lately. I like one of the concepts that he talks about. When children are left alone to play, they will make up games. Some children will try to make up rules to their advantage but what they find is that the other children don’t want to play. The rules of the game have to be designed so that there is some fun for all the participants. It is no different for a group of states. If there is no way to succeed, why participate? What happens to America when 45 states don’t want to participate any longer? The larger states get the lion’s share of power in many ways. They even get the lion’s share of the Electoral College. They just don’t get everything. Most of the time the outcomes of Electoral College and the individual vote count match. In the few cases when they don’t, it means that the voice of the smaller states differs from that of the larger ones. That voice can’t be heard without the Electoral College.

        Anyway, those are my thoughts. And I appreciate, as always, your thoughtful response.

        Thanks,
        Paul Beshears

        1. I appreciated the comments, Paul. Differing views being heard are one of the foundations of this country which I certainly cherish and wish to protect. I suspect by your comments that you also agree politics have become a “game.” My research on the topic suggests that “The framers protected the interests of smaller states by creating the Senate, which gives each state two votes regardless of population. There is no need for additional protection. Do we really want a presidency responsive to parochial interests in a system already prone to gridlock? The framers didn’t.” (source: Washington Post) Of course history is written by historians who frequently lean toward certain interpretations.
          Here are the numbers for the last presidential election:
          Randomly taking a small state, I used South Dakota
          –3 electoral votes that went for one candidate represents 0.6% of the total 538 electoral votes.
          –popular vote for that candidate for that state represented 0.2% of the country’s total votes cast.
          –other small states result in similar percentages
          –largest state of California gave 10.2% of the 538 country’s total 538 electoral votes to one candidate.
          –popular vote for that candidate in California was 6.0% of total country popular vote.
          –The only 4 states not visited by a candidate during the 2016 election were all small states.
          Percentages by either method for any small state are insignificant. I do not believe protecting small states for the presidential election was important (because the senate was created for that purpose) , but if it was, it would have been far more significant with only 13 states.
          Regardless, I do not thinks the electoral college system will change in the foreseeable future. It will be the rules of the game our leaders will continue to play. It protects the established 2 party system.

          Thank you for taking your time and thought put forth in your views. People who make the effort to give public views like yours have led to major changes in our history like giving women the right to vote which took a constitutional amendment to achieve. Thanks for speaking up and commenting.

          1. I like being able to exchanges ideas with you, Ron. It is too bad that political discourse in this country so quickly devolves into accusations of moral corruptness when two people disagree. Clearly, we disagree but not for a moment do I suspect your motives. Your opinions are well thought out and I learn something by considering them. If there’s any view in our exchange that can lead “to major changes in our history”, I sincerely hope it is the view that we should listen to another’s view without instantly impugning their morals. Truly free speech requires it.

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