It’s time to abolish the Electoral College

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Darrell M. West Darrell M. West Senior Fellow - Center for Technology Innovation , Douglas Dillon Chair in Governmental Studies

October 15, 2019

  • 14 min read

For years when I taught campaigns and elections at Brown University, I defended the Electoral College as an important part of American democracy. I said the founders created the institution to make sure that large states did not dominate small ones in presidential elections, that power between Congress and state legislatures was balanced, and that there would be checks and balances in the constitutional system.

In recent years, though, I have changed my view and concluded it is time to get rid of the Electoral College. In this paper, I explain the history of the Electoral College, why it no longer is a constructive force in American politics, and why it is time to move to the direct popular election of presidents. Several developments have led me to alter my opinion on this institution: income inequality, geographic disparities, and how discrepancies between the popular vote and Electoral College are likely to become more commonplace given economic and geographic inequities. The remainder of this essay outlines why it is crucial to abolish the Electoral College.

The original rationale for the Electoral College

The framers of the Constitution set up the Electoral College for a number of different reasons. According to Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Paper Number 68, the body was a compromise at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia between large and small states. Many of the latter worried that states such as Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia would dominate the presidency so they devised an institution where each state had Electoral College votes in proportion to the number of its senators and House members. The former advantaged small states since each state had two senators regardless of its size, while the latter aided large states because the number of House members was based on the state’s population.

In addition, there was considerable discussion regarding whether Congress or state legislatures should choose the chief executive. Those wanting a stronger national government tended to favor Congress, while states’ rights adherents preferred state legislatures. In the end, there was a compromise establishing an independent group chosen by the states with the power to choose the president.

But delegates also had an anti-majoritarian concern in mind. At a time when many people were not well-educated, they wanted a body of wise men (women lacked the franchise) who would deliberate over leading contenders and choose the best man for the presidency. They explicitly rejected a popular vote for president because they did not trust voters to make a wise choice.

How it has functioned in practice

In most elections, the Electoral College has operated smoothly. State voters have cast their ballots and the presidential candidate with the most votes in a particular state has received all the Electoral College votes of that state, except for Maine and Nebraska which allocate votes at the congressional district level within their states.

But there have been several contested elections. The 1800 election deadlocked because presidential candidate Thomas Jefferson received the same number of Electoral College votes as his vice presidential candidate Aaron Burr. At that time, the ballot did not distinguish between Electoral College votes for president and vice president. On the 36th ballot, the House chose Jefferson as the new president. Congress later amended the Constitution to prevent that ballot confusion from happening again.

Just over two decades later, Congress had an opportunity to test the newly established 12th Amendment . All four 1824 presidential aspirants belonged to the same party, the Democratic-Republicans, and although each had local and regional popularity, none of them attained the majority of their party’s Electoral College votes. Andrew Jackson came the closest, with 99 Electoral College votes, followed by John Quincy Adams with 84 votes, William Crawford with 41, and Henry Clay with 37.

Because no candidate received the necessary 131 votes to attain the Electoral College majority, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives. As dictated by the 12th Amendment , each state delegation cast one vote among the top three candidates. Since Clay no longer was in the running, he made a deal with Adams to become his secretary of state in return for encouraging congressional support for Adams’ candidacy. Even though Jackson had received the largest number of popular votes, he lost the presidency through what he called a “corrupt bargain” between Clay and Adams.

America was still recovering from the Civil War when Republican Rutherford Hayes ran against Democrat Samuel Tilden in the 1876 presidential election. The race was so close that the electoral votes of just four states would determine the presidency. On Election Day, Tilden picked up the popular vote plurality and 184 electoral votes, but fell one vote short of an Electoral College majority. However, Hayes claimed that his party would have won Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina if not for voter intimidation against African American voters; and in Oregon, one of Hayes’ three electoral votes was in dispute.

Instead of allowing the House to decide the presidential winner, as prescribed by the 12th Amendment, Congress passed a new law to create a bipartisan Electoral Commission . Through this commission, five members each from the House, Senate, and Supreme Court would assign the 20 contested electoral votes from Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, and Oregon to either Hayes or Tilden. Hayes became president when this Electoral Commission ultimately gave the votes of the four contested states to him. The decision would have far-reaching consequences because in return for securing the votes of the Southern states, Hayes agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South, thereby paving the way for vigilante violence against African Americans and the denial of their civil rights.

Allegations of election unfairness also clouded the 2000 race. The contest between Republican George Bush and Democrat Al Gore was extremely close, ultimately resting on the fate of Florida’s 25 electoral votes. Ballot controversies in Palm Beach County complicated vote tabulation. It used the “butterfly ballot” design , which some decried as visually confusing. Additionally, other Florida counties that required voters to punch perforated paper ballots had difficulty discerning the voters’ choices if they did not fully detach the appropriate section of the perforated paper.

Accordingly, on December 8, 2000, the Florida Supreme Court ordered manual recounts in counties that reported statistically significant numbers of undervotes. The Bush campaign immediately filed suit, and in response, the U.S. Supreme Court paused manual recounts to hear oral arguments from candidates. On December 10, in a landmark 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court struck down the Florida Supreme Court’s recount decision, ruling that a manual recount would violate the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Bush won Florida’s Electoral College votes and thus the presidency even though Gore had won the popular vote by almost half a million votes.

The latest controversy arose when Donald Trump lost the popular vote by almost three million ballots yet won the Electoral College by 74 votes. That made him the fifth U.S. chief executive to become president without winning the popular vote. This discrepancy between the Electoral College and the popular vote created considerable contentiousness about the electoral system. It set the Trump presidency off on a rough start and generated a critical tone regarding his administration.

The faithless elector problem

In addition to the problems noted above, the Electoral College suffers from another difficulty known as the “faithless elector” issue in which that body’s electors cast their ballot in opposition to the dictates of their state’s popular vote. Samuel Miles, a Federalist from Pennsylvania, was the first of this genre as for unknown reasons, he cast his vote in 1796 for the Democratic-Republican candidate, Thomas Jefferson, even though his own Federalist party candidate John Adams had won Pennsylvania’s popular vote.

Miles turned out to be the first of many. Throughout American history, 157 electors have voted contrary to their state’s chosen winner. Some of these individuals dissented for idiosyncratic reasons, but others did so because they preferred the losing party’s candidate. The precedent set by these people creates uncertainty about how future Electoral College votes could proceed.

This possibility became even more likely after a recent court decision. In the 2016 election, seven electors defected from the dictates of their state’s popular vote. This was the highest number in any modern election. A Colorado lawsuit challenged the legality of state requirements that electors follow the vote of their states, something which is on the books in 29 states plus the District of Columbia. In the Baca v. Hickenlooper case, a federal court ruled that states cannot penalize faithless electors, no matter the intent of the elector or the outcome of the state vote.

Bret Chiafalo and plaintiff Michael Baca were state electors who began the self-named “Hamilton Electors” movement in which they announced their desire to stop Trump from winning the presidency. Deriving their name from Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, they convinced a few members of the Electoral College to cast their votes for other Republican candidates, such as John Kasich or Mitt Romney. When Colorado decided to nullify Baca’s vote, he sued. A three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that Colorado’s decision to remove Baca’s vote was unconstitutional since the founders were explicit about the constitutional rights of electors to vote independently. Based on this legal ruling and in a highly polarized political environment where people have strong feelings about various candidates, it is possible that future faithless electors could tip the presidency one way or another, thereby nullifying the popular vote.

Why the Electoral College is poorly suited for an era of high income inequality and widespread geographic disparities

The problems outlined above illustrate the serious issues facing the Electoral College. Having a president who loses the popular vote undermines electoral legitimacy. Putting an election into the House of Representatives where each state delegation has one vote increases the odds of insider dealings and corrupt decisions. Allegations of balloting irregularities that require an Electoral Commission to decide the votes of contested states do not make the general public feel very confident about the integrity of the process. And faithless electors could render the popular vote moot in particular states.

Yet there is a far more fundamental threat facing the Electoral College. At a time of high income inequality and substantial geographical disparities across states, there is a risk that the Electoral College will systematically overrepresent the views of relatively small numbers of people due to the structure of the Electoral College. As currently constituted, each state has two Electoral College votes regardless of population size, plus additional votes to match its number of House members. That format overrepresents small- and medium-sized states at the expense of large states.

That formula is problematic at a time when a Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program study found that 15 percent of American counties generate 64 percent of America’s gross domestic product. Most of the country’s economic activity is on the East Coast, West Coast, and a few metropolitan areas in between. The prosperous parts of America include about 15 states having 30 senators while the less prosperous areas encapsulate 35 states having 70 senators.

Those numbers demonstrate the fundamental mismatch between economic vitality and political power. Through the Electoral College (and the U.S. Senate), the 35 states with smaller economic activity have disproportionate power to choose presidents and dictate public policy. This institutional relic from two centuries ago likely will fuel continued populism and regular discrepancies between the popular and Electoral College votes. Rather than being a historic aberration, presidents who lose the popular vote could become the norm and thereby usher in an anti-majoritarian era where small numbers of voters in a few states use their institutional clout in “left-behind” states to block legislation desired by large numbers of people.

Support for direct popular election

For years, a majority of Americans have opposed the Electoral College . For example, in 1967, 58 percent favored its abolition, while in 1981, 75 percent of Americans did so. More recent polling, however, has highlighted a dangerous development in public opinion. Americans by and large still want to do away with the Electoral College, but there now is a partisan divide in views, with Republicans favoring it while Democrats oppose it.

For instance, POLITICO and Morning Consult conducted a poll in March 2019 that found that 50 percent of respondents wanted a direct popular vote, 34 percent did not, and 16 percent did not demonstrate a preference. Two months later, NBC News and the Wall Street Journal reported polling that 53 percent of Americans wanted a direct popular vote, while 43 percent wanted to keep the status quo. These sentiments undoubtably have been reinforced by the fact that in two of the last five presidential elections, the candidate winning the popular vote lost the Electoral College.

Yet there are clear partisan divisions in these sentiments. In 2000, while the presidential election outcome was still being litigated, a Gallup survey reported that 73 percent of Democratic respondents supported a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College and move to direct popular voting, but only 46 percent of Republican respondents supported that view. This gap has since widened as after the 2016 election, 81 percent of Democrats and 19 percent of Republicans affirmatively answered the same question .

The March POLITICO and Morning Consult poll also found that 72 percent of Democratic respondents and 30 percent of Republican respondents endorsed a direct popular vote. Likewise, the NBC News and Wall Street Journal poll found that 78 percent of Hillary Clinton voters supported a national popular vote, while 74 percent of Trump voters preferred the Electoral College.

Ways to abolish the Electoral College

The U.S. Constitution created the Electoral College but did not spell out how the votes get awarded to presidential candidates. That vagueness has allowed some states such as Maine and Nebraska to reject “winner-take-all” at the state level and instead allocate votes at the congressional district level. However, the Constitution’s lack of specificity also presents the opportunity that states could allocate their Electoral College votes through some other means.

One such mechanism that a number of states already support is an interstate pact that honors the national popular vote. Since 2008, 15 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to adopt the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), which is an multi-state agreement to commit electors to vote for candidates who win the nationwide popular vote, even if that candidate loses the popular vote within their state. The NPVIC would become effective only if states ratify it to reach an electoral majority of 270 votes.

Right now, the NPVIC is well short of that goal and would require an additional 74 electoral votes to take effect. It also faces some particular challenges. First, it is unclear how voters would respond if their state electors collectively vote against the popular vote of their state. Second, there are no binding legal repercussions if a state elector decides to defect from the national popular vote. Third, given the Tenth Circuit decision in the Baca v. Hickenlooper case described above, the NPVIC is almost certain to face constitutional challenges should it ever gain enough electoral votes to go into effect.

A more permanent solution would be to amend the Constitution itself. That is a laborious process and a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College would require significant consensus—at least two-thirds affirmation from both the House and Senate, and approval from at least 38 out of 50 states. But Congress has nearly reached this threshold in the past. Congress nearly eradicated the Electoral College in 1934, falling just two Senate votes short of passage.

However, the conversation did not end after the unsuccessful vote, legislators have continued to debate ending or reforming the Electoral College since. In 1979, another Senate vote to establish a direct popular vote failed, this time by just three votes. Nonetheless, conversation continued: the 95th Congress proposed a total of 41 relevant amendments in 1977 and 1978, and the 116th Congress has already introduced three amendments to end the Electoral College. In total, over the last two centuries, there have been over 700 proposals to either eradicate or seriously modify the Electoral College. It is time to move ahead with abolishing the Electoral College before its clear failures undermine public confidence in American democracy, distort the popular will, and create a genuine constitutional crisis.

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Should We Abolish the Electoral College?

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Should We Abolish the Electoral College?

Illustration: Steve Dinnino

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Editor’s Note : In 2016, we asked two professors to debate whether the Electoral College should cease to be the mechanism used for selecting the U.S. president. Here are the yea and the nay.

By Jack Rakove, the William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies and a professor of political science.

In this extraordinarily strange election year, debating the Electoral College might seem an odd pastime when so many other issues concern us. But its logic, its distortion of the democratic process and its underlying flaws will still strongly influence the conduct of the election. So, let me make the case for its abolition and its replacement by a simple national popular vote, to be held in an entity we will call (what the heck) the United States of America.

There are three basic arguments in favor of the system the framers of the Constitution gave us, with little sense of how it would actually work. The first is easily dismissed. Presidential electors are not more qualified than other citizens to determine who should head the government. They are simply party loyalists who do not deliberate about anything more than where to eat lunch.

A second argument holds less populous states deserve the further electoral weight they gain through the “senatorial bump” giving each state two electors, because their minority status entitles them to additional political protection. But the real interests of small-state voters are never determined by the relative size of the population of their states. If, say, environmental sustainability or abortion or the Second Amendment is your dominant concern, it does not matter whether you live in Wyoming or California, Pennsylvania or Delaware. The size of a state does not affect our real political preferences, even though the Electoral College system imagines that it does.

Third, defenders of the Electoral College also claim that it supports the underlying value of federalism. Having the states play an autonomous role in presidential elections, it is said, reinforces the division of governing authority between the nation and the states. But explaining exactly how it does this remains a mystery. Having a state-based system for electing both houses of Congress should be adequate to that task. Presidential elections have little if anything to do with the subject, even when some candidates claim to be “running against Washington.”

What are the positive arguments in favor of replacing the existing electoral system with a national popular vote? Here, again, there are three main points to make.

Having the states play an autonomous role in presidential elections, it is said, reinforces the division of governing authority between the nation and the states. But explaining exactly how it does this remains a mystery.

First, and most obviously, such a system would conform to the dominant democratic value that has prevailed in American politics ever since the one-person, one-vote reapportionment rulings of the early 1960s. Our votes would count the same wherever they were cast. No other mode of presidential elections would be fully consistent with our underlying commitment to the equality of all citizens.

Second, a national popular vote would eliminate the “battleground state” phenomenon that has now become the key feature of post-convention campaigning, leaving most Americans alienated from the decisive phase of presidential elections. “Swing” or “battleground” states are mere accidents of geography. They do not matter because they have any special civic characteristics. They simply happen to be states that become competitive because of their demography, and which are readily identifiable as such because of the increasing sophistication of political polling. In a truly national election, parties and candidates would have the incentive to turn out their votes wherever they were, fostering a deeper sense of engagement across the whole population.

Third, a national election might provide a cure for the delegitimation of presidential authority that has afflicted the last three presidencies. It is no secret that the administrations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all suffered, from the outset, from efforts to imply that there was something improper and unworthy or even suspicious in their elections. That same view will doubtless color the 2016 election as well. This perception is reinforced by the red- and blue-state imagery that controls our view of the electoral process. Having an election in which victory went to a candidate carrying a single national constituency might not wholly cure this problem, but it might well work to mitigate it.

By Michael W. McConnell, the Richard and Frances Mallery Professor of Law, director of the Constitutional Law Center and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

The Electoral College is not going to be changed, and there are far more urgent and promising topics for reform of our presidential selection system.

It is true that the Electoral College no longer serves its original purposes, and that it creates a grave risk that a candidate not favored by a majority of the people will, from time to time, be elected president. There have been three: John Quincy Adams, Benjamin Harrison and George W. Bush. We survived. Not one was a first-rank president, but their selection did not seriously injure the democratic character of our system.

The founders opted for the Electoral College because the two leading alternatives, election by Congress and by popular vote, were thought to have serious defects. Moreover, the electoral college method preserved the two compromises over representation—the three-fifths clause and the big state-small state compromise—and guarded against a fracturing of votes for many candidates, which they thought might occur once George Washington was no longer available as a nationally respected consensus candidate. The three-fifths clause became irrelevant with the end of slavery (thankfully!), and the big state-small state divide no longer animates our politics, if it ever did. The two-party system solves the fractured vote problem more effectively than the Electoral College ever did, and the electors never exercised genuine independence. The Electoral College thus presents democratic risks without serving any of its original purposes.

That is not to say the Electoral College is without its advantages. It gives a slight edge to candidates with broad-based support in many states over those who rack up huge majorities in just a few large states. That probably promotes a more national and less regional vision. It channels presidential politics into a two-party system, which is superior to multiparty systems where fringe factions can exercise too much leverage. It probably reduces the cost of presidential campaigns by confining television advertising to the battleground states (and spares the rest of us the tedium of endless repetitive ads). And it confines vote-counting disputes to just one, or maybe a few, states. Imagine a Florida-style recount in every precinct in America.

Still, the advantages are uncertain and relatively minor. Almost no one would adopt an Electoral College today if we were starting from scratch. But reforming the Electoral College does not rank high among our national problems. Given that a change would require a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and three-quarters of the state legislatures, it is not going to happen. We should be talking about other things.

The great problems with our presidential selection system today stem from the haphazard way we choose the two major party presidential candidates. This year is the poster child for the need for reform. The two parties have chosen the same year in which to nominate a person whom large numbers of Americans, probably a majority, regard as unfit (though not for the same reason). Generally, we count on the Republican and Democratic parties to nominate not the best people, but candidates who combine a degree of popular support with the experience and temperament to govern. Not this year.

Almost no one would adopt an Electoral College today if we were starting from scratch. But reforming the Electoral College does not rank high among our national problems.

We need to think hard, and quickly, about how to reform three aspects of the presidential nomination process: the debates, the primary elections and the conventions. The current system is weighted too heavily in favor of celebrity appeal, demagogic displays and appeals to narrow special interests. The party structures—which, for all their faults, have a vested interest in candidates from the moderate middle who are able to work with Congress and other officials to govern—have been sidelined.

For almost the first half century of the republic, presidential candidates were chosen by the caucuses of the two parties in the House and the Senate. That system worked well until the two-party system briefly died with the Federalist Party. It was replaced by party conventions, which eventually were replaced (almost) with strings of single or multiple state primaries and caucuses. It seems to me that the original system may have been superior to what we now have. The elected officials of both parties have incentives to choose candidates with an eye toward popular electability and governing skill. Interestingly, the congressional caucus system is very close to the system the British used to replace Prime Minister David Cameron. Most Americans would breathe a sigh of relief, I believe, if we had a system capable of choosing the U.S. equivalent of Theresa May instead of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Now is the time for sober and spirited citizens from both parties to devise a new system for 2020.

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Democracy in Question: Should The Electoral College be Abolished Essay

The Electoral College has been a contentious issue in American politics for decades. While some argue that it is an essential part of the democratic process, others believe that it is outdated and should be abolished. In this essay, written by custom essay paper writing service , we will argue why we need to get rid of the electoral college because it is undemocratic, encourages the neglect of certain states, and has the potential to undermine the legitimacy of the presidency.

Abolishing the Electoral College: A Necessary Step Towards True Democracy

The Electoral College is one of the most debated issues in American politics. While some argue that it is a necessary component of the democratic process, others believe that it is outdated and undemocratic. The Electoral College has the power to significantly impact the outcome of presidential elections. It has led to several instances where the candidate who won the popular vote did not win the presidency. This has resulted in protests, divisions, and questions regarding the legitimacy of the electoral system.

To my mind, the Electoral College is an outdated system that undermines the principles of democracy, encourages the neglect of certain states, and can lead to the election of a president who does not have the support of the majority of voters.

The Undemocratic Nature of the Electoral College

So, why we should abolish the electoral college. Firstly, the Electoral College is undemocratic. In a true democracy, every vote should count equally, regardless of where it is cast. However, because of the winner-takes-all system used in most states, some votes are effectively wasted. For example, in a state that traditionally votes for one party, the votes of those who support the other party will have no impact on the outcome. This is particularly true in states that are heavily dominated by one party or the other.

Furthermore, the Electoral College gives disproportionate power to small states, which have a greater influence per capita than larger states. This is because each state is given a minimum of three electors, regardless of its population. As a result, a vote cast in Wyoming has more than three times the influence of a vote cast in California.

Encouragement of Neglect for Certain States through the Electoral College

The Electoral College encourages the neglect of certain states. Because presidential campaigns focus on swing states, candidates often ignore states that are heavily leaning in one direction or the other. This means that voters in those states are effectively disenfranchised, as their votes are not seen as important. This is particularly problematic in states with large minority populations, which are often taken for granted by candidates.

In addition, the Electoral College can lead to the neglect of certain issues that are important to specific states. For example, a candidate who is not competitive in a heavily agricultural state may not prioritize agricultural issues.

The Potential for Undermining the Legitimacy of the Presidency by the Electoral College

Last but no the least, the Electoral College has the potential to undermine the legitimacy of the presidency. This is because a candidate can win the presidency without winning the popular vote. This has happened several times in American history, most recently in the 2016 election. When a candidate wins the Electoral College but loses the popular vote, it can lead to widespread protests and allegations of voter fraud. This undermines the legitimacy of the presidency and can lead to divisions within the country.

So, should the electoral college be changed? Absolutely! The Electoral College is undemocratic, encourages the neglect of certain states, and has the potential to undermine the legitimacy of the presidency. This is why we should abolish the Electoral College.

In its place, a system of the direct popular vote should be implemented, where every vote counts equally, regardless of where it is cast. This would ensure that every citizen’s voice is heard and that the presidency is elected in a fair and democratic manner.

Tips for Writing a Persuasive “Should the Electoral College Be Abolished?” Essay

The Electoral College has been a subject of debate for years, and writing an essay on whether it should be abolished is a common assignment for students. This type of essay requires careful research, analysis, and critical thinking to present a persuasive argument. If you need something to start with, look at good personal statement examples , which can prompt you to write your essay about why is Electoral College bad.

Here are some tips to help you write a successful “Should the Electoral College be abolished” essay:

Understand the Electoral College

Before you can argue for or against the Electoral College, it’s essential to understand how it works. Research the history of the Electoral College, its purpose, and its impact on elections. Knowing the pros and cons of the Electoral College will give you a solid foundation for your argument.

Take a Clear Position

After you’ve done your research, decide on your stance. Do you believe the Electoral College should be abolished or not? Your thesis statement should clearly state your position and the reason to abolish the electoral college or not.

Support your Argument with Evidence

A persuasive essay requires solid evidence to back up your claims. Research statistics, historical events, and expert opinions to support your position. Ensure you cite your sources properly and use credible sources to avoid bias.

Address Counterarguments

A strong argument acknowledges the opposition’s views and addresses them effectively. Identify the most common counterarguments and provide evidence to counter them. This will strengthen your position and show that you have considered other perspectives.

Use a Logical Structure

A well-structured essay is easier to follow and makes your argument more persuasive. Use a clear introduction, body paragraphs that each present a different point and supporting evidence, and a strong conclusion that summarizes your position.

Edit and Proofread

Finally, after you have written your essay, edit and proofread it carefully. Look for spelling and grammar errors, as well as any areas where your argument may be unclear or weak. Have someone else read it over to provide feedback and ensure that your essay is clear and persuasive. With these tips, you can write a persuasive essay that effectively argues your position on this controversial topic.

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Read our research on: Gun Policy | International Conflict | Election 2024

Regions & Countries

Majority of americans continue to favor moving away from electoral college.

In 2000 and 2016, the winners of the popular vote lost their bids for U.S. president after receiving fewer Electoral College votes than their opponents. To continue tracking how the public views the U.S. system for presidential elections, we surveyed 8,480 U.S. adults from July 10 to 16, 2023.

Everyone who took part in the current survey is a member of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology .

Here are the questions used for this analysis , along with responses, and its methodology .

The Electoral College has played an outsize role in some recent U.S. elections. And a majority of Americans would welcome a change to the way presidents are elected, according to a new Pew Research Center survey .

A line chart showing that, by about 2 to 1, Americans want popular vote, not Electoral College, to decide who is president.

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults (65%) say the way the president is elected should be changed so that the winner of the popular vote nationwide wins the presidency. A third favor keeping the current Electoral College system.

Public opinion on this question is essentially unchanged from last year, though Americans’ support for using the popular vote to decide the presidency remains higher than it was a few years ago.

Explore Americans’ views of the political system

This article draws from our major report on Americans’ attitudes about the political system and political representation, conducted July 10-16, 2023. For more, explore:

  • The report chapter on Americans’ views of proposed changes to the political system
  • The full report

The current electoral system in the United States allows for the possibility that the winner of the popular vote may not secure enough Electoral College votes to win the presidency. This occurred in both the 2000 and 2016 elections, which were won by George W. Bush and Donald Trump, respectively.

Partisan views over time

A line chart showing that most Democrats support moving to a popular vote for president, while Republicans are more divided.

Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are far more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to support moving to a popular vote system for presidential elections (82% vs. 47%).

The share of Democrats saying this is nearly identical to last year but higher than in January 2021, a few weeks before President Joe Biden was sworn into office after winning both the Electoral College and the popular vote.

Republicans are fairly divided on this question: 52% support keeping the current Electoral College system, and 47% support moving to a popular vote system. GOP support for moving to a popular vote is the highest it’s been in recent years – up from 37% in 2021 and just 27% in the days following the 2016 election.

Party and ideology

A bar chart showing that conservative Republicans stand out for their support for maintaining the Electoral College.

Nearly nine-in-ten liberal Democrats (88%) and about three-quarters of conservative and moderate Democrats (77%) say they would prefer presidents to be elected based on the popular vote.

Ideological differences are wider among Republicans. A clear majority – 63% – of conservative Republicans prefer keeping the current system, while 36% would change it.

The balance of opinion reverses among moderate and liberal Republicans (who make up a much smaller share of the Republican coalition). A majority of moderate and liberal Republicans (63%) say they would back the country moving to a popular vote for president.

Younger adults are somewhat more supportive of changing the system than older adults. About seven-in-ten Americans under 50 (69%) support this. That share drops to about six-in-ten (58%) among those 65 and older.

Political engagement

Political engagement – being interested in and paying attention to politics – is associated with views about the Electoral College, particularly among Republicans.

A dot plot showing that highly politically engaged Republicans are least likely to support moving to a popular vote for president.

Highly politically engaged Republicans overwhelmingly favor keeping the Electoral College: 72% say this, while 27% support moving to a popular vote system.

Republicans with a moderate level of engagement are more divided, with 51% wanting to keep the system as is and 48% wanting to change it. And a clear majority of Republicans with lower levels of political engagement (70%) back moving to a popular vote.

Differences by engagement are much less pronounced among Democrats. About eight-in-ten Democrats with low (78%) and medium (82%) levels of engagement favor changing the system, as do 86% of highly engaged Democrats.

Note: This is an update of posts previously published on Jan. 27, 2021 (written by Bradley Jones, a former senior researcher), and Aug. 5, 2022 (written by Jocelyn Kiley and Rebecca Salzer, a former intern). Here are the questions used for this analysis , along with responses, and its methodology .

In January 2020, Pew Research Center ran a survey experiment that asked this question in two slightly different ways. One used the language that we and other organizations had used in prior years, with the reform option asking about “amending the Constitution so the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide wins the election.” The other version asked about “changing the system so the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide wins the election.” The January 2020 survey revealed no substantive differences between asking about “amending the Constitution” and “changing the system.”

We conducted this experiment in large part because reforming the way presidents are selected does not technically require amending the Constitution. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact , for example, could theoretically accomplish it without a constitutional amendment. Since there was no substantive difference in the survey results between the two question wordings, we have adopted the revised wording.

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More u.s. locations experimenting with alternative voting systems, many western europeans think mandatory voting is important, but americans are split, republicans and democrats move further apart in views of voting access, share of republicans saying ‘everything possible’ should be done to make voting easy declines sharply, most popular.

About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .


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Why We Should Abolish the Electoral College

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By Josh Chafetz

  • Published March 17, 2020 Updated Oct. 4, 2020

LET THE PEOPLE PICK THE PRESIDENT The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College By Jesse Wegman

It’s hard to imagine a political institution less suited to a 21st-century liberal democracy than the Electoral College. It arose from a convoluted compromise hammered out late in the Constitutional Convention, and the rise of political parties in the late 18th century and the spread of democratic ideals in the early 19th quickly undermined its rationales. If it didn’t exist, no one today would consider creating it.

But the Electoral College is worse than merely useless. Its primary function is to malapportion political power, and it does so — indeed, has always done so — with strikingly awful consequences. A state is entitled to a number of electors equal to its number of senators and representatives. Before the Civil War, the combination of the Electoral College and the Three-Fifths Clause , counting a slave as three-fifths of a person, gave the Slave Power outsize control in electing the president, with the consequence that antebellum presidents were almost always either slaveholders or at least friendly to their interests (the major exceptions were both named Adams). After the war, every person counted as a full person for apportionment purposes — but with the collapse of Reconstruction and the violent disfranchisement of African-Americans throughout the South, that increase in representation once again redounded only to the benefit of white male power-holders, a situation that was not largely rectified until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 .

Because a state’s number of electors is based on total population, not actual voters, it gives the states no incentive to enfranchise new groups of people, or to make voting easier for those eligible. And because states want to maximize their influence in selecting the president, they also have a strong incentive to use a winner-take-all approach to awarding electors, which all but two states currently do. The result — as we’ve now seen twice in the last two decades — is that a popular vote loser can be an Electoral College winner.

In a liberal democracy, not everything need be decided by majority vote. But once something is put to a vote, it is hard to understand why the side getting fewer votes should win. And Americans have long understood themselves to be voting for their president, not for presidential electors. It is long past time to get rid of the Electoral College.

This is not a new claim: People have been arguing against the Electoral College from the beginning. But no one, at least in recent years, has laid out the case as comprehensively and as readably as Jesse Wegman does in “Let the People Pick the President.” Wegman, a member of the New York Times editorial board, surveys the Electoral College’s history from its drafting through the state ratification debates — and, importantly, well beyond. He discusses the crucial elections of 1796 and 1800, which made pellucid that political parties were here to stay and that their interaction with the Electoral College could produce some problematic results (like President John Adams teamed with Vice President Thomas Jefferson, his bitter rival). These elections provided the impetus for the only constitutional amendment to the Electoral College scheme to date: the 12th Amendment , ratified in 1804 to ensure that the president and vice president would be from the same party. Wegman also covers Reconstruction and its collapse; the one-person-one-vote revolution of the 1960s; and the drive for a constitutional amendment providing for a national popular vote for the presidency in 1969 and 1970. All of these treatments are detailed, but eminently readable.

The last few chapters debunk popular myths about the Electoral College and show how a national popular vote might work. They also outline Wegman’s preferred alternative: the National Popular Vote Compact.

This is where the rubber hits the road, and it’s also the only portion of Wegman’s book that’s not fully convincing. The compact, in brief, provides that the states that join it will award all their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner. Crucially, it does not go into effect until enough states have joined to constitute an Electoral College majority. It’s an elegant way of awarding the presidency to the popular vote winner without a constitutional amendment. States worth 196 electoral votes have already signed on; another 74 electoral votes are required before it can go into effect.

But Wegman leaves largely unaddressed how the compact interacts with the patchwork of state laws governing elections. How do we count the popular votes in Maine, given that state’s adoption of ranked choice voting? What would happen if one state lowered the voting age to 16? What if there is a dispute as to who actually won the nationwide popular vote? These problems might well be solvable within the compact framework — but they require more thinking through now, before a presidential election turns on them.

One thing is clear, though: The Electoral College as we have it now should go.

Josh Chafetz is a law professor at Cornell, a visiting law professor at the University of Texas and the author, most recently, of “Congress’s Constitution: Legislative Authority and the Separation of Powers.”

LET THE PEOPLE PICK THE PRESIDENT The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College By Jesse Wegman 296 pp. St. Martin’s Press. $27.99.

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14 Pros and Cons of Abolishing the Electoral College

As the U.S. Government Archives likes to say, the Electoral College “is a process, not a place.” This structure was placed in the Constitution by the Founding Fathers of the United States as a compromise between having a vote in Congress to elect the President and the election of a candidate by qualified citizens. This process stopped the process that was used in England to select a Prime Minister.

The Electoral College consists of an elector selection, a group of people who will meet and vote for President and Vice President based on the results of their state’s election. There are currently 538 electors up for grabs in an election, which means a majority of 270 is necessary to elect the President. It’s also the only place where the District of Columbia functions as a state since the 23rd Amendment allocates 3 electors to it.

Although there are some advantages to this system, the disadvantages have been highlighted in recent elections. A presidential candidate who doesn’t receive a majority of the votes can still win the Electoral College to get into the White House. There are also circumstances where a majority of electors might not be available, which would throw the results of the election into the House of Representatives.

As Americans look at their election processes, a complete review of the pros and cons of abolishing the Electoral College is useful when taking this unique structure into account.

List of the Pros of Abolishing the Electoral College

1. It causes some votes to have greater weight than others. Because the Electoral College is based on the structure of state populations and representation in the House, some people have a vote that carries more weight per delegate than others. Despite California having millions of more people living in the state compared to Wyoming, the weight of a vote is 30% less. That means if you live in a rural area, your vote may count more toward who gets to be the eventual president. If this system were to be abolished, then every vote counted would have the exact same weight in the final tally.

2. This action would allow the popular vote winner to take the White House. Over 2.8 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump, but it was Trump who won the White House because of the results of the electoral map. In the history of the United States, there have been five elections where the eventual winner didn’t receive a clear majority of the vote. Two of those elections have occurred since 2000. Only one election was so close that it had to go to the House of Representatives, which is how John Quincy Adams won over Andrew Jackson.

Instead of dealing with these complications, a simple majority vote would always speak of the will of the people. We already see gridlock and partisanship in Congress that limits the opportunities for collaboration. Switching to this standard system would not likely create an adverse result.

3. It would stop the requirement to redistribute the electoral votes. The U.S. Census creates the allocations of electoral votes that each state receives. That means the information receives an update every 10 years. The 2010 census is therefore valid for the 2012, 2016, and 2020 Presidential elections. Then the 2020 census will be valid for the 2024 and 2028 elections.

Abolishing the Electoral College would get rid of this confusing process. There can be distinctive advantages to one party in a decade where three election cycles are possible. It also stops the distribution process where California gets 55 votes, but a state like Delaware only gets 3. Every vote would count equally instead.

4. The reasons for the Electoral College may not be relevant any more. When the Founding Fathers built the idea of the Electoral College into the structure of the American government, their idea of information management was very different than what we have today. It took time for people to learn what was happening in the nation’s capital. Candidates had to go to each state to talk about what they wanted to do for the country because there was no other way to let people know what was happening.

Thanks to the Internet, telephones, email, social media, and every other form of communication that we have today, people can choose for themselves whether a new story has an underlying sinister bias. We’re already letting women, former slaves, and 18-year-olds vote, changing the structure of the election since the country’s founding. Abolishing the Electoral College seems to be the next logical step in that process.

5. It no longer serves the intended job. Alexander Hamilton was a significant supporter of the Electoral College. Although he said that the system was far from perfect, it was at least excellent. Hamilton believed that it would prevent the Office of the President from falling into the lot of a person who was not endowed with the requisite qualifications to serve the American people. Critics of the system would argue that the elections of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump are evidence that this impact is no longer present in U.S. politics.

There will always be a concern about the tyranny of the majority in the United States. This issue exists in the Electoral College when the rural states face off with the urban ones. The only difference is that in this unique structure, the voice of the minority can actually shout down the desires of the majority.

6. Abolishing the Electoral College stops swing states from having sway in the election. During the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had 90% of their campaign stops in only 11 states. Out of those visits, almost 70% of them happened in only four states: North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Even though proponents of the Electoral College want it to stay so that every state can have a specific say in the outcome of the election, the candidates are already starting to behave in the same ways that people fear they would when targeting a majority population groups.

It also prevents candidates from going into states where the electorate typically votes for the other party. When you know that one state will vote the same way in every election, there is no need to visit that place. There have been some unusual elections, such as the 1972 affair when Richard Nixon took 520 electoral votes to George McGovern’s 16. Reagan also dominated in 1980, taking 489 votes to Jimmy Carter’s 49. Reagan would almost make a clean sweep in 1984 as well, taking 525 of 538 electoral votes and only losing Minnesota and DC.

7. The electoral college ignores the will of the people. There are over 300 million people currently residing in the United States, but only 538 people actually get to choose who gets to be the president. Even when it is against the law for these folks to vote for someone other than what the electoral results in their state indicate, there is always an option to become a faithless elector under the American structure.

The presidential election in 2016 saw a modern-era record for faithless electors, but five of them came from the Clinton camp. Only two Republicans voted for someone other than Trump and Pence. Four of the electors came from the state of Washington. Colin Powell was the primary beneficiary, receiving three votes. Bernie Sanders, John Kasich, Ron Paul, and Faith Spotted Eagle received one each. There were two additional votes for Sanders that were invalidated in Minnesota and one for Kasich in Colorado.

List of the Cons of Abolishing the Electoral College

1. The interests of the minority would no longer receive protection. The primary benefit of the electoral college is that it works to protect the best interests of the minority in every election. Electors manage the needs of the state and community instead of following the will of the general public throughout the country. That means there must be a majority of states that agree with a specific candidate instead of allowing the people to decide who they want to have as president. The electors can vote their conscience as well, refusing to follow what their state elections guide them to do.

This process means that each candidate must speak with the entire country instead of visiting the largest cities as a way to solicit for votes.

2. This design promotes the two-party system. Even though some Americans don’t like the gridlock that a two-party system creates, the electoral college keeps this design healthy with each 4-year cycle. It is a process that allows the people to choose who serves in the White House instead of throwing it into Congress. That means centrist ideas tend to be the ones that receive the most traction instead of the individual priorities of platforms on the extreme left or right. That means more people can feel like their government accurately represents their needs.

Having this structure go away would encourage more third-party development. That means the major party that can maintain its base could win elections without a clear majority.

3. It would create problems when multiple candidates run. The Electoral College has given one candidate a majority win in this political structure since 1992, but there have been four times when the winner of the election didn’t receive a clear majority of the votes across the entire country. Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992 with only 43% of the vote, and then in 1996 with 49.2%. George W. Bush won the Electoral College in 2000 even though he received 0.5% less of the popular vote against Al Gore.

Then in 2016, Donald Trump won the Electoral College despite receiving 2.1% less of the popular vote. Adding even more candidates into this discussion without the protections of this structure could create circumstances where someone with less than 35% of the vote could potentially win a four-year term.

4. The chances of a recount would increase dramatically with election. The general threshold that an election result must reach to trigger an automatic recount is a difference of 0.5% of the vote or less. In the history of the United States, there have been six presidential elections that would have qualified for this issue – and three of them have occurred since 1968. There have also been five elections where the eventual president didn’t win a majority of the vote, including Trump in 2016. Only Rutherford Hayes, with a 3% difference, won the electoral college despite being in the minority. The cost of conducting a nationwide recount could be hundreds of millions of dollars, which is money that may not always be in the budget. Sticking to the electoral college format allows us to use electors as intended instead of relying on all of the votes counting.

5. It creates 50 individual contests. Under the current structure of the United States, there are 50 unique presidential contests instead of one nationwide affair to elect a President. If the U.S. were to abolish the electoral college, then the restrictions that territories experience against voting in this election would disappear. Residents of places like Puerto Rico and Guam would have their votes be counted in the final total, and these locations consistently vote for one party. This shift would likely benefit that party for more than a generation. Keeping the electoral college restricts the voting to acknowledged states only.

6. All parts of the country would not be involved in the selection of the president. Without the Electoral College in place, presidential candidates would build platforms that would speak to their base. Instead of having a regional focus that incorporates specific campaigning elements, there would be a national campaign instead. Iowa farmers might lose out to California union workers since their population numbers are larger. The small towns in the United States, along with all of the rural areas, would become marginalized if this system were to be entirely abolished.

7. Getting rid of the Electoral College would radicalize politics. The political game in the United States would change dramatically without the Electoral College present. Instead of a politician trying to appeal to someone with specific needs, the adoption of a general platform that maximizes votes in urban centers would become the emphasis of each party. The places where there are more people become the top priority, especially if there is a chance to swing some votes. The current structure limits Americans from pushing in this direction even though candidates tend to visit swing states more often. Eliminating this barrier could mean that some parts of the country never become part of the overall campaign.

Should the U.S. Abolish the Electoral College?

When Americans are polled about the Electoral College, most of them say that they want it to disappear. They want the option to select a president based on who gets the most votes nationally. During the 2020 election cycle, there are several candidates who are promising to work on doing just that.

“Every vote matters,” commented Senator Elizabet Warren (D-Mass) in an early campaign stop in Mississippi in 2019, “and the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting and that means get rid of the Electoral College.”

One of the ways that states are considering a way to go around the Electoral College is called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This agreement includes several states and DC, giving the electoral vote count assigned to them to the candidate who receives the most votes in the national election. It would only come into effect when it could guarantee that outcome. The group of 16 (as of August 2019) currently control 196 electoral votes together.

The pros and cons of abolishing the Electoral College must go beyond the 65% of people who want it gone. There would need to be a Constitutional amendment if the compact idea doesn’t work. With the divide between Democrats and Republicans currently in place, the likelihood that this idea will receive any movement any time soon is quite minimal.

The Electoral College Should Be Abolished

Introduction, works cited.

In U.S. presidential elections, close races occasionally occur. The Electoral College is a mechanism, by which ties are nearly impossible, which if that should happen, the nation would have found itself in a predicament and heated controversy. This appears to be a complex solution to a simple problem, a redundancy to a simple popular vote, a one person one vote approach. Voters often question not only what the Electoral College is but also why it is.

It seems to exist simply to amplify the margin of victory in the popular vote and is exclusively employed in presidential elections. Advocates of election reform wish to either do away with the Electoral College system completely and replace it with the direct popular vote or repairing perceived defects in the existing system by implementing one of several Electoral College reform proposals. This discussion addresses the perceived advantages and disadvantages of the system and provides a brief overview of the alternatives.

States that have a small population contend that if the electoral system were eradicated, presidential candidates would have no reason to campaign there or to advertise. “Why visit a small state with a media market that reaches, say, 100,000 people, when a visit to a large state can put the candidate in touch with millions?” (Gregg, 2001). The McConnell Center for Political Leadership at the University of Louisville studied the rationale behind the public’s perception that a direct, one-person-one-vote system would be more equitable than the electoral system. The findings debunked popular perceptions that abolishing the current system of presidential elections would improve the process.

Popular opinion is that if the 2000 election had been based on a national popular vote, the Florida debacle of hanging chads and dimpled ballots would not happened but in reality, the Electoral College saved the nation from a much worse problem. Imagine the distress of the nation in such a close election if a simple plurality of the national vote determined the outcome of the election. “With just a few hundred thousand votes separating the candidates, every vote in every precinct, in every state would have been worthy of a recount and every recount in every county subject to suit and countersuit” (Gregg, 2001). We still might not know who won.

Opponents of the Electoral College argue for a direct national election, arguing that it would more represent the diversity of the nation. In the 2000 election, Al Gore acquired half a million more votes than George W. Bush. It would appear that Gore was able to appeal to a broader spectrum of voters than Bush. But Gore’s support came from heavily inhabited municipal areas. A map of the county-by-county results of the United States following the 2000 vote showed only small areas of Democrat Blue among a wide expanse of Republican Red. “Bush won majorities in areas representing more than 2.4 million square miles while Gore was able to garner winning margins in only 580,000. Vice President Gore could fly from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles without flying over a county he was able to win” (Gregg, 2001).

A system of direct elections would inherently create incentives for candidates to campaign in small states. They would receive some electoral reward for their effort, since even if a state were lost; the votes gained there would still count in a popular vote system. Even more importantly, “the financial calculus of election campaigns in a direct-election system might help level the playing field between large and small states. Large states have more voters to be sure, but reaching these voters are very expensive propositions since advertising rates are often astronomical. On the other hand, small states tend to have less-expensive media markets.

Thus, campaigns might find that for every dollar spent in a large-state media market, an equal number of voters might be reached for the same or lesser amount of money in a small state” (Klinkner & McClellan, 2000).

Alternatives to the current system include the Direct Election, National Bonus, Proportional Plans and District Plans. Under the District Election plan, each voter would be eligible to directly cast a vote for the president, one person; one vote. The Electoral College would be eliminated. The National Bonus plan calls for amending the Electoral College to retain the advantage it gives to the two-party system while enhancing the power of the people.

The popular winner of each state would be given an extra two electoral votes, resulting in an extra 102 electoral votes (including an extra two votes for the District of Columbia). “This plan would presumably preserve the power of the states to function as organic units, while dispensing with the most undemocratic feature of the Electoral College, the tremendous weight given to small states” (Schlesinger, 1973).

The Proportional plan would eradicate the winner-take-all system for each state’s electoral vote and do away with the state’s electors. Each state would preserve its current number of electoral votes but these votes would be divided in proportion to the division of the popular vote within each state (Whitaker & Neale, 2001). The District plan would maintain the Electoral College but each state would use its Congressional house districts as ‘elector’ districts.

The candidate who receives the most votes in each district would win the electoral vote from the district. “In those states dominated by one political party, the district plan might also provide an incentive for greater voter participation and an invigoration of the two-party system in presidential elections because it might be possible for the less dominant political party’s candidates to carry certain congressional districts” (Sayre & Parris, 1970).

Proposals to abolish the Electoral College have failed largely because alternatives appear more problematic than the current system. The Electoral College, though an antiquated and imperfect system, is not on the way out and most likely never will be. While reforms continue to be proposed, there are few true movements toward actual change as issues regarding the voting process continue to arise with each new election cycle, taking precedence over reform measures.

Gregg, Gary L. II. “Keep the College, Debunking Myths.” National Review Online. (2001). Web.

Klinkner, Philip & McClellan, James. “Symposium – The Electoral College.” Insight on the News. 2000. Find Articles. Web.

Sayre, Wallace S. & Parris, Judith H. Voting for President. Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institution.

Schlesinger, Arthur. The Imperial Presidency. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1973.

Whitaker, L. Paige & Neale Thomas H. “The Electoral College: An Overview and Analysis of Reform Proposals.” National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington D.C.

Imagine a world in which Hillary Clinton was Donald Trump’s vice president. Or Donald Trump was Joe Biden’s. Impossible to conjure? Funny, that’s exactly what would have happened if the original Constitution as ratified in 1788 applied today.

Under the original system of “electors” — the Constitution never mentions an “Electoral College” — the candidate who received a majority of their votes became president. Simple so far. The twist? According to Article II, Section I , the runner-up was vice president. In 2016, Trump won 304 electoral votes, Clinton 227. So they would have been president and vice president. In 2020, Biden won 306 to Trump’s 232. So, a Biden-Trump team. Who in the world would have wanted either one of these outcomes?

The founders certainly didn’t want anything like that. In fact, Congress passed an amendment within a generation of the new Constitution expressly to stop it. We can change how we elect the president because we have already done it many times in our history. That includes how the Electoral College functions. It’s time for an update. Let’s explore why.

In our opinion pages the other day, we published a Wall Street Journal essay in which former George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove made an important observation. Because we pick our president indirectly through the Electoral College rather than a popular vote, only seven states will likely decide who is president in November. The other 43 won’t really matter, including the biggest states like Florida, California, Texas and New York, who will almost certainly give all of their electoral votes, respectively, to Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Trump and Biden. It’ll be just like in 2020, where if you wanted your vote to matter, you were out of luck if you were one of the more than 6 million Californians (34%) who voted for Trump or one of the 5.3 million Floridians (48%) who voted for Biden.

As Rove pointed out, that means the election of the president could turn on issues of merely parochial importance in those seven states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. As examples, Rove cited the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste facility in Nevada, natural-gas production in Pennsylvania and water issues in Arizona. The seven swing states, while hardly tiny, still have one fewer electoral vote than the two largest ones, California and Texas. Whether we love or loathe this system, California, Texas, New York and Florida are basically out of the picture, and that doesn’t feel right. Nor does it seem like representative government, certainly not one person, one vote.

It’s easy to forget how much the framers were feeling their way in the dark and experimenting — and how much they didn’t know. For example, most of them, including George Washington, originally hated the idea of political parties, derisively calling them “factions,” and thought their new Constitution could create a government that would function without them. D’oh!

In 1787, there were kings, queens, parliaments and prime ministers, but nations didn’t have presidents — a “Chief Magistrate of the United States,” as Alexander Hamilton called the office in Federalist #68 — or a way to choose them. Some wanted Congress to pick the president. Some wanted the states’ governors to do so. Some wanted a popular vote; others didn’t particularly trust “the people” to make such an important decision themselves. So like so many other things in the new Constitution, they settled on a compromise, which became what we know as the Electoral College — an indirect election of the president in which each state chooses electors who, in turn, choose (or “chuse,” as the Constitution spells it) the president. It’s correct to say “each state,” not “voters.” In early years, it was mostly state legislatures, not voters, who chose the electors who then picked the president.

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Of course, voting of any kind was usually restricted to white male property owners over 21. A lot has changed. One thing that hasn’t is how Electoral College votes are divvied up among the states. Each state gets a number of electors equal to its number of representatives in the U.S. House plus its two senators. That gives a structural advantage to smaller states because states always have two senators even if they have only one representative. The smallest states (today that is Alaska, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Delaware) all get three electoral votes no matter how tiny their population.

Is that fair to any larger state, whose votes count less? No, but the states who ratified the Constitution knew that, so at least that inequality was accepted, understood and baked into the original agreement. (Of course, so was the egregious Three-fifths Compromise, which allowed slave states to count each enslaved person as three-fifths of a free person for determining a state’s representation in Congress — and its numbers of electors. In other words, the slave states increased their political power by counting people they viewed as property and never dreamed of as voters.)

The 37 states who joined the union later played under those same rules of disproportionate representation, and the spread only got worse. The difference in scale between the 1790 population of the largest free state Pennsylvania (434,373) and tiny Delaware (59,096) was 7.35 times. That’s nothing like today’s California (39 million) and Wyoming (584,057) — where California has almost 67 times the population. Here’s the math: It takes 721,578 people to count as one electoral vote in California, but only 194,686 in Wyoming. In case you were wondering, it’s even worse in fast-growing big states like Texas and Florida, where the Census only catches up with our growth every 10 years. In Florida, it’s at least 753,691 people per electoral vote.

The thing to remember is states don’t vote, but people in states do. When some argue that they don’t want big states like California to throw their weight around and swing presidential elections, they should remember the millions of California Republicans whose voices are silenced when the state gives all its electoral votes to the Democrat. Could the system change? Of course it could. Even the founders started correcting some of their errors within a few years — and suggested other fixes that never came to pass.

Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson tied in the Electoral College in 1800. At that time, each elector got two votes. The original idea was one vote was for president, the other for vice president, but the Constitution didn’t spell out any such distinction. That meant that each of the elector’s two votes were counted as a vote for president, period. The top vote-getter became president and the runner-up vice president, no matter what the elector’s intentions were. A bit of a problem.

Since Burr, who was running for vice president, and Jefferson, who was running for president, got the same number of electoral votes, the U.S. House had to break the tie, but it took 36 rounds of voting before Jefferson won. Barely a decade into the new Constitution, there had been a meltdown.

Soon, the 12th Amendment was adopted, requiring electors to cast separate ballots for president and vice president. (Even though the presidential and vice presidential candidates have run as a ticket since the 19th century, electors still vote separately for president and vice president.) That was only the first of many changes. Over the years, more states began using the popular vote rather than their state legislatures to choose their presidential electors. However, most states made it winner take all, no matter how close the vote was. That system upset James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” so much that by 1823 he suggested amending the Constitution to set up smaller districts to choose electors, rather than letting entire states vote as a bloc. He wasn’t alone. According to the National Archives, Congress has seen more than 700 proposals to reform or eliminate the Electoral College — and more constitutional amendments suggested on the Electoral College than any other subject.

In 1968, George “Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever” Wallace won 46 electoral votes in the Nixon-Humphrey election, opening the possibility of no candidate winning an electoral majority and raising the specter of electoral vote trading or throwing the presidential election to the U.S. House, where each state’s delegation would have one vote. None of that happened, but it unsettled enough people that the next year, the House voted overwhelmingly for an amendment to replace the Electoral College with a direct popular vote, and it had the backing of 80% of the public. But Sen. Strom Thurmond and two other segregationists viewed it as suspicious civil rights legislation that would dilute the white vote, engineered a filibuster in the Senate and killed it.

Polls since the 1960s have shown strong backing to abolish the Electoral College. Current support is at 65% , according to a Pew Research survey last fall. But the bar to amend the Constitution is high, and the efforts always stall. They probably will forever fail until both parties have the experience of winning the popular vote but losing the Electoral College — and the presidency. In modern times — in 2000 and 2016 — that has happened only to Democratic candidates. Imagine the sudden bipartisan support for a change if it went the other way a few times.

Of course, the states themselves could fix this without touching the Constitution. All but Maine and Nebraska embrace the winner-take-all system, which is what skews today’s politics and will probably leave the presidency in the hands of only seven states this fall. For example, states could apportion electors by which candidates won each of the state’s congressional districts. That would be better but because of gerrymandering, still not great. (For example, Florida has 20 Republican and eight Democratic congressional districts, far from the state’s Trump-Biden 2020 vote split, which was 51-48.) Or they could divvy up the electors by the percentage of the vote each candidate receives. But until most states do it, few states will do it. After all, why would blue California give a third of its electoral votes to Trump to reflect his vote total in the state unless red Florida agreed to give nearly half to Biden to mirror his vote total here? You can see the problem. No one wants to go first.

Many people discuss another workaround, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, in which states agree to give all of their electoral votes to the national winner of the popular vote. But while many states have agreed to the compact, it wouldn’t take effect until it passes in enough states to equal an Electoral College majority. California and New York passed it a decade ago or more. However, Florida and Texas aren’t about to. That means we’ll be left to the whims of voters in seven states who could well pick a president based on a local issue that doesn’t matter much to the rest of the country.

In the real world, this isn’t going to change even if it’s unfair — and very distant from the ideal of one person, one vote. No, it’s only going to change when enough people in both parties — and enough voters of no party, as the framers had hoped all would be — feel the system is working against them.

In the meantime, remember that the framers and founders themselves started adapting the Constitution quickly as they saw their theories of government butting up against the actual practice. Even Madison, a moving force behind the Constitution, wanted to amend his handiwork to make the Electoral College more representative. If a major framer saw the flaws in his own creation, why don’t we? What will it take?

Jim Verhulst is the deputy editor of editorials at the Tampa Bay Times.

Editor’s note : What do you think? Do you like the Electoral College or should it be revamped, vanquished entirely — or left as it is? Send us a letter to the editor using our letters portal by going to . That is a web address, not an email address. Please use the phrase “Electoral College” in the “Subject” line.

Deputy Editor of Editorials


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Home / Essay Samples / Government / Electoral College / Why We Should Abolish the Electoral College in America

Why We Should Abolish the Electoral College in America

  • Category: Government
  • Topic: Electoral College , Voting

Pages: 2 (781 words)

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1. The Principle of "One Person, One Vote"

2. swing states and neglected states, 3. the possibility of electoral misfire, 4. encouragement of third-party candidates, 5. voter suppression concerns, 6. simplification of the electoral process, 7. reflecting the will of the people.

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