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Should the electoral college be abolished? Many people within the American electorate believe that they, themselves, vote for the president of the United States. Little do they know, the president is elected by one of the most undemocratic political institutions in this country – the Electoral College. Presidential elections are determined not by popular vote but by an electoral college in which, in all but a few states, electors are assigned on a winner-take-all basis. Representation in the Electoral College is based on population, which is assessed every ten years by the census. Each state receives a minimum of three electoral votes. Additional votes are assigned for each seat a state holds in Congress above that minimum. The Electoral College is the greatest threat to our democracy because it contradicts the very foundations of any democratic system if democracy means that the majority rules. The replacement of the Electoral College by a national popular vote would reduce the likelihood of contentious outcomes and transform the electoral process into one with democratic ideals.
Three characteristics of democracy can be identified of which are necessary for a democratic institution to persist. The first characteristic of a democracy, at the level of government, is a system in which the laws are essentially made by and governed by the same individuals. Our current system does allow for the first characteristic of democracy to persist because our nation is governed by the rule of law. The rule of law states that every person is subject to the law, including lawmakers, law enforcement officials, and judges. The rule of law separates our political system from a monarchy or an oligarchy in which the ruler or head of state is held above the law. The rule of law, however, can still fail to serve its intended function if there aren’t mechanisms to protect it from corruption. The founding fathers, when drafting the constitution, addressed this issue by employing the tactic of separation of powers to ensure that there was a system of checks and balances on every institution of the government.
The second characteristic essential for democracy’s existence is that, at the level of society, the political system must be characterized by equality. The tenet “One person, one vote” is fundamental in achieving political equality. With the establishment of the Electoral College, however, the path towards political equality is hindered because the idea of one person, one vote is suppressed. Firstly, there exists a different weighting of votes in different states, with less populous states receiving greater representation. According to the 2000 census, California’s population was 33,871,648, giving it fifty-five electoral votes, Wyoming, the least populous state, had only 493,782 residents, earning it three electoral votes. To sum it up, California gets one electoral vote per 615,848 residents; Wyoming receives one vote per 164,594 residents. That is nearly a 4:1 ratio in favor of Wyoming. The fact that an individual from one state can have four times the voting power as an individual from another state clearly proves that there is no political equality.
Secondly, within state congressional and legislative elections, the determination of district boundaries is another potential source of effectively distorted representation. There exists gerrymandered congressional and legislative districts within each state which directly affect the results of local precincts and, ultimately, the decision of the electors representing the entire state. Partisan and self-protective redistricting has led the outcomes of most seats to be largely predetermined: lines are frequently drawn to protect incumbents and/or to maximize the expected number of seats that the majority party will retain. Where the latter goal predominates, this typically leads to a small number of districts in which the opposition party has an overwhelming advantage, a larger number of districts in which the majority party has a smaller, but still “safe,” margin, and few if any districts that are truly competitive. In a homogeneous society governed by majority rule, every individual would have an equal voice in making decisions or laws. But as society becomes heterogeneous, members of minorities risk becoming consistently marginalized and effectively disenfranchised. Single-member first-past-the-post electoral systems such as the legislative elections in states can cause members of minority groups to be underrepresented.
Finally, at the level of the individual, democracy implies both self-efficacy and engagement. This is the third characteristic necessary for a democracy to exist. The Electoral College, however, fails to pass this specific litmus test. The chief executive of our country can be entirely decided by the swing states. Campaigning is reduced to these few selective states because the other states don’t have as significant an effect on influencing an election. In addition to the limited campaigning, if democracy is characterized by an autonomous citizenry in which citizens act as equals, then when significant numbers of citizens abstain or are denied the right to participate, government becomes less democratic. Many people abstain from elections because they believe that their vote doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things because a state’s electors, excluding swing states, will traditionally vote in a certain manner. Consequently, a democratic ideal can be described in which all citizens would exercise the voting franchise. While it is well known that this ideal is far from being achieved in the United States, it is less well known that this has long been the case: In the 1954 presidential election, only 63% of voting-age Americans went to the polls. Sixty years later, despite innumerable changes in media, culture, and politics, 55% of eligible-age voters participated in the 2004 presidential contest. Finally, the Electoral College doesn’t equate to self-efficacy and engagement because it doesn’t reflect the collective will of the nation’s citizens. Throughout this country’s history, five times the winner of the popular vote lost the presidential election, two of those times have been within our lifetime. This situation can more easily be comprehended through a different lens like a basketball game for example. If a basketball team were to score more points than the opposition and still end up losing the game, there would be an outrage. It’s a system that in no way reflects democracy.
Even though the Electoral College is an undemocratic institution, there are still many people who support its establishment within our political system. Many of these proponents of the Electoral College object that a national popular vote, the democratic alternative, would confine campaigning to the great metropolitan areas, to the exclusion of the heartland. Candidates and resources would flock to the great urban-suburban communities of the coasts and Great Lakes, leaving the smaller cities, towns, and rural areas of the great interior to wither in political isolation. It is quite evident, however, that this is exactly what’s occurring today in political campaigning: political candidates and resources are all concentrated in swing states. 94 percent of campaigning by the presidential candidates in 2016 took place in 12 States Since the Electoral College doesn’t favor a more nationalizing style of campaigning and doesn’t require candidates to assemble multistate and multiregional coalitions, why should campaigning be focused in swing states, of which typically have a smaller population, instead of focusing their political efforts on the largest, most concentrated communities. Candidates should have to campaign to a larger swath of people if our country expects to attain an educated electorate of which is essential in a democracy.
Many proponents of the Electoral College also mention the two-party system, which was an unintended consequence, to defend the established system. The proposed argument is that The United States has not been plagued by splinter parties and third parties, as have many European nations, which helps prevent gridlock between the branches of government and instead promotes bipartisan cooperation. The notion of gridlock stems from the idea that the present system requires a base of support sufficient to carry a majority in a few states in order to procure a modicum of electoral votes. Theoretically, this has discouraged parties that support one issue to take extreme ideological positions. The status quo, however, has proven that the two-party system does lead to gridlock instead of bipartisan cooperation. Excessive political conflict and gridlock are negative characteristics of the current polarized environment that need to be minimized or eliminated. In two-party systems, politicians in leftist parties will often be perceived as highly differentiated from politicians in right-wing parties. Yet, in multiparty systems, there is greater complexity and potential for confusion since there are often multiple parties on the left and/or right. The option for voters to select a candidate that most aligns with their political ideology and views is more prevalent in multiparty systems than in a two-party system. In a multiparty system, voters will have to choose from two ideologically polarized candidates increasing the polarization in congress thus creating gridlock instead of cooperation. Multiparty systems, similar to those prevalent in Europe are forced to work together to form a coalition of many different views. This increases the amount of cooperation within the many different parties. This cooperation has ultimately brought about social change and progress in certain sectors within our society that weren’t necessarily prevalent issues when the electoral college was established.
So should the electoral college be abolished? This essay proves it should. The vast majority of the electorate believes that the Electoral College is undemocratic and unrepresentative of American ideals. Approximately 62 percent of the people in this country, regardless of party, think the electoral college should be abolished and transitioned to one where the winner wins. The new system in which we choose to replace the electors or the Electoral College is what this country needs to come to a consensus on. Many different proposals have been brought to the table including a direct popular election plan, a proportional electoral plan, and a district electoral vote plan. One plan, in particular, has gained massive national attention as states have begun to individually adopt it: the automatic electoral vote plan. This plan would retain the electoral college but abolish the office of the elector. All of a state’s electoral votes would be cast for the winning candidate in that state. This would ensure that the presidency is won by the winner of the national popular vote. Regardless of any system adopted by our country in order to elect our president, it needs to be one that represents this country’s ideals of equality. It must be a system that adheres to democratic characteristics because this is the only type of system that respects political equality. It must not be the Electoral College because it is inherently undemocratic.
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