Should we keep the Electoral College?

Tonight at dinner my wife asked me to explain the Electoral College and how it works, so I thought I would post the explanation here on the blog as well. If you know all about the Electoral College, read on and see if I’ve made any mistakes. If you have no clue on how it works, you may find this interesting. If you could care less, then perhaps you will enjoy this Abbott and Costello routine on baseball.

When people go to the polls to vote for president, they are actually casting votes for “electors”. After the popular vote is cast, the electors meet to cast their votes for president and the votes are counted by Congress.

Each state has as many electors as they do members of their congressional delegation. One vote for each Congressman, plus one for each Senator. The rules on how they vote can vary depending on the state. Most states are winner take all when it comes to their votes. Maine and Nebraska split theirs based on the proportion of the vote.

The meeting of the electors takes place on the first Monday, following the second Wednesday in December. The votes are then counted during a joint session of Congress on the 6th of January. The Vice President, as president of the Senate, presides over the vote and announced the results.

Electors are selected either by the political parties in a state or by the state legislators. While the Constitution does not require electors to vote for the winner of the popular vote in their states, it is rare when they do not. Most states have requirements for electors to vote for the popular vote winners.

Many have wanted to replace the Electoral College, calling the process antiquated. In fact, there have been more proposed amendments to abolish or change the Electoral College process than any other issue in American history.

There have been four presidents elected to office who lost the popular vote. In 1824 John Quincy Adams lost to Andrew Jackson, but was elected by the House of Representatives when the Electoral College ended in a tie. Rutherford B. Hayes lost the popular vote to Samuel J. Tilden in 1876, Benjamin Harris lost the popular vote to Grover Cleveland in 1888 and George Bush lost to Al Gore in 2000.

I would like to see a change in the Electoral College. Modern technology makes counting the votes fast and fairly accurate. I would be in favor of keeping the system in place if every state did as Maine and Nebraska and cast the electoral votes based on the proportional vote totals. The system was championed by James Madison as a way to protect from different factions gaining too much power. I think the system of checks and balances in the system make this a real non issue. What do you think?

6 thoughts on “Should we keep the Electoral College?

  1. Tom McNeil

    Ditch the electoral college.
    There is a movement in several states to pass a law that does an end run around the electoral college. The law says that all the votes of that state go to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of how the people in the state voted. Furthermore, the law does not take effect until enough states have passed the law to ensure that the winner of the popular vote would win the electoral college. i.e. The law does not kick in until 270 electoral votes worth of states have passed such a law. IIRC, several states have already passed such a law.

    Also, I am very leery of electronic voting. While the technology to count the votes electronically is not complex, it would be far too easy to cheat with electronic votes.
    I think a better system would be for everyone to vote by traditional mail, where all the votes were counted in one place by one very closely watched group.

  2. From time voting began there has been ballot stuffing. With modern technology, as long as each voting machine is a closed system, I’d like to think we can create an electronic voting system which is at least as safe as paper ballots. Then again, I would like to think we can have world peace and end hunger around the globe. But we can both agree on ending the Electoral College.

  3. Tom McNeil

    That’s why I like the vote by mail idea.
    If everyone voted by mail, and all the votes were returned to a central counting location, in the same standard envelope, with a postal stamp on it, and if all the ballots were printed on some type of secure paper (like we do with money) it makes ballot stuffing slightly more difficult than counterfeiting.
    Voting by mail also eliminates lots of other problems with access to the polls, since, by it’s very nature, voting by mail implies early voting.

  4. The Electoral College has its purpose. We are a nation of states. Independent nations within a larger one. That is why the state has powers that the Federal Government does not. As a citizen. You vote to see which way your state is going. Individual States also decide how they are going to take that vote. If you have a problem with that, then your problem is not with the Electoral College, but instead with your local leaders. Those leaders you and your neighbors chose. The Federal Level only has so much say at the state level. That is why even during a natural disaster, and recovery, officials from the Federal Level can’t even enter the area without local approval. FBI, US Marshals, & even the EPA can be thrown out of a county by a lone Sheriff, and even the state if the governor backs him up. State independence from the Federal level was questioned once before, and it did not end well. 10th Amendment is a tricky subject.

  5. Tom McNeil

    So the purpose of the electoral college is to make my vote not count because I live in the wrong state? I don’t see the good in that.

  6. Michael, I’m a big proponent of states rights. I think most problems are local and the states know more about what is going on in their back yard than Uncle Sam can ever know. But when it comes to electing a president, every vote should count equally. When a candidate wins the popular vote, but loses the Electoral College, it says there are votes which count less than others. I think if we have the means to make every vote count equally, we should do so.

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