Term Paper: Electoral College: Should the U

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[. . .] In that case, the House would choose the President, which most Americans would argue against. It is impossible to know how the representatives would vote, but it seems that the selection of the president would be controlled by whichever party controls the House of Representatives. This is not a major weakness of the Electoral College.

According to Grigg (2001): "The House represents the people; the Senate was originally elected by the state legislatures, to represent the interests of the various states. The Electoral College -- composed of officials chosen by the states in a number equivalent to their respective congressional delegations -- was intended to be a limited-term legislative body that would select a chief executive. This system would preserve elements of representation found in both the House and the Senate, while also preserving the powers of the separate states. Just as importantly, through the Electoral College the process of selecting a president was controlled by the states, rather than by the remote central government, which would always seek to enlarge its powers at the expense of the states. This same arrangement that would protect the states from federal encroachment was also intended to frustrate the emergence of a democratic executive despotism."

Many consider the Electoral College an obsolete relic of the early days of our Constitution (Ross, 2001). However, it can be argued that the College still meets many of the nation's existing needs. It is important to remember that the role of the president is to lead all the people of the United States, not just to lead the voters or even all the citizens. Congressional representation and electoral votes are apportioned to the states by population, counting all inhabitants, rather than just citizens, adults, or registered voters. As a result, the Electoral College ensures that even those who do not vote are represented in the election.

For example, in the 2000 election, Washington state had nearly 2,408,000 ballots cast for President out of a total population of more than 5,908,000 (Ross, 2001). Wisconsin had a greater total of more than 2,574,000 ballots cast out of a smaller population of less than 5,372,000. Both states had 11 electoral votes, which equalized their representation in the election and prevented the greater turnout (both proportionally and in absolute numbers) in Wisconsin from discounting the population of Washington. It is likely that, during a presidential election, fiercely contested local and state issues -- ballot propositions, election of a governor or senator -- in one state could result in a very large voter turn-out while a lack of ballot controversy in another state could prevent a large turn-out. The Electoral College prevents the local issues in the former state from controlling the presidential election.

The Electoral College also serves to limit disputes (Ross, 2001). The unfortunate event in Florida could have become a nation-wide constitutional crisis if the close popular vote were all that stood between the candidates and the presidency. The margin of Gore's plurality over Bush was less than 0.33% of the votes cast -- less than 338,000 votes. If a nation-wide recount were demanded, it could have taken a very long time. While votes were questioned elsewhere, the Electoral College limited the scope of dispute to a single state. In the presidential election of 1876 -- Tilden vs. Hayes -- a dispute that could have caused a civil war was limited by the operation of the Electoral College to the states of Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina.

Conclusion

In recent years, with each passing presidential election, arguments to abolish the Electoral College arise (Ross, 2001). In many cases, this happens when a serious third candidate stands to win at least one state and throw a close election into the House of Representatives because neither of the two leading candidates wins a majority of the electoral votes.

With the election of 2000, however, the calls for abolition reached a peak, mainly due to outcries from the Democratic Party (Ross, 2001). The Democratic candidate, Al Gore, received the most popular votes yet lost in the Electoral College to the Republican candidate, George W. Bush. When the results of the 2000 census were published, it became clear that states supporting Gore lost a net of 10 seats in Congress, which would mean a loss of 10 electoral votes if the presidential election in 2004 repeated the results of 2000. Such a repeat election would therefore favor Bush even more than the latest election.

The Electoral College is a major part of the democratic process and is one that calls for reform. According to UVCGS (2001): "Though many think of it as nothing more than an election-night anachronism, it has survived numerous controversial and close elections, as well as a number of attempts to alter or discard it. Having apparently endured the 2000 elections intact, there is nothing to suggest this institution faces any jeopardy in the near future. However, as reform proposals are tossed around and as future circumstances may further challenge the College, lawmakers should avoid drastic change without intelligently considering the long-term consequences."

Despite the Electoral College's importance and validity, it can definitely be argued that there is room for improvement (Ross, 2001). One reform that could be made would be to eliminate the "winner take all" result in each state, like Nebraska and Maine did. Currently, in those two states, the state-wide result determines two of the electoral votes (the two attributed to senators); the result in each congressional district determines the remainder of the electoral votes.

One important feature of this plan is that it might be implemented without having to amend the Constitution (Ross, 2001). Therefore, instead of eliminating the Electoral College, it would enhance the benefits of the College. For instance, it would equalize voter strength. In the case of the 2000 election, elimination of the "winner take all" policy would have given representation to those Florida voters who voted for Gore and to those California voters who voted for Bush. A large turn-out in a state with a controversial local issue would not outweigh the voters in another state without a major issue.

In addition, disputes would be even more limited. In Florida, recounts and lawsuits would have been limited to those districts in which the votes for Gore and Bush were marginal. Districts with a clear winner in that state would have been excluded.

There are many reasons for supporting reforms of the present electoral system that are intended to restore the original function of the Electoral College (Grigg, 2001). For instance, some constitutional scholars believe that electors should be chosen by congressional districts, with two electors-at-large selected by the state legislatures, as senators originally were. This would break up the "winner-take-all" system and encourage greater independence on the part of electors. However, any reforms of this type must be pursued by the states, rather than being imposed upon them by the federal government.

Bibliography

Grigg, W. (January 1, 2001). Save the Electoral College! The New American, Vol. 17, No. 1.

Ross, David. (2001). The Electoral College: Abolish It, Reform It, or Leave It Alone?

Schwarz, F. (March, 2001). How It Got that Way and Why We're Stuck With It.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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