|Politics United States Thomas Jefferson
The election of the president of the United States is complicated because it involves competing for ballots at two levels – the popular vote and the Electoral College. The framers of the Constitution established the electoral college system because they could not trust the common citizens with the important decision of choosing the president due to widespread illiteracy among other concerns (Alexander 175). However, today so many things have changed Many people feel that the Electoral College has outlived most of its original purposes. Therefore, this electoral system should be abolished and replaced with a more direct process that fully empowers the people to decide who becomes president.
Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution outlines the process of choosing the president, and that forms the basis for the Electoral College (Dufour 4). The law allocates a number of electors to each state according to its representation in Congress. In most states, the person who wins the popular vote takes all the available elector's votes. However, Nebraska and Maine have come up with a method where a candidate gets one elector's vote for each of the congressional districts he or she leads in the popular vote. Both states have recorded a split of electoral votes once.
The electoral college system faces great criticism from the public not only for frustrating the popular will of the people but also for continually pushing the country into an atmosphere of crisis where the legislature has had to intervene on presidential elections. American Bar Association has in the past characterized the system as dangerous, indirect, ambiguous, complex, undemocratic, and archaic.
Originally, the constitution intended that the candidate who would be voted by the highest number of electors becomes president while the one that would come second would become the vice president. But this was changed after Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson tied in the 1800 presidential elections (West 2). The resulting acrimony led to the ratification of the 12th Amendment in 1804, requiring that the president and vice president come from different states and be voted separately (West 2). Over two centuries later, there has been little change in the Electoral College system, despite the law guaranteed the right to the popular vote to millions of Americans from whom it was withheld on the basis of age, gender and race.
The electoral college system guarantees the possibility that a few people will subvert the will of the people expressed through the ballot. America has conducted 45 presidential elections under this system and choice of the people has been frustrated on many occasions (Dufour 5). Four times, candidates that lost popular vote ended up being elected president. The House of Representatives has selected two presidents, the Senate has chosen one vice president, and the Congress has once appointed an electoral commission that elected a president by straight party vote. There have been 15 elections where the candidate who lost the popular vote would have become president if the national votes would have shifted by less than one per cent. In five other elections, the decision would have moved to Congress should the popular vote have had a minor shift (Dufour 5).
A number of elections under this system have barely survived being decided by Congress. In one instance Republican and Democratic electors voted against candidates nominated by their parties in the electoral college (Alexander 179). There has also been a case where were denied the opportunity to choose presidential candidates of a major party in two elections. All these events demonstrate the need to replace the electoral college system with a simpler and direct democratic process.
In addition, the system puts the country at serious risk of having a candidate that is not popular with the majority of citizens becoming a president. Donald Trump is the fourth president in American history to be elected after losing the popular vote. Others are George W. Bush, Benjamin Harrison, and John Quincy Adams (West 3).
The writers of the US constitution had many reasons for establishing the Electoral College. In Federalist Paper Number 68, Alexander Hamilton explains that the idea of the Electoral College was reached following negotiations in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia as a compromise between small and large states (West 1). Delegates in the convention were concerned that states with larger populations such as Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts would dominate presidential elections. Therefore, they created a system where each state would have votes in the Electoral College proportionate to the number of its House members and senators. The previous system disadvantaged large states because every state had two senators irrespective of its size. The latter arrangement helped large states because it distributed House membership according to the populations of states.
Besides, there was the question of whether the state and Congress legislatures should be involved in choosing the president. Those interested in the state's rights wanted it to be done in the state legislatures while those who supported a stronger national government preferred the Congress (Alexander 181). Eventually, they reached a compromise, setting up an independent body with members representing states, and gave it the power to choose who becomes the president. The delegates also wanted to avoid a majoritarian system. They worried that many Americans were uneducated and uninformed at the time. Therefore, they saw it better to form an institution of elites who would consider the front-runners in presidential elections and choose the most befitting candidate. They openly rejected a popular-vote presidency because they thought that voters lacked the capacity to wisely choose the head of state.
The key arguments that the framers of the constitution put forward to justify the system of Electoral College over majority vote do not make sense in the current American society. First, unlike their time, nothing makes the electors more fit to choose the president than the rest of the citizens because today the majority of Americans are educated and well informed.
Secondly, the political preferences of the citizens do not depend on the size of the states where they live, as the Electoral College system assumes. The framers of the constitution argued that it was fair for each state to have two as it gave minority states an additional electoral weight which ensured equal protection with the more populous ones. But the reality is that the relative size of a small or large state has little to do with the dominant concerns of its voters.
Thirdly, there is no clear explanation of how the Electoral College supports the fundamental value of federalism as its defenders claim. The argument that giving states autonomy in the choice of presidents strengthens the separation of federal and state governing authority does not reflect the reality. Instead, this would be achieved more adequately by having both houses of Congress elected at the state. Election of the president has little to do with promoting the spirit of federalism.
Furthermore, the current system waters down the legitimacy of the president, especially he or she is elected despite losing the popular vote. Leaving the business of presidential election to a small group of people increases the risk of people engaging in insider deals and making corrupt decisions. The electoral college has been accused of balloting irregularities that have eroded the confidence of the general public in the integrity of the presidential election process (Dufour 20). Because of the unfaithfulness of the electors, people have found reasons to doubt popular vote in some states.
Lastly, the Electoral College presents a fundamental threat to equality. American states are today characterized by significant geographical disparities and high-income inequalities, yet the electoral college system relatively overrepresents the position of states with smaller populations (West 4). The current structure of the electoral college gives each state two votes irrespective of the size of its population. In addition to this are usually votes matching the representation of the state in the House. This arrangement leads to overrepresentation of medium- and small-sized states and disadvantages the large ones.
There is no denying that the Electoral College has some advantages. It slightly advantages presidential candidates that command broad-based support spread across several states over those who sweep huge majorities in a few highly populated states. Through that, it probably encourages a rather national vision than a regional one (Alexander 184). The Electoral College also directs presidential election into a two-party system, guarding against a situation where fringe factions enjoy too much influence like in multiparty systems. It also narrows television advertising to the battleground states, and that is thought to be lowering the cost of campaigns for candidates. It turns, it spares the rest of the states of the wearisome repetitive campaign commercials. Lastly, in case of disputes in vote-counting, it limits the recount to just a few or even one state.
However, these advantages are relatively minor and uncertain. If Americans were asked to decide today, almost everyone would support the abolishment of the Electoral College. But many citizens believe that Electoral College reform is not among the most urgent national problems in the US. It cannot be changed easily because such legislation requires the support of three-quarters of state legislatures and two-thirds of the entire Congress.
A national popular vote would have many advantages over the electoral system that currently exists in the United States. First, no system would arguably affirm the dominant democratic value in US politics than a popular national vote, especially following the rulings on one-person, one-vote of the 1960s (Dufour 21). The popular vote system means that a vote has the same weight wherever it is cast. This is the mode of presidential election that fully cements the fundamental principle of equality of all.
Adopting a national popular vote will solve the “battleground state” issue, which has characterizes post-convention campaigning, alienating the rest of Americans from the most important phase of presidential elections. “Battlegrounds” and “swing states” are nothing but accidents of geography (Alexander 176). They do not have any other special civic characteristics besides their large populations. The states just happen to have competitive advantage by virtue of their demography and increasingly sophisticated political polling. A truly national election gives candidates and parties the incentive to consolidate their votes anywhere, promoting greater engagement across the entire population.
Moreover, many Americans think that allowing the Electoral College to elect a president who has lost popular national vote compromises legitimacy of the presidential authority. A national election system is the best way to end this problem and make the voice of the people to truly count. Administrations beaten in popular vote suffer from efforts to prove that their elections are suspicious. This is the perception that clouded the election of President Trump in 2016 (Dufour 15). The view is often reinforced by the influence of the blue- and red-state imagery on the electoral process. This situation will be mitigated with an electoral system ensuring that the candidate who wins presidential elections has a single nationwide constituency.
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