THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE- ITS TIME TO MOVE ON
The next President of the United States, the successor to William Jefferson Clinton and man who will lead America as the first President of the new millennium is George W. Bush, the Republican governor of Texas, the son of a former President. Or its Democratic Vice President Al Gore, President Clintons right hand man for the past eight years.
One of these gentlemen is the next leader of the free world.
Who that gentleman is will in all likelihood be determined by the Supreme Court. Which is probably not what our nations Founding Fathers had in mind when they designed the Presidential election process.
The 2000 Presidential Election has been nothing short of a fiasco on many levels. Historical in the sense that this has never happened in the United States before, but a fiasco, nonetheless. The popular vote shows Gore as winning the election, however, the popular vote does not determine the next tenant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Thats the job of the Electoral College. The winner of Floridas electoral votes, and apparently of the election was Bush. Bush had won Floridas 25 electoral votes. However, reports of voting irregularities, problems with the butterfly ballot and voters allegedly being turned away from the polls, raised concerns as to who the actual winner of the crucial Florida electoral votes was. The popular vote was so close that it required a recount, effectively taking the electoral votes, the election and the Presidency away from Bush.
The 2000 Presidential Election has done nothing if not raise serious questions about our election process. Lack of standardization in the voting process, methods of vote tabulation and the medias role in determining the outcome of an election have all come under scrutiny. The question raised most often, however, seems to be about the Electoral College, and its validity as part of the election process in the 21st Century.
Originally, in our nations infancy, the plan was to have Congress elect the President. Despite the fact that the President of the United States might feel indebted to Congress, coupled with the fact that the intricate system of checks and balances placed in the Constitution would be weakened by such a process, this system was the process of choice and received approval on four different occasions (Pierce 39).
There were those who did not agree with this method of choosing a President, and while many felt that the American Democracy was sufficiently mature enough to handle a direct vote, they also felt that the government was still shaky at best.
One of the biggest proponents of the direct vote was future President James Madison, who, despite his concerns over unfairness to the underpopulated southern states, felt that since one of the Presidents jobs was to guard the people from the legislature, he should be elected by the people he is guarding. (Pierce 41). It was generally believed, however, that the people were essentially misinformed and easily confused and misled. Despite being voted down on two separate occasions, the direct vote system did demonstrate the hazards of the legislature selecting the president. (Pierce 41)
Eventually, what developed was the Electoral College.
The idea behind the Electoral College was to have electors that could not be a member of Congress, vote for the President. The final plan, after two were voted down, was to have the electors selected by each state’s legislatures. It was agreed that each states electors would be the total of the states representatives and senators.( Electoral 256). The process for electing the President of the United States had been determined.(Pierce 44).
The states used three methods for choosing electors. The first was the legislative system, in which state legislatures chose the electors, the district system whereby electors were chosen by Congressional district and the general ticket, where the winner was determined by a popular vote throughout the state, the winner of which took all the electoral votes. (Glennon 13). 48 states presently use the general election system, with two states (Maine and Nebraska) still using the district system. The system utilizes the census results to determine the number of representatives each state is allowed. This total, plus the states two senators, equals the number of electors each state has. Washington, D.C., although not a state, has three electors. Basically, what is supposed to happen is that a direct vote in each state determines the winner, who the receives all of that states electoral votes.
The question is- is it a system thats still valid 200 years after its conception?
The electoral college was originally established because the designers felt that the general population was easily misinformed and misled, as well as a concern over the more populated states dominating the less populated ones. While those concerns may have been true at the time of the colleges inception, they are no longer valid today. The majority of states are smaller states, limiting the power of the larger states to force their will on the rest of the nation. With the plethora of news and information sources available today, the general population is no longer easily misinformed. Technological advances in communications have brought what was once a separated population closer together. The telephone, Internet, numerous television and radio news programs, newspapers and news magazines keep the public very well informed. The population is no longer as isolated as it was back when the college was developed. The people are better educated, better informed and perhaps not as willing to accept what they are told as readily as they were 200 years ago. Watergate and the more recent Clinton scandal have made the American citizen a bit more jaded and suspicious of politicians. A better informed public makes the need for an electoral college questionable, at best.
According to a New York Times article by Akhil Reed Amar, a direct election of the President would give state governments an incentive to encourage voter participation, the reasoning being that the more voters a state has, the more important its role in the election process. Amar maintains that this would force candidates to pay closer attention to the states with the highest turnouts. The way the system is presently, candidates focus their attention on those states carrying the most electoral votes, all but ignoring the other states. David Stout, New York Times columnist, argues that the Electoral College, in fact, benefits the smaller states, giving them a certain amout of power in relation to their population. Stout maintains that if the Electoral College were to be eliminated, candidates could conceivably choose to ignore the smaller states, and those areas of larger states with small populations in favor of those with greater populations. This is, however, the way things appear to be done now. Candidates may make token appearences in smaller or sparsly populated states, but they concentrate on the places with the most to offer by way of electoral votes. The rational might change, but the action would be the same. Candidates would concentrate their campaign efforts on the places where they have the most to gain. Period. They always have and they always will.
While it would require a Constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College, perhaps it is time to do just that. The Founding Fathers of the United States created our Constitution to be a flexible document, with the idea that it should be able to adapt to meet changing circumstances and times. They created the college to protect a still shaky government and nation. The United States and its people have proven that they are no longer in need of such protection.
Its time to give the election of the President of the United States back to the people.
Electoral College. Congressional Digest Oct 1992: 226,256.
Glennon, Michael J. When No Majority Rules. Washington: Congressional Quarterly mc, 1992.
Peirce, Neal R. The Peoples President. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968.
The Electoral College, Unfair from Day One- Akhil Reed Amar, New York Times, November 9, 2000
How to make the President talk to the Local Pol, Charles Fried, New Yoork Times, November 11, 2000
How the Winner of the Popular Vote Could Lose the Election After All, David Stout, New York Times,
November 3, 2000