Established in Article II Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, the Electoral College is the formal body that elects the President and vice president of the United States. When people cast their vote, they vote for a group of electors. The number of electors each state get equals the total number of senators and representatives in congress. A total number of 538 electors form the Electoral College. Each elector casts one vote following the general election. Each elector casts one vote. A candidate must receive a minimum of 270 votes to become a president or vice president. Suppose any candidate fails to attain the minimum number of votes. In that case, the house itself selects the President or vice president from among the three individuals who receive the most electoral votes. Electoral College is a process and not a place. The founding fathers established it in the Constitution, in part as a compromise between the election of the President by a vote in congress and the election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens.
The Electoral College process consists of selecting the electors, the meeting of the electors where they vote for President and Vice President, and the counting of the electoral votes by congress. An Electoral College is a set of electors selected to elect a candidate to particular offices. Often these represent different organizations, political parties or entities. There are various other countries apart from the United States that follow this Electoral College procedure, namely, India, Pakistan, and so on. There have been various benefits of this system and procedure as it made the work easier, faster and smoother. An Electoral College can be more clearly explained with one of the finest examples of the United States Electoral College, which is a system in which an executive president is indirectly elected, with electors representing the 50 states and the district of California.
There are various advantages and disadvantages of this Electoral College, which are discussed as follows:-
- Electoral College can be regarded as a historical tradition.
- President can be determined on the first ballot.
- The election outcome will be known after just one day.
- Also, areas with low population density still have a specific influence.
- Candidates don’t have to make efforts in states already lost.
- Can avoid the fragmentation of the political system.
- Preferences of smaller states are taken seriously.
- Necessity for recounts would be more likely in a popular vote system.
- It makes it harder for populists to enter the political landscape.
- This May reduce the overall costs of an election.
- Bigger influence of minorities.
- The concept of the Electoral College may lead to social tensions.
- General public is used to this concept.
- Established processes around the Electoral College.
A few of them are explained further in detail:-
Electoral College can be regarded as a historical tradition- A critical argument for the Electoral College is its pretty long tradition. The concept of the Electoral College has already been introduced when the United States was founded. Therefore, it was the will of the founding fathers that the election processes in this country should be done in that manner. Hence, in respect of the United States’ founding fathers, proponents of the Electoral College often claim that this political construct should be maintained.
President can be determined on the first ballot- Another benefit of the Electoral College is that the President can usually be determined on the first ballot of an election. If there were many different parties, the chances are that there would be no party that reaches over 50% of all voters, and therefore, second ballots would become necessary. Those second ballots can lead to severe additional costs and are quite time-consuming. Therefore, the Electoral College concept can help avoid those second ballots and avoid the significant costs related to those second ballots. In turn, the money saved in elections can be spent on other vital projects that could benefit the general public.
The election outcome will be known after just one day- Since the concept of the Electoral College is relatively straightforward, it will also not take too long to determine the election outcome. The election outcome will often be known the day after the election has taken place, and the general public will know who will be the next President quite soon. In contrast, with a popular vote scheme instead of the Electoral College, it could take much longer, and second ballots will also become much more likely, which in turn will also imply longer election processes. It will also take longer on average to determine who will become President.
Preferences of smaller states are taken seriously- Another upside of the Electoral College is that the preferences of smaller states are taken quite seriously by candidates since the people in those states can often make a significant difference in the overall election outcome. In contrast, this would not be the case with popular voting schemes instead of the Electoral College since regions with a low population density would have far less power. Therefore, the preferences of those people would often be neglected by candidates. Hence, the Electoral College is also significant for people in regions with low population density. Their wishes and preferences will be taken much more seriously than in a state where the popular vote concept was in place.
Makes it more challenging for populists to enter the political landscape- Since the Electoral College implies a significant barrier to entry for other parties to enter the political landscape, it can also be an excellent tool to prevent populist and extremist parties to get political power. History has shown that extremism and populism in politics have never been a good thing and that those concepts can lead to adverse severe political outcomes. Thus, to avoid the rise of those radical movements, the Electoral College may also be preferred over the popular voting scheme.
May reduce the overall costs of an election- The Electoral College can also be considered more cost-efficient than the popular vote concept. There is often the need for second ballots in countries where the popular vote concept is in place. However, those second ballots imply high costs since the votes must be counted a second time. Moreover, people also have to spend time voting a second time, which can also be considered a high social cost for our society. Hence, also in terms of an overall costs perspective, the concept of the Electoral College can make quite a lot of sense.
The enormous influence of minorities:
Another benefit of the Electoral College is that it gives minorities a more considerable influence regarding the outcomes of elections. While those minorities would have little to no voting power in popular vote systems, those minorities will have a much bigger power with the system of Electoral College, especially if many people of these minorities live in the same state. Therefore, the position of minorities may be strengthened with Electoral College to a certain extent, which can be crucial to give those minorities the feeling that they can make a difference in the political landscape.
- Presidents don’t need the majority of votes to win an election.
- Historical construct that may no longer be suitable today.
- Too much focus on swing states.
- The concept of the Electoral College can be considered to be unfair.
- Some voters have greater weight than others.
- Flawed promises for voters in swing states.
- Ongoing discussion regarding how many electors each state should have.
- Preferences of the majority of the general public may not be represented.
- People in some territories are not allowed to vote.
- Low voter turnout.
- People may get the feeling that their votes don’t matter.
- Electors could vote for the wrong party.
- Huge barrier to entry for other political parties.
- The concept of the Electoral College may lead to social tensions.
A few of the disadvantages are further discussed in detail:-
Presidents don’t need the majority of votes to win an election- Apart from the numerous crucial advantages of the Electoral College, there are also many problems. One disadvantage of the Electoral College is that a candidate can become President without getting the majority of all votes. This is the case if a candidate wins many states relatively closely since if they win a state, they win all the electors in the respective state. However, if a candidate becomes President without getting the majority of votes, this can be considered quite problematic and may not be accepted by the general public.
Historical construct that may no longer be suitable today- The Electoral College system can also be considered a historical construct that initially made sense when introduced. However, in our nowadays society, it may not make too much sense anymore, and sustaining systems solely due to their historical value may not be justifiable at all. Therefore, opponents of the Electoral College scheme often claim that this concept is obsolete and that the U.S. should switch to a popular vote scheme instead.
Too much focus on swing states- Another problem of the Electoral College is that candidates may excessively focus on swing states to win elections. Large amounts of money are often spent in these swing states to win essential votes in those regions, while other states that cannot be won are neglected quite a lot. Even though this may make sense for political candidates, it is not beneficial for the general public since many people will get a somewhat biased view of the political landscape. Many people will also not get informed properly if the focus of political candidates lies too much on swing states.
The Electoral College concept can be considered unfair- Opponents of the Electoral College system also often claim that this system is quite unfair. Suppose a candidate can become President without getting the majority of all votes. In that case, this can be considered somewhat dodgy since the will of the general public will be neglected. Many people may not accept their President at all and may even start protests to show that they do not have respect for the political system anymore.
Some voters have greater weight than others- The concept of the Electoral College also implies that the votes of some people will have a more considerable influence on election outcomes than the votes of others. For instance, in the current Electoral College system, people in rural areas with low population density will have a higher impact on elections outcome than people who live in densely populated regions. This is due to the fact that the ratio between electors and the number of people in the general public is higher in regions with low population density. Therefore, the influence of every single individual on election outcomes is higher on average.
Flawed promises for voters in swing states- The current Electoral College scheme also gives politicians the incentive to make flawed promises to the general public in swing states. Quite often, candidates promise those people in swing states quite a lot and pretend that they will significantly improve the living conditions of the general public in those regions. However, after the elections, candidates will forget about those promises quite soon. Hence, the general public in swing states will often get manipulated by promises of candidates, which they will often not keep after they finally get elected.
Well, now coming to the topic, should the electoral college be abolished or not is an important thing to be discussed, so to summarise and clarify the statement, the debate begins as follow:-
Electoral College Debate:
Today, many people believe the Electoral College should be abolished and replaced with a national popular vote. Opponents argue that the Electoral College is outdated and causes candidates to ignore voters from the vast majority of states. They also believe it is unacceptable that a president could win the Electoral College but not the popular vote. Other people support the Electoral College because it forces candidates to cultivate a geographically diverse voter base and could strengthen the presidential mandate. Additionally, they argue that the Electoral College would be complicated and time-consuming to replace.
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Arguments against the Electoral College:
Many opponents of the Electoral College argue that the reasons it was created are no longer relevant. For example, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention established the Electoral College partly because they did not think ordinary Americans would have access to adequate information about the candidates. They worried citizens would default to voting for candidates from their home state. Mass communication, the Internet, and modern travel mean this is no longer a concern: Americans can now quickly educate themselves about their race. The Electoral College was also established as a concession to Southern delegates, who pushed for a system that would allow them to exploit the ⅗ Compromise and use their enslaved populations to gain more representation. Slavery was outlawed over a century ago, making this no longer relevant. Opponents of the Electoral College also argue that candidates have no incentive to listen to voters in solidly Republican or Democratic states under the current system. If a state always votes Democrat, a Republican candidate has no reason to campaign there because she knows she will not get any electoral votes from that state. If a state always votes Republican, the candidate can be confident she will get that state’s electoral votes without much campaigning. That candidate’s time is better spent working for electoral votes from swing states, which could go either way. This can also affect voter turnout; if voters in solidly red or blue states don’t think their vote matters, they may be less likely to engage in the political process.
Additionally, many opponents disagree with a system where an individual could win the Electoral College but lose the popular vote, which has happened five times. They argue that this system undermines the people’s will and weakens a president’s mandate to rule.
Arguments in Favour of the Electoral College:
On the other hand, many people do still believe the Electoral College is the best system for electing the President. Proponents of the system argue that it forces candidates to appeal to the nation as a whole. They contend that under the Electoral College, candidates cannot ignore the concerns of rural voters and rely only on highly-populated urban areas for all their support. Candidates must actively work to expand their platforms to appeal to a geographically diverse voter base. Proponents also argue that the Electoral College creates a stronger mandate for the presidency by reaffirming the President’s win. A popular vote could weaken the presidential mandate because the winning candidate may acquire only a plurality, but not a majority, of the votes.
Additionally, supporters of the Electoral College believe it is an effective system that would be unnecessarily difficult and time-consuming to replace. They argue that since the Electoral College almost always echoes the result of the popular vote, it is not worth the time and effort to pass the constitutional amendment that would be necessary to change the system completely. They also express concerns about the logistics of a national popular vote. Nationwide recounts in the case of a close election, for instance, would be a massive undertaking.
The Debate Today:
Despite the difficulties it poses, the idea of abolishing and replacing the Electoral College is gaining steam. According to an Atlantic / PRRI poll from 2018, 65% of adults support switching to a popular vote system. Additionally, several Democratic candidates in the 2020 primary expressed support for abolishing the current system. However, the chances of entirely changing the system in the near future are slim. Doing so would necessitate a constitutional amendment, which requires support from ⅔ of the House of Representatives, ⅔ of the Senate, and ¾ of the states. This widespread, bipartisan support is unlikely to materialize shortly. Recently, several states have adopted a plan that would effectively eliminate the Electoral College without an amendment. Sixteen states plus D.C. have joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, through which they have pledged to commit their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote regardless of who wins in their state. Currently, states in the pact claim a total of 196 electoral votes. The pact will occur once states with 74 more electoral votes enact it. At this point, at least 270 electors will have pledged to support the candidate who wins the popular vote, making that candidate president. This method does not technically eliminate the Electoral College; it just modifies how states assign their electoral votes. In the coming years and elections, this debate will continue to evolve. It will likely have significant effects on how our voting system, government, and democracy function.