Soap Box:  Electoral College: Time for Change

October 19, 2004

A lot of people think of the United States of America as a Democracy, when in fact we are a Republic. Or to be more accurate, we function as a democracy in some matters and we function as a republic in others. The confusion is understandable. Although our pledge of allegiance clearly says "to the Republic", all we hear from our news sources is that we are a democracy. While some matters really are decided by the popular vote, most of our laws are decided by individuals we voted into office to represent us. There are pluses and minus to each system. For the most part, I believe our country has a healthy balance, with only a few exceptions every now and then (for example, so far the Republican party has been able to keep the citizens of North Carolina from voting on the lottery issue). But one thing that I for one would like to see changed as soon as possible is the way we elect the President of the United States. The system is out dated, no longer needed, and seems anti-democratic when we have results similar to those in the 2000 presidential election.

The president of the United States is chosen by the electoral college, not directly by the citizens' vote. This system was established over 200 years ago, in the year 1787, as compromise of a bitter dispute between the delegates at the Constitutional Convention. Some wanted Congress or the state legislatures to be the ones that selected the president, while others thought there should be a popular vote. A body of electors chosen by each of the states, was created as the compromise. Given the population, technology, and demographics at the time, it probably made sense. Part of the reasoning was that it was hard to govern beyond the "city limits". It would have been quite difficult to have a popular vote when you have get votes from the most remote locations of the young United States. There was also an elitist view, which I find quite distasteful. In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton basically said it was too complicated a matter for the general mass to decide on.

So over 200 years later, we still have the electoral college system of choosing the president. There are 538 Electoral College voters, one per senator and representative from each state. Washington D.C. has 3 votes. They all meet, usually in their respective state capitols, and vote for a president and vice president. Most states give the winner of that state's popular vote all of their electoral votes. Only Nebraska and Maine have provisions for splitting their electoral votes. Whoever gets 270 votes wins. Because of this system, you can have a situation where the electoral winner is not the popular vote winner. This is the main reason I think we should do away with the system because when it happens, it is anything but democratic.

I propose we do away with the electoral college system in its entirely. Every other election in our nation, from mayor to senator to governor, is based on a popular vote from the democratic method. The person with the most votes wins. What could be simpler, and more democratic? It's clear that the reasons needed for the electoral college system in the past, just don't exist in this day and time. We are an educated and informed general public. We have instant communications from coast to coast, border to border. There is no reason why we can't just let the popular vote determine who the president is going to be.

Some people against the idea of doing away with the electoral system counter that if we just went on the popular vote, the candidates would only campaign in and represent the larger cities. Well that's what they're doing now, but on a state level. How much campaigning do the candidates do in North Dakota? Wyoming? Alaska? Delaware? Or any of the other states that have a low number of electors? Absolutely none! Instead, you find them campaigning in California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and other states that have large numbers of electors. Their main goal is to win 270 electoral votes, so they're campaigning in the big states that matter. With a direct popular vote method, all those votes from the "little" states go into the pot of making the decision. They might still campaign in the states with the big cities, but that wouldn't matter, because without the electoral system, they can't win the entire state. You'd find them actually trying to represent the majority of Americans, which is what they should have been doing in the first place. And for those that can't stomach a complete democracy of majority rule, and popular vote for the presidency, we could have a compromise of splitting the electoral votes according to the popular vote of each state. The presidential candidate would get the same percentage of the electoral vote, as they got with the popular vote.

I think the time has come for a change. Before we have another fiasco like the 2000 election, we need to address and fix the problem. It's a shame and disgrace when the country that is the democratic leader of the world gets a president that was the SECOND choice of the American voters! It's time to put our money where our mouth is, and get rid of our antiquated and obsolete electoral college. And to demonstrate my thinking  might be in line with the majority of Americans, a "quick vote" Internet survey on CNN.com currently shows that 70% of those participating in the vote also think "it's time for a change".  28% thinks the current system works, but I can't help but think some of those might be George Bush supporters fearful of the same 2000 election results. 2% voted "don't know".

Jeff Polston


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