There are many issues surrounding voting rights. We will explore them here.
The history of the Electoral College and why it is irrelevant
“Abolish the Electoral College” can be seen below.
“Keep the Electoral College” is also listed below
At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the question of how the president should be elected was a hot topic on the minds of the founding fathers. James Wilson from Pennsylvanian moved to elect the president by a direct popular vote. James Madison from Virginia opposed, objecting that the North had a larger population that would dominate the South in every presidential election.
Madison proposed a plan that would allow the Southern slave-holding states to count their enormous slave population towards the vote for president. The constitutional convention had already agreed to give the slave-holding states more representatives in the House of Representatives with the 3/5ths clause, counting every 3 out of 5 slaves in order to determine the number of representatives allocated to each state.
Madison’s plan effectively created the Electoral College, an electoral system in which each state would be given a number of electors equal to the total of their senators and representatives. If the presidential election was conducted through the popular vote, slaves, not being able to vote, would have no impact on the election. With Madison’s artificially created gimmick, the slave states would have some 60 more votes in the Electoral College.
The Constitution does not actually use the phrase “Electoral College”. Instead, it says that each state shall appoint electors “equal to the number of representatives in Congress, including two senators“. The system, however, is unfairly skewed to favor the smallest states.
California with 40 million people has 2 senators. The 21 smallest states in the Union have 40 million people and 42 senators, hence 40 more electoral votes than California. California has one senator for every 20 million people, while the 21 smallest states have one senator for just under 500.000 people.
In the last election, Florida voters cast 9.165.556 votes for president. With 29 electoral votes, they had 1 electoral vote for every 316.000 votes cast. Alaska voters cast 246.588 votes and with 3 electoral votes, they had 1 electoral vote for every 82.999 votes cast. Every vote cast in Alaska had nearly 4 times the power of a vote cast in Florida with the Electoral College.
On the national level with 133 million voters casting ballots and 538 electoral votes, each electoral vote should represent some 250.000 voters in a perfect world. But the 7 smallest states and the District of Columbia all have 1 electoral vote for less than 100.000 votes cast.
Once slavery was abolished and ex-slaves were made citizens and given the right to vote, the Electoral College served no purpose. It is the last vintage of slavery that we still use in the constitution and needs to be declared null and void or removed.
It became a non-issue for a long time because it did not rear its ugly head until 1888 when Benjamin Harrison was selected over Grover Cleveland or in 2000 when George W. Bush became president despite losing the popular vote by 540.000 votes. It struck again in 2016 when the Electoral College met and named Donald Trump president, who had 7.4 million fewer votes than all his opponents had combined. His largest opponent had nearly 3 million more votes.
It is the only election in the world that does not determine the winner by popular vote. We need to make every vote count the same, whether in Two-Egg, Florida, or New York City.
I am a retired teacher, taught in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Florida. Consider myself well versed in history of the 2nd amendment, Electoral College, and the national debt. In retirement, I try to make my contribution to society by working to elect politicians that work to for the greater good of all.
Abolish the Electoral College
This piece was adapted from a speech delivered at the 2018 HBCU National Debate Competition.
You are at someone’s house for a party. The host is walking around from person to person handing out ballots. She wants to order enough pizza for the entire group, but she can only choose between two options: cheese, or anchovies. The results are tallied, and around 4 out of 5 of every guest, let’s say 78%, voted for cheese, while the rest ask for anchovies.
At this point, it seems obvious that cheese should win out. But your host decides that each guest’s positioning in the room should impact their voting power. After performing some calculations, she announces that “anchovies” is actually the winner! You think to yourself, “this is completely misrepresentative of the group interest!” And while this story sounds absurd, it is analogous to the way that we elect our President of the United States.
Ah, the Electoral College. Only in America does it make sense to allow largely unknown party members and former politicians to decide who becomes president. The electoral college disenfranchises voters, threatens democratic values, and has proven itself irrelevant this day in age. As a country, we have already endured five separate occasions when this system has misrepresented the interests of the public. All elections have consequences, and the electoral college exponentially increases the potential of lasting damage to our country.
We need to abolish it.
It might be helpful to start by explaining how the Electoral College works. States are allocated a number of electors based on their populations. The electors make the final decision on who is to become President around a month after the popular election. A candidate must reach over 270 votes in order to win, otherwise, the decision is made by the House and Senate. The Electoral College effectively forms a buffer between the popular vote and the outcome of the Presidential election.
In order to understand why this system was created, we have to place ourselves in the shoes of the founding fathers. During the time when our country was being created, most of the population lacked formal education and did not possess the resources to thoroughly vet their Presidential candidates. As such, the founders believed there needed to be a fail-safe to ensure the election of a competent candidate should someone unfit be elected by the popular vote.
Hamilton said in Federalist 68 “that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station.” The true purpose of the Electoral College was to limit the voting power of the general population.
But if the founders’ original intention was to leave the final choice to the electors, then the system has gloriously failed. Today, 29 states and the District of Columbia have laws in place that force electors to vote according to the outcome of the popular vote (Fairvote). Additionally, the identities of electors are available online, so the stakes are higher for those who choose to change their votes.
It’s the reason why in a year like 2016, despite having a very controversial President-elect and strong suspicion of meddling by the Russian government, only 7 out of 538 electors changed their votes (Boccagno). If the founders intended the Electoral College to prevent unqualified demagogues from entering into office, then it has not lived up to its promise.
You may be thinking right now: if electors don’t change their votes, why not simply allow the Electoral College to remain as an extension of the popular vote? But the problem is that the system is designed to disenfranchise voters in large states. A little known-provision of the Electoral College dictates that if a small state does not have enough population to reach 3 votes, electors are transferred from the larger to the smaller states to compensate (Grey). The result is that a voter in Wyoming has 4 times as much voting power as one in California.
That’s insane! Why is it fair that someone’s vote for President should count more than another’s simply based on where they live?
We made up a nice-sounding reason for why this system should exist: “to give the smaller states power”. But let me be clear: states do not vote. Individuals vote. The Electoral College does not bequeath state governments any sort of power or privilege, but rather creates a structural inequality between individuals in different states. In fact, by winning the popular votes of smallest states in the union, it is mathematically possible to win a majority in the Electoral College with only 22% of the entire country’s popular vote (Grey). Is that representative of our collective interests?
This is not how democracy is supposed to work. Democracy says that because I am a citizen of this country, I deserve an equal say in who our elected leaders are. The Electoral College, on the other hand, says that my vote shouldn’t count as much. Additionally, the Electoral College discourages voting for constituents in the political minority. If you are a Republican in California or a Democrat in Kentucky, why would you bother coming out to vote?
It’s the reason why countries that use the popular vote like Finland and South Korea consistently have higher voter turnout than we do (Desilver). Voters in those countries can be assured that their votes will always be counted in the total. We never have that guarantee.
Many proponents of the Electoral College will argue that if we used the popular vote, candidates would only visit the largest states and cities to win. This idea makes sense in our heads, but the math just doesn’t add up. If we add the populations of the nation’s 100 largest cities, we only reach 19% of the U.S. population, certainly not enough to win the popular vote (Grey).
And while we do reach over 50% of the population with the 10 largest states, those states hardly vote uniformly in elections: among that list is Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio, swing states in almost every recent election (Wikipedia). I performed some mathematical calculations of my own- by multiplying each state’s average lean for President since 2000 by their population, I found that even if every single person voted in the Presidential election, a candidate would need to focus on the top 35 most populated states to break 45% of the popular vote.
Given that 94% of campaign events took place in just 12 states last year, that is a monumental difference in how much attention that citizens will receive from candidates under a popular vote system.
And here’s the larger point: the way elections are conducted now, candidates run their campaigns based on the needs of particular swing states. If the election was done by popular vote, then candidates would be forced to run a national campaign that focused on the entirety of our country.
Candidates, at the moment, have no incentive to visit voters in “safe states” where the majority will vote for them. But now, the 33% Republicans in California will be heard; the 38% Democrats in Alaska; the 21.5% of third-party voters in Utah will have their voice. These are real people who deserve their vote to be counted in the total.
There is no reason to remain with the Electoral College: it has failed in its purpose, and it is failing our democracy now. Removing it and moving to a straight popular vote for President will encourage voter participation, move us closer to true Democracy, and most importantly, put the right person who will represent the majority of our interests in office. It’s simple; it’s democratic, and it’s one step closer to equality for us all.
Colin is a rising junior at Temple University in Philadelphia studying journalism, economics, and jazz. He is the editor at Smerconish.com and also contributes essays on a variety of political issues.
Keep the Electoral College
Our fearless editor at Smerconish.com, Colin Evans, cogently argues to abolish the Electoral College. Give me the other side of that debate.
In short, Colin wants to see the President elected by direct nationwide popular vote, you know, the way they do in Russia. I’m here to defend the U.S. of A.
On one point, I agree completely with Comrade Colin (dumb joke, I know). The living-flesh structure of the electoral college- actual people casting actual ballots- doesn’t make any sense. It’s undemocratic, and the prospect of Faithless Electors makes it unwieldy.
But I support each state’s winner-take-all electoral votes magically being awarded to the candidate that wins the most citizens’ votes. (As an aside, Maine and Nebraska do not do winner-take-all, and if a state wants to go that way, I’m fine with that too.)
One pillar of Colin’s argument is that the formula for apportioning electoral college votes (EC Votes = House Seats + Senate Seats) ensures that even the smallest states get three votes— disproportionately many, because while the House is pretty well weighted by population, every state gets two Senate seats, no matter its size.
He’s correct, of course: citizens’ votes in less-populous states carry more weight per ballot cast than citizens’ votes in states with lots of people. And that’s fine by me.
The name of the country is the United States—not the United People. As the country was being built, would-be less populous states had to be convinced they weren’t just being swallowed up. These potential states were offered three main Constitutional protections to avoid being swamped by the Tyranny of the [Population] Majority:
In return, small states have to live with the by-population House of Representatives, from which all revenue bills must originate.
Seems like a decent trade. It’s very much better than the other system I’ve seen.
I grew up in Canada, which uses the UK model. Such Parliamentary Democracies have a serious structural issue—little separation of powers. Since the Prime Minister is usually unchecked, it stinks when he’s also mentally unbalanced.
But Parliamentary Democracies also have a governance issue: with seats assigned by population, areas of the country with more people regularly benefit at the expense of underpopulated areas.
With the Senate mostly ceremonial, Canada’s House is where all the action is—and of 338 seats, 199 are in either Ontario or Quebec. Small provinces spend every four-year legislative cycle fighting for table scraps and are given little thought at election time. This stirs up secessionist sentiment, be it in parts of Canada, or Scotland’s 2014 referendum re: leaving the UK (45% voted to secede).
Which brings me to Colin’s other point: he writes that in the last Presidential campaign, 94% of campaign events took place in only 12 states. Swing states, of course. States thought to be safely in one column or the other were largely ignored.
That’s no good, I agree, but I don’t see how a direct popular vote mechanism changes anything. Instead of going to swing states, which can be different states from cycle to cycle, candidates will just go to and stay in the largest media markets forever. New Hampshire, with only 750,000 voters, will see two dozen candidates in February for primaries, then never stand a chance of seeing any of them again—a campaign day in greater LA can reach ten times as many people. America’s 34 largest markets make up half her population.
Where Colin and I might have common ground –and where his idea is likely to at least partially succeed because no constitutional amendment is required—is in supporting electoral college vote distributional change state-by-state. That might be the congressional district models on Nebraska or Maine, a semi-dormant Virginia idea to do something similar, or states even choosing to align themselves by Compact.
Compact? Sure. The concept of states agreeing to cast electoral votes based on who won the nationwide popular vote may be the most efficient of all, and it’s under discussion.
I’m good with any of that, as long as it’s individual states making choices and protecting their own citizens’ best interests. In the meantime, preserving the electoral college is a small concession to less populous states worth maintaining, so that the federal system can function with everyone’s rights in mind.
Shawn is a mathematician working for a prize promotion company in Dallas. His first degree is in comparative constitutional theory and politics.
The NPVIC (NPVIC National Popular Vote Interstate Compact)
(How the nation can legally work around the Electoral College in favor of the Popular Vote.)
See the video below explaining why it is an important issue:
From the League of Women Voters page
Does the Electoral College make sense?
The LWVFL believes that the President of the United States should be elected as is every other local, state and national public official—by popular vote. For that reason, the League is working to enact NPVIC, a bill by which states would direct their electors to vote for the Presidential candidate who captures the most votes nationwide.
More than 60 percent (172) of the 270 electoral votes needed to activate NPVIC have been secured. Legislation is being considered by 24 other states, accounting for an additional 193 electoral votes. NPVIC preserves the electoral system while guaranteeing the votes of all Americans count, which is not the case today.
We oppose the “winner-take-all rule” that invalidates the votes of millions of Americans in 48 states, including Florida. We advocate for using the two provisions of the U.S. Constitution that give states exclusive control over directing their electors and encourage them to enter into interstate compacts, thus preserving state control over national elections. “Winner-take-all” does not appear in the Constitution, nor was it ever debated by the Founders. Electing the president by popular vote has received support from conservatives, including President Trump, to liberals and the majority of American voters, including Floridians.
Additionally, NPVIC would ensure that the issues important to all states and their voters are heard. Today, the President is chosen by electors in a dozen swing states, representing less than a third of all Americans. Thus, Presidential campaigns focus solely on those states and seldom visit or pay attention to the 38 flyover states.
NPVIC moves us closer to one person/one vote and ensures that every voter in every state is relevant in every presidential election—making every vote count.
We are interested in educating voters and legislators about NPVIC and its significance to Florida and in having legislation heard, considered, voted on and passed in the Florida Legislature by 2020 so that the voices of Floridians are just as important as the votes of every other American in all future Presidential elections.
Here is a good video explaining the ideas behind this movement:
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