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Electoral College

December 16th, 2008 by Steven Gardner

On Monday my employer graciously allowed me to go witness and cover the electoral college process at the state capitol. In it I witnessed everything related to it. They didn’t fill the room, which represents most everyone’s concern or lack of concern about the event. The mood depends largely on what happened on Nov. 4 and whether the people in the room are voting for the winner or the loser. Finally, you have a mix of supporters and non-supporters, even among the electors, reflecting the mix of emotions there are broadly about the process.

You can see video done by The Olympian. In that piece is a legislator who wants Washington’s electors to vote in proportion with the national popular vote. The story from the Olympian also shows that at least one elector wants the electoral college eliminated.

Americans generally have mixed feelings about the electoral college. If you see the comments following my story, you see Tom Rosendale supporting a plan that would allocate electors based on how voters in their districts went. That idea is discussed here on a site that supports a national popular vote. The site is against the congressional plan, but includes information I was looking for, namely what would have happened in 2000 and 2004. Bush still would have won, by bigger margins.

It seems that any change is designed to ensure that the electoral college better reflects the popular vote. The change Washington legislators are proposing would have states allocating electors based on the national numbers. If we went to that, though, why wouldn’t we just go to the popular vote anyway, rather than adopting something that only cosmetically leaves the electoral college in place.

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4 Responses to “Electoral College”

  1. susan Says:

    The normal way of changing the method of electing the President is not a federal constitutional amendment, but changes in state law. The U.S. Constitution gives “exclusive” and “plenary” control to the states over the appointment of presidential electors.

    Historically, virtually all of the previous major changes in the method of electing the President have come about by state legislative action. For example, the people had no vote for President in most states in the nation’s first election in 1789. However, nowadays, as a result of changes in the state laws governing the appointment of presidential electors, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states.

    In 1789, only 3 states used the winner-take-all rule (awarding all of a state’s electoral vote to the candidate who gets the most votes in the state). However, as a result of changes in state laws, the winner-take-all rule is now currently used by 48 of the 50 states.

    In other words, neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, that the voters may vote and the winner-take-all rule) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation’s first presidential election.

    In 1789, it was necessary to own a substantial amount of property in order to vote; however, as a result of changes in state laws, there are now no property requirements for voting in any state .

    The normal process of effecting change in the method of electing the President is specified the U.S. Constitution, namely action by the state legislatures. This is how the current system was created, and this is the built-in method that the Constitution provides for making changes. The abnormal process is to go outside the Constitution, and amend it.

    What the current U.S. Constitution says is “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . .” The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”

  2. susan Says:

    Dividing a state’s electoral votes by congressional district would magnify the worst features of our antiquated Electoral College system of electing the President. What the country needs is a national popular vote to make every person’s vote equally important to presidential campaigns.

    If the district approach were used nationally, it would less be less fair and accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country’s congressional districts.

  3. susan Says:

    The district approach would not cause presidential candidates to campaign in a particular state or focus the candidates’ attention to issues of concern to the state. Under the winner-take-all rule (whether applied to either districts or states), candidates have no reason to campaign in districts or states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. In North Carolina, for example, there are only 2 districts the 13th with a 5% spread and the 2nd with an 8% spread) where the presidential race is competitive. In California, the presidential race is competitive in only 3 of the state’s 53 districts. Nationwide, there are only 55 “battleground” districts that are competitive in presidential elections. Under the present deplorable state-level winner-take-all system, two-thirds of the states (including North Carolina and California and Texas) are ignored in presidential elections; however, seven-eighths of the nation’s congressional districts would be ignored if the a district-level winner-take-all system were used nationally.

  4. Jake Metcalf Says:

    Honestly I don’t think there is realistic constitutional possibility to ever truly get rid of the electoral college but it would be interesting to get rid of the winner take all effect and award the electors by the proportion of the victory.

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