Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Electoral College and Why It Needs To Be Reformed

So...this is the final product of all the electoral college hullabaloo. I was going to bold my favorite quotes for emphasis, but I decided to just bold all quotes. So that's why...if you were wondering. If for whatever reason you want to know my sources (some of the articles were pretty interesting) just send me an email (ladytiffanyanne [at] gmail [dot] com). I just got my grade back an my prof loved it: "well structured, interesting information, educational. yes, its a shame you didn't get to give it."

I got an A. :-)


Imagine this: you are running for student body president. You are popular, you have had a good campaign thus far, and you are sure you have a good chance of winning. Today is Election Day, and by the time the sun sinks below the horizon, a new student body president will have been chosen. A voice comes over the loud speaker before the final bell rings and announces you have, in fact, won more votes than the other candidate. You feel a rush of joy! Friends hurry over to congratulate you! But, as the voice over the loud speaker continues, the room grows silent. As you have been told, says the voice, there is a new school policy for this year’s election. The new policy is not unfamiliar to you and your classmates as it is modeled after our country’s own Electoral College. Because of this new policy, you actual lose the election and your opponent wins. Your classroom is quiet and you can here excited cheers coming from a classroom down the hall.

Perhaps now you are wondering how that could have happened and why such a system exists. We have a problem and it’s called the Electoral College. My name is Tiffany Heuser. My previously politically apathetic self gained interest in this topic starting with my American Government class and my knowledge grew as I did more and more research on my own. In this speech, I will explain to you what the Electoral College is and why it needs to be reformed

Many Americans think that when they are in the voting box putting someone’s name down on a ballot, they are voting for a presidential candidate. This is not the case. According to “The Struggle for Democracy” by Edward S. Greenberg of the University of Colorado and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University, the Electoral College consists of, “representatives of the states who formally elect the president.” That means we don’t elect the next president, we have people doing so for us. The Electoral College came about when the framers of the Constitution were in disagreement over how a single executive (i.e. the President) should be elected. The plan they eventually settled on was this, “In the Electoral College, each states would have a total of votes equal to its total number of representatives and senators in Congress. Members of the Electoral College would then cast their votes for president.” These electors have promised to support a party’s presidential candidate and rarely break their promise—though it has happened. In “Degrees of Democracy (Rethinking The Electoral College),” David I. Wells tells us that most states have a winner-take-all policy which means all of their electoral votes go to the candidate with most votes in their state, “regardless of how large or how small that margin is.” This means if a candidate were to win a state of 900,000 voters by a margin of 10,000, he would get every single vote for that state, despite the other candidate clearly being quite popular as well.

I know there are people who are big fans of the Electoral College. In defense of the Electoral College, someone tried to explain it to me by saying it "levels out the playing field" for small town folks. This made sense to me until I did a bit more research. How is this for a leveled playing field: In “The Electoral College and American Politics,” Simon Sheppard tells us, “California has 551,111 voters per Elector in the Electoral College – North Dakota has 212,933 voters per Elector. New York as 545,165 while Wyoming has 151,196 voters per Elector, and so on.” So it looks to me like the less populated your state is, the better chance you have of being represented.

You may recall the election of 2000 where Al Gore won the national popular vote but lost the election. This is not a pro-Gore speech and I am not up here to rehash the 2000 election (goodness knows it has been done enough). What I am saying is that situation should not happen—ever. According to Gordon Tullock in his article, “Random Thoughts of Voting,” he informs us this was not a one-time deal. Among other times, it also happened in 1960. “The fact,” writes Tullock, “that Kennedy had fewer votes than his opponent, Richard Nixon, is almost a deep, dark secret. Almost the entire press and nearly all professors of political science detest Nixon and regard Kennedy as a hero.”

So, now you’ve heard me speak on what the Electoral College is and how it is unfair, you might be wondering why we still have it and what is the solution.

The solution, obviously, is to reform the electoral process that we, as the United States of America, employ. In his article, “The Electoral College and the Development of American Democracy,” which appeared in “Perspectives on Political Science,” Gary Glenn argues that the Electoral College is more democratic than any practical alternative. How can it be more democratic, I wonder, if democracy is supposed to employ three benchmarks: “popular sovereignty, political equality, and political liberty.” If my vote does not count for the same that your vote counts for, then we cannot possibly have political equality. Of course, Glenn also uses nearly a whole page to redefine the word “more” in which “more” in the sense of the collective whole is something entirely different than “more” in the sense of fifty-one things added together. Are you confused? So am I. No wonder he’s a fan of the Electoral College.

In his article previously mentioned, David I. Wells writes that no other election system for any major office is filled like the Oval Office. Georgia, he says, once had a similar way of filling offices, but it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the 1960s. If it is unconstitutional for the states to fill offices using a “county unit system,” than how can it possibly be constitutional for our nation to fill the Oval Office using the Electoral College.

In conclusion, I’d like to encourage you to take a further interest in the way your government is run. I have told you about the Electoral College and various aspects of it; I have given you my side of the issue. Now it is up to you to make your own opinion. College students aren’t exactly known for their political interest, but hopefully, I’ve been able to peak yours. I didn’t give this speech to tell you to not vote because it won’t matter. But I’m saying do vote because that is our way to really make a difference, participate in politics, and choose the people in whom we place our faith of running this country.


Anonymous said...

That's a nice article, I'm glad you got an A on it.

I take issue with your first point about the class president though, you logic is flawed. A better corollary would be electing a regional student body president to represent 13 different schools. Let us imagine that this school institution is being put together in haste, as an effort to repel the advances of a larger, stronger student body from across the ocean that founded the new school district. Some of the schools would be large, with 4000 students. Some of them small, only 300 or so. Now you have the case where the small schools don't want to be bullied by the larger schools, they will refuse to join if their vote is based solely on student body size. They think that the amount of people going to a school shouldn't matter at all; Every school should receive an equal number of votes, say one vote from each school on who the student body president should be. What do you do with that scenario Tiffster? Think carefully, you answer may change the course of history forever.

Tiffany Anne said...

Yeah, I knew the parallelism was a bit flawed with the intro. I had to come up with an intro better than a statistic or a rhetorical question though. Those are perpetually lame when it comes to speech attention getters. Anecdotes are the possibly the best way to begin a speech because it draws the audience in.

Also, keep this in mind: many of my fellow classmates had never even heard of the Electoral College (can that really be possible?) so I had to start out in a way that they could get it. Student body elections? Check. Most of these kids were fresh outta high school.

As far as determining votes by population or just one per school, I do think that the compromise the framers came to (# votes = # reps in house + # of senators) is a good compromise. And like I said, in real life, the less populous states get more representatives per voters, so little guy doesn't need to worry about being bullied.

Anonymous said...

True, they do have their compromise in the Congress. Don't forget that the executive branch, as embodied by the President, has powers different from and equal to the congress. Commander of the military, first representative of America to foreign powers, selector of Supreme Court Justices, and on top of that having the ability to veto representative legislation. You can see why a compromise on the Legislature would not have been enough to less populous agrarian states.

It's a dead issue anyhow. It would take an amendment to the Constitution to alter the election process, and it's impossible to imagine a scenario whereby three fourths of the state governments would approve it.

Tiffany Anne said...

Very true, it would take forever to change it. I read in one of the articles that this subject (reforming the electoral college) has been brought before congress more than any other issue.

Anonymous said...

True, but most of those instances have been to address the mechanics of the electoral college. For example the 12th ammendment to the constitution set two distinct votes for electors; One for the President and one for the VP. Before that the VP was always the runner up in the electoral college vote, a situation which usually gave you a VP from the opposing party. The 23rd ammendment gave electoral college votes to the District of Columbia, which previously did not get to vote for any federal offices.


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