Why is the Electoral College controversial?
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The Electoral College is controversial because it is, in some ways, undemocratic. There are a couple of ways in which this is true.
First, it allows for us to end up with one candidate winning the popular vote and another candidate winning the Presidency. This was the case in 2000 when George W. Bush became president even though Al Gore got more votes nationwide.
Second, even in more normal cases, many people's votes are not counted. All of a state's votes go to whoever wins the election in that state, no matter how close the race is. Therefore, all the votes for the losing candidate are not counted -- 49% of the people can vote for one candidate and that candidate will still get 0% of the electoral vote.
In the United States, the Electoral College consists of the popularly elected representatives (called electors) who formally elect the president and vice president. Even though U.S. citizens vote for president and vice president – called the popular vote – the electors are actually the people who formally complete the process. Each state has as many electors as it has representatives and senators in the Congress, so in this way, the Electoral College is based on population. As you may know, the House of Representatives is based on population, but the Senate is not. Each state has two senators. The states with the largest populations have the most representatives in the House, so therefore, the states with the largest populations also wind up having the most electors in The Electoral College. For example, California has the most electors – 55, then Texas 32, New York 31, etc.
There are currently a total of 538 electors in each presidential election. The size of the Electoral College is equal to the total membership of both Houses of Congress (435 representatives and 100 senators) plus the three electors allocated to Washington, D.C., totaling 538 electors.
Critics of the Electoral College claim that it is outdated, undemocratic, and gives too much power to “swing states” – i.e. those states with the largest populations. Many people believe that the east coast states wield too much power in electing the president and VP because they have the largest populations. Since these states tend to be “blue states” (mostly Democratic), other political parties are often critical of the Electoral College. Critics also claim that the United States should have a system where the president and vice president are directly elected by the people. The founding fathers believed the Electoral College offered a level of protection against the popular vote, however, not believing that the people should be totally trusted to elect someone that would be a good president. For example, with a totally popular vote, a Hollywood celebrity could be elected to be president if that person were popular enough and had enough money. When studying this sin class, my students and I have often debated which celebrity would have a good chance of getting elected as president (the winner in many years has been Oprah Winfrey!).
Many amendments to the U.S. Constitution have been introduced over the years seeking to revise or eliminate the Electoral College, but so far, nothing has passed. You should look this up online to see a good map of how the Electoral College looks visually – it will help you understand it.
Because of the state-by-state winner-take-all electoral votes laws (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) in 48 states, a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in 4 of the nation's 56 (1 in 14) presidential elections. Near misses are now frequently common. A shift of 60,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of 3,500,000 votes.
The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).
Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Every vote would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.
Now 2/3rds of the states and voters are ignored -- 19 of the 22 smallest and medium-small states and big states like California, Georgia, New York, and Texas. The current winner-take-all laws (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) used by 48 of the 50 states, and not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution, ensure that the candidates do not reach out to all of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.
The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes--that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).
The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. It does not abolish the Electoral College. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action, without federal constitutional amendments.
The National Popular Vote bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas (6), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), The District of Columbia (3), Maine (4), Michigan (17), Nevada (5), New Mexico (5), New York (31), North Carolina (15), and Oregon (7), and both houses in California (55), Colorado (9), Hawaii (4), Illinois (21), New Jersey (15), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (12), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), and Washington (11). The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington. These six states possess 73 electoral votes -- 27% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.
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