Why is the Electoral College controversial?

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The electoral college is not a pure democracy. It is intended to be a check on the populace. The idea is that if the people make a mistake the members of the electoral college will overrule them. It's controversial because some people think we should elect our own president.
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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Critics of the Electoral College claim that it is outdated, undemocratic, and gives too much power to “swing states” – i.e. those states with the largest populations.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.

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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.

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