The Electoral College: Detrimental to Democracy

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The Electoral College is the system used in the United States to determine the winner of presidential elections. Each state has the same number of electoral delegates as they do in their congressional delegation, and in every state except for Maine and Nebraska, these votes are designated by a winner-take-all method. The Electoral College has met waves of criticism from multiple angles. However, all of these criticisms point to the Electoral College’s biggest flaw: it is detrimental overall to the democratic process our country on which our country was founded.

The key feature of a democratic nation is the right and ability of the people to elect their own leaders. While every citizen of the United States over the age of 18 who is registered to vote may vote in the presidential election, not all votes are created equal. Every state has a different number of electoral votes, and while the numbers are based on congressional representatives and therefore loosely correlated with population, the distribution of votes gives voters in certain states more power.

By dividing a state’s adult population by its number of electoral votes, the number of citizens for each electoral vote can be calculated. This reveals how much variation exists in “vote power” across the United States. Wyoming has 142,741 voters for each electoral vote, while New York has 519,075 [1]. California and Florida also have over 500 thousands citizens per electoral vote, while each electoral vote in Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, and Washington D.C. represents less than 200 thousand voters [1]. Essentially in terms of national significance, a vote cast by a Wyoming voter counts three times as much as that cast by a New York voter. The vast inequality in vote power across the nation is antidemocratic at its core.

However, even disregarding a mathematical analysis of population and electoral votes, votes in different states hold varied levels of importance simply due to the state they reside in. Some states that are won by the same political party election after election are referred to as “blue states” or “red states” because of their consistency. States such as California, New York, Washington, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Hawaii consistently vote Democrat, while Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Alaska consistently vote Republican. Since 1992, the margin of victory in each of these states has been greater than 20 percent [2].

With such a consistently large margin of victory, little attention is paid to these states during presidential elections, and voters feel the same insignificance. Norman S. Poser wrote in a letter to The Wall Street Journal that “many people doubtless did not bother to vote because there was no chance their vote would affect the outcome in solidly Democratic New York state” [3]. Instead, presidential candidates focus virtually all of their energy and money on battleground states, or swing states, which are states with no predictable election outcome. Swing states, such as Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, receive the most attention from candidates during presidential elections from all candidates. While this is clearly the most fiscally sensible thing to do, as battleground states are really the only states that are undecided, it makes voters in other states feel unimportant. For this reason, residents of non-swing states do not feel any motivation to vote, knowing that their vote will not change the outcome of their state and therefore will not affect the outcome of the general election.

In a democratic nation such as the United States, every citizen should feel that they play a role in electing the president of the United States. The feeling of apathy that plagues many voters in stronghold states is dangerous, for voter turnout numbers are already suffering. Voter turnout trails most countries in Latin America [4], and is by far the lowest out of any G8 country and of many other modern democratic nations [5]. With struggling voter turnout numbers, the last thing the United States needs is a system that devalues votes and accordingly discourages participation in democracy, with the exception of a few battleground states.

 

[1]http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/map_of_the_week/2012/11/presidential_election_a_map_showing_the_vote_power_of_all_50_states.html

[2]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Red_and_Blue_States_Map_(Average_Margins_of_Presidential_Victory).svg

[3] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324556304578119163641724492.html

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/08/voter-turnout-latin-america_n_2093819.html

[5] http://www.accuratedemocracy.com/d_datac.htm

[Image Credit: http://elections.huffingtonpost.com/2012/custom-presidential-election-map]

About author

Kate Harsh

Originally from Cincinnati, OH, Kate Harsh is a sophomore in the Vanderbilt School of Engineering. She is an Engineering Science major, an Engineering Management minor, and is Pre-Med. Despite the fact that much of her coursework focuses on science and engineering, she has been interested in politics since her freshman year of high school and is particularly interested in the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. In addition to VPR, Kate is involved in starting up a Vanderbilt chapter of Advocates for World Health, is a mentor in The Afterschool Program (TAP), and is a member of the Society of Women Engineers and of Pi Beta Phi sorority. This is Kate's second year on the Editorial Board and Layout Team of Vanderbilt Political Review.

Comments
  • michael kors montre#1

    November 29, 2012

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  • toto#2

    November 27, 2012

    Presidential elections don’t have to be this way.

    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. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. There would no longer be a handful of ‘battleground’ states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80% of the states that now are just ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.

    When the bill is enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

    The presidential election system that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

    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. 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.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in recent closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 states. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions with 132 electoral votes – 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

    NationalPopularVote
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