With the Presidential Election now days away, most Americans are keeping an eye on the national polls. Many are wondering who’s going to win states like Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. But why is winning certain states more important than winning the popular vote? It’s because our Founders envisioned the United States as a constitutionally limited republic and set up the Electoral College which, actually votes to elect the President. So what is the Electoral College? How does it work and why does it matter?
The Electoral College is made up of electors chosen by the voters of each state to cast their vote for the candidate of their choice. This structure was prescribed in Article I Section II of the U.S. Constitution. With the District of Columbia included, the total number of electoral votes is five hundred and thirty-eight. That number is determined by the number of House members, plus the number of Senate seats in that state. For example, Arizona has nine Representatives and two Senators, which gives our state a total of eleven votes in the College while California has a total of fifty-five.
The electors may be chosen by state legislatures in primary elections, in the state party conventions, or by the presidential campaign committees. This process limits the possibility that an elector flips to the opposition. And no federal or state office holder may be an elector, as this ensures his/her independence from money or influence.
These electors chosen by the people meet on the Monday following the second Wednesday of December in their state capitol and vote for the next President. These votes are sealed and sent to the President of the Senate who reads them to both Houses of Congress.
So why did the Founders set up the Electoral College instead of having a direct election of the President? We are a republic. As a discussed previously in, We Are Not a Democracy, The Founding Fathers viewed democracy as something to be feared. Thomas Jefferson said, it “…is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” That’s why it is sometimes called ‘the tyranny of the majority.” In a democracy, personal freedom is subject to the arbitrary whims of human nature. A republic is a government in which people choose their fellow citizens to represent them in the halls of power.
The purpose of the Electoral College is to maintain the fundamental characteristics of republican government by insuring the separation of powers. The Electoral system was not only designed to protect a state’s interests from other states’ interests, but also from the federal government. Our three branches are to act as checks and balances on each other and with the Electoral College. The Founders worried that although the people may call their leader a president, he might think himself a king. Alexander Hamilton spent time outlining the differences between the British monarchy and the president of our republic, and said the powers of the President should be few and defined.
The Electoral College is not exactly a one-for one-vote, and therefore may be hard to grasp at first. However, it is democratic on the state level. One of the best ways to protect an individual’s freedom is to preserve the power given to the states under the Constitution. State government tends to be more responsive to their citizens’ concerns than the federal government does.
The Electoral College gives smaller states a voice they wouldn’t have in a democracy. Politicians would ignore them and concentrate on the bigger cities, thus giving bigger states, like California and New York, a disproportionate influence on the rest of the country. Some say they could make up forty percent of the national vote.
Sadly, many states do not recognize the Founders’ intent. Because they have the right to allocate their votes any way they want under the Constitution, thirty-six states have already passed legislation giving their electoral votes to the popular vote winner. In fact, if the majority of a state’s voters pick a different candidate, those voters would be disenfranchised under the popular vote system.
Some voters complain that they vote for one candidate, but their states electoral votes always go to the other; therefore their vote is wasted. But their objective is still valid because they are trying to win their state for their candidate. An individual can have more influence with the current system than with a direct democracy.
For example, let’s say you live in a country of three million people. This country has three states where the population is evenly divided amongst them—one million each. In a democracy, your vote would have the effect of one in three million. But in a republic like ours, your vote would have the effect of one in two million, so your vote helps your candidate win your state. And for your candidate to win the election, he must win two out of three states. So your vote is one in two million as opposed to one in three million. In a republic, one vote is worth fifty percent more than in a democracy. When individuals band together in states, and states band with each other, it forces candidates to gain popular support in a greater cross-section of the country. (Example taken from www. sciencebuzz.org).
In addition, the Electoral College also gives us a clear-cut winner every four years. That might not seem like a big deal unless the candidate wins by less than one percent of the popular vote. In a democracy a national recount could take months. Anyone remember Florida 2000? Multiply that times fifty. This would only encourage fraud and other election problems because inflation of the numbers anywhere in the country would affect the integrity of the election. With the Electoral College those problems are isolated in only those states where fraud is suspected.
Finally, the objection is raised that the Electoral College suppresses the votes of minorities. In fact, it actually increases their power, because the winner is determined by popular vote at the state level. In this all-or-nothing system, minorities can be the difference between candidates winning or losing, which forces people running for office to listen and pay attention to their concerns.
Our forefathers knew what they were doing when they structured the Electoral College. At first glance, it may not be easy to understand, but it is essential for our system of government and the ultimate survival of the Republic we are privileged to call home.
Hands off the Electoral College by Representative Ron Paul MD.www.lewrockwell.com.
Arguments for and Against the Electoral College. www.ballotpedia.org.
How Stuff Works: The Electoral College. www.howstuffworks.com.
Ross, Tara. Enlightened Democracy: the Case for the Electoral College.
McClanahan, Brion. The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution.
The Math of the Electoral College www.sciencebuzz.org