The Electoral College: Definition & Process

The Electoral College is an important process that was implemented into the Constitution to provide a compromise between Congress and citizens when voting for our nation’s leader. When the Constitution was created, the purpose of the Electoral College was to ensure a democracy while also guaranteeing a qualified, well-rounded president. However, the Electoral College has proven that the popular vote does not secure a candidate’s position as president. The current system of the Electoral College consists of many strengths and weaknesses that some Americans are satisfied with, while some are far from satisfied. To understand the Electoral College, it is imperative to analyze how the process works, the logic behind it, and the positive and negative outcomes that have taken place through it. Many citizens in the United States voice their opinions by exercising their right to vote for whichever presidential candidate they trust to make beneficial changes. When going to the polls to vote, citizens are essentially voting for specific electors. In each state, the candidate that receives a plurality in that state, also receives all of the state’s electoral votes (Miller, 2008).

After the popular election, electors cast a ballot for president and vice president. In order for a candidate to become president, they have to receive a majority of electoral votes. The Electoral College comprises of 538 electors, leaving 270 electoral votes to be the majority in an election. Generally, electors remain loyal to their party and cast their vote for president and vice president according to that. However, “There is no Constitutional provision or Federal law that requires Electors to vote according to the results of the popular vote in their states” (National Archives and Records Administration 2018). Since the Electoral College has remained unchanged since it was created, the Constitutional framers and their purpose for this process are of great significance.

The original process of the Electoral College, established by the Founding Fathers, provided a compromise between the Congressional selection and the popular election of the President. The 12th Amendment, which was ratified in 1804, altered the original process by allowing separate ballots for the President and Vice President (History, Art & Archives 2018). “James Madison worried about what he called “factions,” which he defined as groups of citizens who have a common interest in some proposal that would either violate the rights of other citizens or would harm the nation as a whole” (Miller, 2008). Therefore, the reason for the Electoral College ultimately stemmed from our nation’s founders being afraid of a direct democracy.

A representative democracy, a system in which citizens elect officials to represent the voice of the people and pass laws for them, was considered more suitable. Fundamentally, the Founding Fathers did not trust citizen’s votes alone, which has led some to view the Electoral College as a checks and balances system on the people. As time has gone on, the Electoral College has become more of a formality. Most electors stay true to their party and in Washington, D.C., electors are bound by laws or pledges to vote with the popular vote (Miller, 2008). However, since there is no requirement to vote according to the popular vote in other states, this formality has been problematic at times. The 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush is considered one of the closest elections in history. Specifically, Florida was the primary focus during and after this election. On November 7th, the day of the election, Gore had won the popular vote by approximately half a million. However, Gore earned 255 electoral votes and Bush earned 246, leaving neither candidate with the majority vote in the Electoral College. Therefore, election results were almost entirely dependent on Florida’s 25 electoral votes. The media and news outlets declared Gore the winner in Florida but later found that Bush had taken the lead. The reliability of election technology such as punch card voting machines and “butterfly ballots” caused disputes following this result (Khan Academy 2018). As a result, the Gore campaign requested a recount by hand in four counties. “The Florida Supreme Court extended the deadline for the recount and ordered a manual recount” (Khan Academy 2018). However, the Bush campaign appealed this decision and the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bush, ordering that the recount be stopped. Some feel that this election was unfair because Bush won by winning Florida, but Gore overall won the popular vote. This election, along with many other reasons, has led a vast majority of Americans to want a reform or abolition of the Electoral College.

Almost all systems have flaws and room for improvement, especially when it concerns citizens and those who hold leadership positions in our country. The biggest issue that Americans have with the Electoral College is the power it has to elect a president that did not receive the popular vote. When a candidate receives the popular vote but is still not elected, many feel that it is essentially showing that the people’s votes do not matter as much as others, in this case, electors. “Thus they propose the “automatic” plan which would simply count a state’s electoral votes according to the candidate winning the popular vote in the state” (Bugh, 2010). A different option to reforming the Electoral College would be allowing the candidate that wins the popular vote with an extra 102 electoral votes, changing the total electoral vote to 640 rather than the current 538. Therefore, at least 321 electoral votes would be the majority in order for that candidate to win. This reform plan does still leave the possibility of a candidate winning the Electoral College but not the popular vote. However, it would be a slim chance for that to occur and most of the time result in the winner of the popular vote also being the winner in the Electoral College (Bugh, 2010). Other reform plans have been discussed but these two remain the most reliable and easiest to achieve. However, both of these plans would require a constitutional amendment. Electors were meant to have independent judgment to ensure the winner is fit to be president and therefore, a constitutional amendment in this case would be difficult to accomplish (Bugh, 2010). Although there are ways to reform this process, some go as far as saying the Electoral College should be abolished all together. Personally, I do feel that the process as it works now does need improvements, especially in considering that almost all citizens feel it does as well. The voice of the people is extremely important when electing our country’s leader. Whether some feel it should be abolished or some feel it needs changes, the majority of Americans are in favor of one or the other and nothing has been done to improve the Electoral College.

The Electoral College is an important process that elects the president and vice president. The original purpose for the Electoral College was effective during that time, but its flaws have proven to be problematic as time goes on. The views Americans hold on the Electoral College differ as some are satisfied with the current process and some strive for change. Overall, it is important to analyze the Electoral College and its purpose in order to understand it and form an opinion.

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