Elections: The Electoral College


There have been frequent complaints about the electoral college and the fact that our President is not chosen by popular vote. 

In compliance with the Constitution, each state receives an electoral ballot for each U.S. senator and one for each of its  representatives in Congress.  How the state chooses its electors is up to the state.  As it now stands, in forty-eight of the fifty states each party chooses a slate of electors, and one of those slates is elected by a plurality of votes within that state during  the general election.  The selected electors are then expected to cast their votes for their party’s candidate.  Two states do things differently. In Maine and Nebraska, two electors are chosen by the plurality vote of the entire state’s electorate, and one elector is chosen in each of the state’s congressional districts based on the plurality of votes in that district.

Four ways have been suggested in which the method of electing our President might be changed.  The first three approaches would not require a Constitutional amendment.  One way would be for all states to agree that their electors would be chosen based on the proportion of the popular vote received by each party.  For example, if a state had 10 electors and the Republican candidate received forty percent of the vote, four electors would vote for the Republican candidate and the Democrat would receive six.  The second way would be to follow the Maine and Nebraska examples, with two electors being chosen at large in each state, with one elector also being chosen by plurality vote from each of the state’s congressional districts. A third way would be for states to legislate that, regardless of the individual state’s own voting outcome, all electors from that state would cast their ballots for the candidate receiving a plurality of votes nationwide.  This idea has been advanced by the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact through which states pledge to cast their electoral votes for the candidate who has won the national popular vote. The compact is to take effect only when states with a majority of electoral votes (270) have signed on; at this time, those states that have signed on have a total of 196.  It is interesting to note that thus far every state signing the compact leans Democratic. If all states adopted this method of choosing electors it would have the same effect as an amendment doing away with the electoral college.

The fourth way would be to amend the Constitution so as to eliminate Presidential electors in favor of selecting our chief executive by popular vote. Amendment would be a very difficult process, and partisan considerations would make success extremely doubtful.

I suggest that we think carefully before pushing for popular election of the President or taking other steps that would make our Federal government more responsive to the often capricious and easily manipulated wishes of the general public.  I also abhor the thought of giving populous states such as California and New York even greater weight in our national elections.  If we do change our method of choosing electors, I would prefer that the individual states adopt the Maine-Nebraska approach.  That would be truer to the federalist system envisioned by our founding fathers.


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