Time For Reform? Considering The Failures of The Electoral College

Description: This paper discusses the many shortcomings of the Electoral College,
and posits possible alternative electoral processes which likely be more

Time for Reform? Considering the failures of the Electoral College

A common misconception among American is that when they vote they elect the
President. The truth is not nearly this simple. What in fact happens when a
person votes is that there vote goes for an Elector. This Elector (who is
selected by the respective state in which a vote is cast) casts ballots for two
individuals, the President and the Vice-President. Each state has the same
number of electors as there are Senate and House of Representative members for
that State. When the voting has stopped the candidate who receives the majority
of the Electoral votes for a state receives all the electoral votes for that
state. All the votes are transmitted to Washington, D.C. for tallying, and the
candidate with the majority of the electoral votes wins the presidency. If no
candidate receives a majority of the vote, the responsibility of selecting the
next President falls upon the House of Representatives. This elaborate system of
Presidential selection is thought by many to be an 18th century anachronism
(Hoxie p. 717), what it is in fact is the product of a 200 year old debate over
who should select the President and why.

In 1787, the Framers in their infinite wisdom, saw the need to respect the
principles of both Federalists and States Righters (republicans) (Hoxie p. 717).
Summarily a compromise was struck between those who felt Congress should select
the President and those who felt the states should have a say. In 1788 the
Electoral College was indoctrinated and placed into operation. The College was
to allow people a say in who lead them, but was also to protect against the
general public's ignorance of politics. Why the fear of the peoples ignorance of
politics? It was argued that the people, left to their own devices could be
swayed by a few designing men to elect a king or demagogue (McManus p. 19). With
the Electoral College in place the people could make a screened decision about
who the highest authority in the land was to be (Bailey & Shafritz (p. 60); at
the same time the fear of the newly formed nation being destroyed by a demagogue
could be put to rest because wiser men had the final say.

200 years later the system is still designed to safeguard against the ignorant
capacities of the people. The Electoral College has remained relatively
unchanged in form and function since 1787, the year of its formulation. This in
itself poses a problem because in 200 years the stakes have changed yet the
College has remained the same. A safeguard against a demagogue may still be
relevant, but the College as this safeguard has proved flawed in other
capacities. These flaws have shed light on the many paths to undemocratic
election. The question then is what shall the priorities be? Shall the flaws be
addressed or are they acceptable foibles of a system that has effectively
prevented the rise of a king for 200 years? To answer this question we must
first consider a number of events past and possible that have or could have
occurred as a result of the flaws Electoral College.

The Unfaithful Elector

Under the current processes of the Electoral College, when a member of the
general electorate casts a vote for a candidate he is in fact casting a vote for
an Electoral College member who is an elector for that candidate. Bound only by
tradition this College member is expected to remain faithful to the candidate he
has initially agreed to elect. This has not always happened. In past instances
Electoral College member have proved to be unfaithful. This unfaithful elector
ignores the will of the general electorate and instead selects candidate other
than the one he was expected to elect (McGaughey, p. 81). This unfaithfulness
summarily subjugates all the votes for a candidate in a particular district. In
all fairness it is important to note that instances of unfaithful electors are
few and far between, and in fact 26 states have laws preventing against
unfaithful electors (McGauhey, p.81). Despite this the fact remains that the
possibility of an unfaithful elector does exist and it exists because the system
is designed to circumvent around direct popular election of the President.

The Numbers Flaw

The unfaithful elector is an example of how the popular will can be purposely
ignored. The Numbers Flaw reveals how the will of the people can be passed over
unintentionally due to flaw of design (McNown, Lecture Notes, 2/20/93).