Constitution / Politics

The Race to 270: Reforming the Electoral College

The way in which the United States elects its presidential candidates is constantly being debated. Following the 2012 presidential election, many states are reconsidering the rules of the game. The current set-up of the electoral college poses problems for the electorate, as do some of the proposed solutions to these problems. The design of the electoral college has evolved since its origin so that most states now have a winner-take-all system of choosing electors. This system has sparked a debate centered on reform.

Those who support the winner-take-all design typically defend its ability to take into account minority interests, to encourage a two-party system, to require popular support to be elected to office and to maintain a federal system of government and representation.

On the other hand, opponents of this system of electors argue that the winner-take-all design is unfair, makes it difficult for the success of any third-party candidate, disenfranchises supporters of the losing team, could lead to ambiguous results and overwhelmingly favors states with a high number of electoral votes and swing states.

Some critics of the electoral college have come up with an initiative entitled Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote. This initiative would make it so that whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote would also win a majority of the electoral votes. Interestingly enough, most of the states that have passed the national popular vote resolution are overwhelmingly blue states.

There are two obvious problems with this proposal. The first is that, in order for this compact to be successful, it would need to gain the support of enough states to obtain the 270 electoral votes needed by a candidate to secure an absolute majority and win the presidential election. However, since the initiative was first proposed, it has garnered the support of ten states possessing 136 electoral votes, 50.4 percent of the votes needed to activate it.

The more pressing issue, however, is that this proposal directly violates the United States Constitution by bypassing the electoral college, which was created to protect smaller states while still taking into consideration the population of larger ones. If it gains enough votes to pass, every state that does not agree to the popular vote initiative will be effectively left out of the national voting process. Not to mention, if the population in those states who have already agreed to this initiative do not support the candidate who wins the popular vote, then the electors in those states will isolate their constituents.

On the other hand, the system currently in place in Maine and Nebraska combines the strongest parts of both the current layout of the electoral college and the National Popular Vote Initiative. In both of these states, each congressional district gives an elector to the winner of the plurality of votes in that district. In other words, each congressional district can choose to cast its electoral ballot for a different candidate based on the preferences of its constituents.

The two remaining electoral ballots, which do not take into account population size, are cast for whichever candidate wins the plurality of the statewide vote. If every state allowed each of its districts to cast an individual ballot based on popular vote, this would allow more voters to be heard while still following the ideals set forth in the Constitution.

The method used in Maine and Nebraska would prevent states with large populations, like Texas or California, from allowing all of its electoral votes to go to a single candidate. This is important because the demographics in these states are too diverse to ignore some of the largest districts by throwing all of the states’ support behind one candidate.

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