The Presidency is considered the nucleus of the American political system. Because of the importance of this position, controversy has developed regarding a system of election. According to Jeraine Root, historically the Electoral College was developed through negotiation deriving from conflicts between representatives at the Constitutional Convention. Disagreement came about regarding the strengths and weaknesses of larger or smaller states. Additionally, these representatives did not want direct election because citizens were not familiar with candidates (27 June 1990). In modern times, supporters of the current Electoral College profess that this structure is stable and highly unlikely to fail the people. Opposing figures proclaim the Electoral College as being unsuccessful in the past and unreliable for the future. The Electoral College system exposes the chance that an unpopularly elected president may become victorious in an election and defeat the American dream of all people being counted equal in an election; therefore, this type of election defeats our system of democracy.
An electoral college is defined as a "body of representatives, chosen by popular vote, which formally elects the President and Vice-President of the United States" (Macmillan Dictionary). This definition within itself explains how our present election system could fail. Representatives who actually vote for a President are chosen by popular vote. In reality, the people are not voting for a candidate; rather, a panel of representatives is being selected. Members of each panel are originally formulated by political parties. Once this panel forms an electoral college, the representatives may vote for whomever they please. "The problem is not just that the Electoral College can reject the popular choice of the nation, but that it can do so in an essentially random fashion in close elections" (Arrington 170). History is evidence of the instability of this structure. Root states that, in the election of 1876 between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden, Hayes came out victorious. Ratios of the popular vote show Tildon with 52 percent and Hayes trailing at 48 percent. This same scenario occurred again in 1888. The election was between Republican Benjamin Harrison and Democrat Grover Cleveland. Harrison obtained 47.8 percent of the popular vote, while Cleveland inched ahead with 48.6 percent (Root 27 June 1990). Because of unreliability of the Electoral College, two unpopularly elected Presidents have taken office. Although a collapse has not occurred in the election system in over 100 years, the possibility of a reoccurrence is not minute. Some political scientists consider the favorable outcomes pure luck. An example of present-day cause and result is described by John McLaughlin: "By losing many states overwhelmingly while winning others narrowly, a candidate could win the electoral vote while losing the popular vote, thereby triggering a constitutional crisis" (26).
Unequal votes present an additional blemish of the Electoral College. "Because the popular vote is filtered through the Electoral College, all votes are not counted equally in our presidential contests" (Arrington 174). This analysis is drawn for three reasons. First, states are allowed a minimum of three votes regardless of how small the state. One example of unequal vote, according to the number of a state's representatives, is a comparison between Texas and Alaska. As stated by Root, Alaska, with a population of approximately 400,000, has three electoral votes. Texas, having a population of 14,000,000, is allowed 29 electoral votes. The ratio between these two states is 133,000 Alaskans per vote, as opposed to 482,758 Texans per vote (27 June 1990). These figures are not only imbalanced, but the calculation equals discrimination. To burden this issue even greater, there is no direct correlation between voter turn-out and electoral votes. If no one turns out for an election, the state is still entitled to all of its electoral votes. Secondly, some states are ignored because of the "winner-take-all" system. How can something as large as a state be ignored? Unfortunately, during campaigns, candidates attempt only to impress voters who are needed to win. Arrington uses Ronald Reagan as an example. The choice should be clear; if Reagan can obtain 40,000 votes in Louisiana or 20,000 votes in Illinois, he should campaign in Louisiana. Yet Louisiana only carries 10 electoral votes whereas Illinois is allowed 26 electoral votes. In this instance, 20,000 votes are more important than 40,000 votes (174). Lastly, the "winner-take-all" system creates wasted votes. If votes can be wasted, then the old saying "every vote counts" is a lie. Wasted votes result from popular votes, as well as unpopular votes. "Once a candidate has a plurality of the popular votes in a particular state, additional popular votes are not useful to him in capturing the presidency" (Arrington 174). Additionally, because winner-takes-all, voters who cast their ballots toward a defeated candidate receive nothing.
Many critics, such as M.S. Forbes, Jr., take the view that the present electoral system is a benefit. "We should leave well enough alone. This system works" (27). Forbes contends that the chances of history repeating itself are remote (27). An ally of Forbes is Saul Brenner, the opposition to Arrington in their debate. Brenner asserts that without the Electoral College system there exists a possibility of a candidate winning by a minority vote. Additionally, an uneven balance between states could result without the Electoral College (Arrington 176). In rebuttal, if the Electoral College failed us once, it could fail us again. The chances are not very remote. Elections which run closely between candidates, according to popular vote, are always shadowed by the risk of breaking through the system. Brenner's argument that a minority candidate might win an election refers to third-party spoilers. Even if a third party entered the race, whichever candidate received the most votes would still win by a majority. Assuming a third party won, there is nothing wrong with new parties developing. Historically, there have been five different major party systems which have led to our present political parties. Discovery of a new and better way should always be welcome. Last, there could be no greater uneven balance between states than what has already been shown. When a difference of 349,758 people per vote exists, apparently an extreme imbalance between states is already occurring.
Because the Presidency is so vital to our country, Americans should have an unshakable stand in the election process of this office. The Electoral College has become dated and extended past its usefulness. Although the electoral system may possess benefits, the disadvantages heavily outweigh the advantages. Therefore, definite modifications are greatly needed to protect the democratic government which our forefathers struggled so hard to establish. Without adjustments in the present style of Presidential election, our country will suffer with a pseudo-form of democracy.
Arrington, Theodore S. and Saul Brenner. "Should the Electoral College be Replaced by the Direct Election of the President? A Debate." Diss. U of North Carolina at Charlotte, 1984.
"Electoral College." Macmillan Dictionary. 1977 ed.
Forbes, M.S. Jr. "Helpful, Useful Antique." Forbes 6 Feb. 1989: 27.
McLaughlin, John: "The Electoral-Vote Lock." National Review 5 Aug. 1988: 26.
Root, Jeraine. Political Science lecture. 27 June 1990.