Political Education

Let’s Talk about the Electoral College

The United States Supreme Court ruled in a 9 – 0 decision that states have the right to “bind” their electors to the Electoral College to the state’s popular vote, and the state can punish or fine “faithless electors.”

The Electoral College is the system set up to elect the President of the United States. There are 538 members of the Electoral College, equal to the state’s membership in the Senate and House of Representatives. This 538 gives Washington DC the same number of votes as the least populous state, which is 3. The states are free to choose their electors in any way they deem fit. In many states, during the primary, the ballot also has the names of electors that the voter can choose from. To win the presidency the candidate must win an absolute majority of votes in the electoral college, 270. If no candidate does so the matter is moved to the House of Representatives. Many, including myself, find this system antiquated.

The Electoral College was created for many reasons but the most important to look at is power, and this includes slavery.

James Madison, who wanted a “popular election” for the President said

There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections.

James Madison, Records of the Federal Convention

Since 1880 every state has chosen its electors based on the results of a popular election held on Election Day. In 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016 the results from the Electoral College were different than the results from the popular vote. In 1824 the popular vote was unknown, six electors were judicially appointed and the House of Representatives had to pick the president.

The Supreme Court Ruled on Monday the states can force its electors to vote for the winner of the popular vote. Justice Kagan wrote in the decision that the Washington state law at the question “reflects a tradition more than two centuries old,” she continued. “In that practice, electors are not free agents; they are to vote for the candidate whom the State’s voters have chosen.” Justice Kagan also added: “The State instructs its electors that they have no ground for reversing the vote of millions of its citizens. That direction accords with the Constitution — as well as with the trust of a Nation that here, We the People rule.”

Alexander Hamilton would have an issue with this ruling.

Hamilton considered a pre-pledged elector to violate the spirit of Article II of the Constitution insofar as such electors could make no “analysis” or “deliberate” concerning the candidates. Madison agreed entirely, saying that when the Constitution was written, all of its authors assumed individual electors would be elected in their districts and it was inconceivable a “general ticket” of electors dictated by a state would supplant the concept.

Wikipedia Electoral College

The “Founding Fathers” had the idealistic belief this new government would not split into factions, and the Electoral College would prevent that. The only president without a political party was George Washington. States have had a winner take all election to determine electors since 1789. The electoral college has never worked in the way the founders have thought it would.

What has the Electoral College done? The Electoral College keeps the power to elect the president in the hands of a small group of people, allows for states with smaller populations to have more power in electing the president and gives all the power to a handful of swing states rather than a president trying to be the president of the entire country. California is hardly campaigned to because it is seen as such a strongly Democrat state, but in reality, over 44% of Californians are registered Republicans. Those Republican Californians feel no need to vote for president because the outcome feels predetermined.

The Electoral College also hide voter suppression and discouraged giving the vote to other groups.

The founders’ system also encouraged the continued disfranchisement of women. In a direct national election system, any state that gave women the vote would automatically have doubled its national clout. Under the Electoral College, however, a state had no such incentive to increase the franchise; as with slaves, what mattered was how many women lived in a state, not how many were empowered … a state with low voter turnout gets precisely the same number of electoral votes as if it had a high turnout. By contrast, a well-designed direct election system could spur states to get out the vote.

 Akhil Amar and Vikram Amar 

Also, the Electoral College does not allow for American Citizens who live in territories to vote for president. People in  Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam do not have the right to vote for president. It took the 23rd amendment to allow people residing in Washington DC to vote for president.

With this Supreme Court ruling, the question should be asked, if an elector cannot vote their conscience without punishment, then what is the point of the electoral college? What is the point in this now powerless check on the power of voters in each state? Should we look into a way to modify the primary system to allow more candidates to run for president, and allow the President to be chosen from a popular election. CGP Grey has a series of videos that explain different voting models that I find interesting on the topic.

If the Electoral College is not going to be used in the way the Founders have intended, we need to change the way we elect our president. The United States is bigger, has more states and people in it, and every person who chooses to vote should have their vote counted and mean something in every election.

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