Some ideas on how to reform the Electoral College and why we’re stuck with it for the time being.
After the presidential election of 2016, you would be hard pressed to find someone – specifically Democrats – that feel the Electoral College is worth keeping around. While some still consider the Electoral College to be a decent enough system for choosing the president, others are signing a petition asking electors to change their electoral votes from Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton (which FYI has almost 4.5 million signatures as of this writing).
Many have started to ask what reforms could be made to the Electoral College so it better represents “the will of the people?” Let’s take a look at some of the possible reforms that could be made – but most likely won’t happen – to the Electoral College in our 10-Point Expert!
Point 1: As specified in Article Two of the Constitution, the Electoral College is a system used by the US to select the US President and Vice President through a process where citizens essentially choose “electors” that in turn pledge to vote for their party’s candidates. So in other words, if you voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 you didn’t directly vote for her to become president, but instead voted for someone that pledged they would use their electoral vote towards Clinton if enough people voted for them to do so.
Point 2: If that explanation sounds convoluted and complicated, that’s because through various changes and evolutions to the system, the Electoral College looks nothing like what the Framers of the Constitution originally intended! The original idea was to have a special group of electors to pick a president and practice their best judgement while doing it. However with the rise of political parties in the 1800’s and the Jefferson-Burr “who will be president” fiasco, these events ended up giving citizens more power in swaying electors and helped morph the Electoral College into what we know today.
Point 3: So while the current form of the Electoral College does give citizens more say in who gets elected president, the majority of Americans agree that the institution either has to evolve to more accurately represent the US’ changing geographic population densities or it should just be done away with completely.
Point 4: Yet there are still major proponents of the Electoral College out there. One of the biggest reasons people defend the Electoral College has to do with its representation in rural areas. The fear that some people have of electing the US President through direct representation – where whichever candidate gets the most votes becomes president – is that rural areas might not be represented properly. Under the current Electoral College, states like Iowa, North Carolina, or even Wyoming matter in an electoral race. If presidential contests were a direct vote, many worry that states with large rural areas would be neglected due to their small population densities. The argument goes that in an election based on the popular vote, the smart strategy is for candidates to win over voters in population rich areas (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, and other metropolitan cities).
Point 5: However, the biggest flaw of the Electoral College came front-and-center at the 2016 presidential election. With Hillary Clinton getting just under 800,000 more votes than Donald Trump, yet losing the presidential election due to Trump getting more electoral votes. So the biggest complaint of the Electoral College is pretty clear, many feel that it doesn’t accurately represent the will of the people.
Point 6: One of the reforms to the Electoral College recently came from retiring California Senator Barbra Boxer. Well… to be honest, it’s less of a reform to the Electoral College as it is more of a way to abolish it completely. Sen. Boxer’s bill calls for a Constitutional amendment ending the Electoral College and having the president be picked through the popular vote. But the chances of this bill passing is slim considering it would have to pass both chambers of Congress, which both the House and Senate currently have strong Republican majorities. As this Trump tweet demonstrates, why would the GOP want to get rid of a system that has helped them get into power?
The Electoral College is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play. Campaigning is much different!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2016
Point 7: The other reform measure that has circled around for the last couple of years in academic circles and with various reform groups has been the idea of split electoral voting. Similar to how Maine and Nebraska currently divvy up their state’s electoral votes on election night, each state would allocate two electoral votes to the state’s popular vote winner and then divide the remaining electoral votes based on who won their respective Congressional districts in that state. This of course would replace how states currently hand-out electoral votes, which is a winner-take-all method. So if we were to take Maine in 2016 for example, that state had 4 electoral votes and were divided between Hillary Clinton (3 electoral votes – 2 votes for winning the popular vote and 1 vote for winning a Congressional district) and Donald Trump (winning 1 electoral vote for winning a Congressional district).
Point 8: While split electoral voting would be a great compromise of keeping the Electoral College while still reforming it to better mirror US’ current geographical density, politicians in both the House and Senate would most likely kill the measure since both Democratic and Republican strongholds – like California and Texas respectively – would become completely null in a presidential contest where split electoral voting were taking place. Once again, why would those in Congress change a system that has gotten them elected?
Point 9: Yet the biggest road block of reforming the Electoral College comes in the fact that it would have to be in the form of an amendment to the Constitution. That means, even if a bill were to pass through Congress and signed by the president, to become a Constitutional Amendment it would have to be ratified by 3/4 of the states within seven years of passing Congress!
Point 10: Right now there is a lot of anger being directed at the Electoral College, and rightfully so! Still, the reality of the situation is this; the Electoral College isn’t going anywhere. Whether its Sen. Boxer’s amendment of abolishing the Electoral College or trying to reform the system by implementing split electoral voting, to change how we choose a president would need a Constitutional Amendment and the support for an action of that nature just isn’t there. So in other words, whether you like the Electoral College or not, we’re stuck with it for the time being.
(Photo Credit: Wikipedia, Broadway.com, Google Images)