The Electoral College Flunks Out ?

Talk of abolishing the electoral college was rampant after the Bush-Gore 2000 election. The sentiment persists with states considering changes in assignment of election delegates. Everyone should reflect upon the reasons for the electoral college.

  • The current electoral process is tedious and frustrating.
  • The electoral college serves as check and balance of the electorate.
  • The electoral college tempers the influence of populous states.

First published 10 Nov 2000, revised 1 Nov 2007

It is unfortunate that the intelligentsia wishes to ignore reason and understanding for a few quick shots and cheap headlines.

Sure, the current electoral process is tedious, frustrating and at times just plain silly. But that's not because of the process, it's because of the players.

First, let's look at why there is an electoral college. It's not just so some 500 people can get together and have a party. The purpose of the electoral college is to serve as check and balance of power - not of government - of the electorate.

The electoral college was designed to ensure that the the voices of small states would be heard. If the decision were determined on the basis of 'popular vote,' alone, then the few most populous states - say NY, CA, TX & FL - would always determine the elected leaders of government. And politicians would cater to the populous states to the detriment of small states. The electoral college tempers the influence of the populous states by giving each state a baseline of power. That power is then augmented by a state's population. Each state is assured a weighted participation in the process. This allows a coalition of even small states to exert influence. Stupid? Outlived? Flunked out? NO.

The weighted participation by states justifies staying within the process - rather than seceding from the rest of the nation because a state has no voice. Perhaps that was a lesson more relevant at the time of drafting - remember history, "no taxation without representation," you know, the whole tea party thing.

Well then, what about the players? Voter apathy is a recurring problem in the United States. At least a third of the country decided not to vote in the 2000 Presidential election. Of those who did vote, they had to decide between a reformed alcoholic who didn't grow up until he was 40 versus the admitted dope smoking megalomaniac who refused to accept responsibility for his own lapses and defeats (don't like being a journalist in Nam? go to divinity school, whoops! got me out of Nam but there's someone more powerful than me? let's try law school next - hey why didn't I graduate from law school?). The best that America has to offer? No wonder voters couldn't decide who to vote for (or maybe against) in the 2000 election. We really did have Indecision 2000 and the electoral process precisely reflected that indecision.

2004 didn't fare much better. It's reported that about 60% of eligible voters participated. But this 60% allowed both the winner and the loser to garner more votes that Reagan's 49 state landslide of 1984. Prospects for 2008 are similarly dismal. The candidates range from incompetent to pompous and pretentious. To date, they've shown little to vote for, only against.

It's estimated that from 1960 to 1995, only 51% of eligible voters decided to participate in presidential elections. The Federal Election Commission reported that 1996 turnout of voting age population varied from a low of 38% in Nevada to almost 72% in Maine.

The reasons for voter participation or apathy are myriad. And, it's for this very reason that the electoral college retains its importance. There are regional issues that influence voter turnout, as well as voter hysteria. To allow election decisions to be based on a strictly popular vote exaggerates those influences and does not serve the nation as a whole. Though the east and west coasts may view the internecine span separating them as irrelevant, none could have the same prosperity without the other.

This common prosperity demands all states be given voice in the electoral process. It is the electoral college that allows all states to voice their preference, not just the most populous states. While critics of the electoral college may claim that Florida's 150 votes gave Bush the 2000 election (a claim that would have been moot if Gore had carried his home state of Tennessee) or that Ohio decided the 2004 election (too bad the other 49 states weren't allowed to vote!), they have to argue a dichotomy as Bush won the popular vote in 2004. Would they have preferred that Kerry win an electoral college vote as Bush did in 2000?

Do the pundits really think that there would be laughter about the process if even 51% of the population wanted one of these candidates? No, that was proven in 2004 when Bush took both the popular vote and the electoral college. Decry the candidates, decry the voters, decry the media, decry the pundits but the process works.

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