- Site Feedback
- IDEA Sites
- Digital Freedoms
- 2012 Presidential Debates Guide
- Asia Youth Forum
- Big Apple Cogers
- Debate Changing Europe
- Debate in the Neighborhood
- Debating and Producing Media
- Debating the Future of Youth in Africa and Europe
- Digital Debating Blog
- Free Speech Debate
- Global Youth Forum
- Global Debate and Public Policy Challenge
- International Public Policy Forum
- Online Mentoring
- The Freedom Series
- Youth and Sports Mega-Events
This House would abolish the US Electoral College
This House would abolish the US Electoral College
The United States has perhaps the most arcane method of selecting its chief executive of any nation, one no country has chosen to emulate. There are a total of 538 votes in the electoral college, so a successful candidate needs 270 to win. Because all but two states cast their electoral votes as a unit, a candidate can win some states by narrow margins, lose others by large margins, and thus win the electoral vote while losing the popular vote. This last occurred in the election of George W. Bush in 2000.
The Founders had no political theory or coherent design in creating the electoral college, but they did have a number of motivations for doing so. Some were concerned about legislative intrigue and executive dependence on the legislature, so they wanted some mode for choosing the president other than legislative selection. Others worried about mob rule if the voters directly selected the president and feared the electoral legitimacy direct election would provide the executive. Still others felt voters would not know of distinguished men in other parts of the country, requiring intermediaries to identify the best candidates. Finally, the electoral college was a mechanism to protect slave interests, because slave states would receive credit for three-fifths of their slaves in the apportionment of electoral votes even though the slaves could not vote in an election. All of these intentions are now irrelevant in evaluating the electoral college.
There is no question that it violates core democratic principles, such as equality in voting. Are there compensations for this violation that justify maintaining it? Supporters of the electoral college argue that it protects small states, forces candidates to seek broad support, and helps to maintain the two-party system. Opponents respond that the electoral college ensures that candidates ignore most of the country, especially small states, in their campaigning, as they attend only to swing states; and that the system encourages third parties.
The electoral college has consistently proven to be unpopular with the public. Every Gallup poll taken on the subject has found clear majorities supporting direct election of the president.
The existence of the electoral college is an arcane piece of electoral history but one with important consequences. As a result, it remains a hot button contemporary issue.
 Carlson, Darren K., ‘Public Flunks Electoral College System’, Gallup, 2 November 2004, http://www.gallup.com/poll/13918/Public-Flunks-Electoral-College-System.aspx
|Points For||Points Against|
|The electoral college violates the democratic principle of equality in voting.||The electoral college prevents a tyranny of the majority.|
|The electoral college violates the democratic principle that the winner should be the candidate receiving the most votes.||The electoral college is an essential bulwark of federalism.|
|If no candidate receives a majority of the electoral vote, the House of Representatives chooses the president, with each state receiving one vote.||The electoral college inhibits the emergence of third parties and thus acts as a bulwark against extremist candidates.|
|The electoral college allows small third parties to tip the balance in a state and distort the preferences of the voters.||Casting votes by state forces candidates to be attentive to local interests, which they would otherwise ignore in a national campaign.|
|The electoral college weakens incentives for voting and party building.||The electoral college forces candidates to win broad coalitions across the country, encouraging national harmony.|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
The electoral college violates the democratic principle of equality in voting.
Under the electoral college, all votes do not count equally. Voters in some states have more say in selecting the president than voters in other states.
For example, California has 55 electoral college votes, while Delaware only get 3 votes. There is not equality in that, every state should be equal, California for voting purposes is no more important that Delaware.
 Electoral Map. Wikipedia. [Online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Electoral_map.svg
The US is not a pure democracy. The electoral college is one of the checks on majority rule. It is not violating the principle of equality of voting, because it gives every state a proportional voice based on their population.
The states that have more of a say also have a larger population of voters, therefore it is proportional. California has the largest population for any state, and therefore gets the largest number of votes in the electoral college.Improve this
The electoral college violates the democratic principle that the winner should be the candidate receiving the most votes.
In 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and probably 1960, the candidate receiving the most votes for president lost the election.
This occurs because all but two states award all their electoral votes to the candidate winning a plurality in the state; because all states receive two electoral votes corresponding to their two US senators; because the number of House seats (which serve as the basis of the remaining electoral votes) often poorly match the population of the state; because states cast electoral votes no matter how many people actually vote; and because the size of the House is arbitrary.
 Factcheck.org, ‘Presidents Winning Without Popular Vote’, Annenberg Public Policy Center, 24 March 2008, http://www.factcheck.org/2008/03/presidents-winning-without-popular-vote/
The distribution of the vote is more important than the percentages for each candidate. The entire point of having the electoral college is to that it can act as a check on the majority vote is to ensure that the candidate who is best suited and had the broadest amount of support wins the presidency. If it was simply determined by popular vote than certain regions of the country would have a greater influence on the outcome of who won. The electoral college acts as a counterbalance to that.Improve this
If no candidate receives a majority of the electoral vote, the House of Representatives chooses the president, with each state receiving one vote.
This provision allows the 7 smallest states with a population of about 4.9 million to outvote the 6 largest states with a population of 119 million. This is blatently unfair.
 Congress, XII - Manner of Choosing a President and Vice-President, 27 July 1804, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/amend1.asp#12
No one defends this aspect of the electoral college. It is indefensible.
However, it is important to note that the election has never come to the House of Representatives choosing the president. It is merely a plan of last resort to ensure that there is a president.Improve this
The electoral college allows small third parties to tip the balance in a state and distort the preferences of the voters.
In 2000, Ralph Nader siphoned a few votes from Al Gore in New Hampshire and Florida, costing Gore victories and thus the election. Nevertheless, Gore was the preferred choice of voters in a match up with George W. Bush.
 Archives.gov, ‘Historical Election Results’, ‘Electoral College Box Scores 1789-1996’, http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/scores.html
The propositions argument is not only a logical fallacy, but also discourages democracy.
It is illogical to argue that because Ralph Nader got a few votes in New Hampshire and Florida that if he was not on ballot they would have voted for Al Gore instead.
Furthermore, the American electoral framework is comprised almost exclusively of a two party system, and any candidate who runs on a third party ballot needs to be given extra support just to have any chance at all of even securing just a few votes.Improve this
The electoral college weakens incentives for voting and party building.
There is no incentive for candidates to mobilize voters in states they are sure to win – or sure to lose, and voters have little incentive to vote in noncompetitive states where their vote is likely not to matter.
Some states like Texas just have a fairly predictable voting record- they have voted republican 9 out of the last 10 presidential elections. Democratic presidential candidates do not spend much time in Texas for that reason.
This argument is suggestion that there is simply a strategy behind elections- which is true for every election. The electoral college framework does make a candidate have to acquire a number of states, in order to win, and while there may be some states that it is not the best use of time and resources to campaign as hard in.
But this does require candidates have a broad base of support in order to win the presidency.Improve this
The electoral college prevents a tyranny of the majority.
The interests of states, especially small states, would be lost in a majoritarian national campaign. The electoral college forces candidates to be attentive to state interests.
When the founding fathers created the electoral college it was with the many purposes in mind, but the tyranny of the masses is the most appropriate in mind here. It is important to remember the timeframe that the US was created in, there was not a very high literacy rate, and it would become very easy without a check on majority rule for someone to manipulate the population when entering power.
 United States of America, 1787. The Constitution of the United States. [Online] Available at: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution.html [Accessed 27 April 2012].
There is no such thing as a small state interest. States do not embody coherent, unified interests, nor do they require protection. The Constitution places many constraints on the actions of simple majorities, and the Senate provides extraordinary representation to small states. Moreover, candidates ignore most small states in their campaigns.Improve this
The electoral college is an essential bulwark of federalism.
The electoral college emphasizing the role of states, and abolishing it would weaken federalism. This system reinforces the division and sharing of powers between the states and the national government. Without it the national government would have much greater power over the state governments, and the voice of the people would be quieter. The electoral college is essential to preserving the power of individuals through their state.
Additionally, the Electoral College helps reinforce stable institutions that are essential for maintaining a political regime and preserving a free society.
 England, Trent. “What is ‘National Popular Vote’?” Save Our States. http://www.saveourstates.com/2010/what-is-national-popular-vote/
The electoral college is not a federal principle. Federalism was not mentioned at the Constitutional Convention in relation to the electoral college. The electoral college does not enhance the power or sovereignty of states. Federalism is based on representation in Congress and the Constitution’s allocation of powers to the states, not on the electoral college.Improve this
The electoral college inhibits the emergence of third parties and thus acts as a bulwark against extremist candidates.
The founding fathers had a reason to fear the emergence of extremist parties. A modern day example is with Rwanda. When they gained a multiparty democracy, without checks on majority rule, it allowed for extremist parties to enter politics and made possible the use of public resources to manipulate the population which set the necessary precondition of ethnic hatred that enabled the genocide to occur.
 Mamdani, M., 2001. When Victims Become Killers. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press. p209
The electoral college encourages third parties.
Under the electoral college, a third party with regional support can win something: a state. The winner take all aspect of direct election of the president with no runoff discourages third parties because they have to come in first to win anything.Improve this
Casting votes by state forces candidates to be attentive to local interests, which they would otherwise ignore in a national campaign.
The electoral college is helping promote democracy through implementing a mechanism that make candidates pay attention to local issues, and actually do what they are elected to do- serve the interests of their constituents.
A presidential candidate is of course going to focus on a more national level interest, but in order to visit and campaign across the country, the candidate must be at least aware of the issues that of particular interest to the local area.Improve this
Candidates do not focus on local interests because of the electoral college. The evidence is overwhelming. Candidates do not campaign in most states, nor do they run advertisements in them. Instead, the electoral college provides incentives to focus on competitive states, especially large competitive states. Moreover, candidates do not focus on local interests in the states they do visit.
We do not need a presidency responsive to parochial interests in a system that is already prone to gridlock and which offers minority interests extraordinary access to policymakers and opportunities to thwart policies they oppose.Improve this
The electoral college forces candidates to win broad coalitions across the country, encouraging national harmony.
In direct election of the president, candidates might appeal to clusters of voters, whose votes could be aggregated across states and regions, perhaps representing only one strata of society.Improve this
Candidates ignore large areas of the country in their campaigns. Moreover, George W. Bush lost most major demographic groups in winning election in 2000 under the electoral college.Improve this
Archives.gov, ‘Historical Election Results’, ‘Electoral College Box Scores 1789-1996’, http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/scores.html
Bennett, Robert W., ‘The Problem of the Faithless Elector: Trouble Aplenty Brewing Just Below The Surface in Choosing the President’, Northwestern University Law Review, Vol 100, No. 1, 2006, p.122, http://www.law.northwestern.edu/lawreview/v100/n1/121/LR100n1Bennett.pdf
Carlson, Darren K., ‘Public Flunks Electoral College System’, Gallup, 2 November 2004, http://www.gallup.com/poll/13918/Public-Flunks-Electoral-College-System.aspx
Congress, XII - Manner of Choosing a President and Vice-President, 27 July 1804, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/amend1.asp#12
Electoral Map. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Electoral_map.svg
England, Trent. “What is ‘National Popular Vote’?” Save Our States. http://www.saveourstates.com/2010/what-is-national-popular-vote/
Factcheck.org, ‘Presidents Winning Without Popular Vote’, Annenberg Public Policy Center, 24 March 2008, http://www.factcheck.org/2008/03/presidents-winning-without-popular-vote/
Ray v. Blair- 343 U.S. 214 (1952) United States Supreme Court of Alabama. https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/343/214/case.html
“Texas” 270 to Win. http://www.270towin.com/states/Texas
United states presidential election results http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/
United States of America, 1787. The Constitution of the United States. http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution.html
Bugh, Gary. Electoral College Reform: Challenges and Possibilities. Ashgate. 2010.
Edwards, George, C., III. Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America, 2nd ed. Yale University Press. 2011.
Gregg, Gary L, II, ed. Securing Democracy: Why We Have an Electoral College. ISI Books. 2001.
Koza, John R., et al. Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote, 3rd ed. National Popular Vote Press. 2011.
Ross, Tara. Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College. World Ahead Publishing. 2004.
Be a debatabase editor
Idebate needs editors from around the world to check, moderate and create content for debatabase and the site more generally. Editors are vital in making the site run smoothly and ensuring that debates are as informative as possible.