Has the Time Come to Abolish the Electoral College?
While the electoral college is as old as the American Constitution, it’s also been controversial since the very beginning of the country. Today, things are no different: Almost 60 percent of Americans would be happy to see the electoral college go, according to one poll from the Pew Research Center. However, because of the difficult requirements to amend the Constitution and other factors, it’s unlikely to be abandoned soon.
So why do many people in the United States want to get rid of the electoral college? The answer is complicated, but their reasoning boils down to two main points: they argue that the electoral college is undemocratic and undermines all Americans having an equal vote, and that it was designed to accommodate political considerations that are no longer a concern today, such as slavery. This is what you need to know about the effort to abolish the electoral college.
How It Works
When it comes to electing most state and federal officials — governor, senator, representative and more — people vote directly for a candidate, and the person with the most votes wins. In the case of the president, however, people vote for electors: persons who represent one vote from their state and who may cast their vote for whoever they like. While electors pledge to vote for a particular candidate beforehand, the Constitution doesn’t require them to follow through on their promise, and only some states have laws that outlaw breaking that pledge (more on that later).
It Harms Large States …
One of the most common complaints about the electoral college is that it disadvantages large states. Because a state can have no fewer than three electoral votes — corresponding to one representative plus two senators — people in small states get proportionally more say in electing the president than residents of larger states. In 2008, for instance, the 532,668 people of Wyoming had three electoral votes, or one per 177,556. The almost 25 million people of Texas, by contrast, had only one electoral college vote for every 715,499 people. In other words, a person in Wyoming has about four times more voting power than a Texan does.
… But Also Small States
At the same time, the electoral college is also a worse deal for small states than it might seem at first glance. While voters in such states have more say in theory over who gets to be president, it often doesn’t work out in practice. After the electoral college first came into use in 1789, presidential candidates from Virginia — the largest state in the union by population at the time — won eight of the first nine presidential elections. The trend of larger states dominating presidential elections didn’t end there, either: the only presidents to ever come from low-population states were Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce and Bill Clinton.
Swing States and the Popular Vote
The electoral college works best not for states of any one size, but rather the ones that have a close-to-even mix of Republicans and Democrats. Because most states award all of their electoral votes to whoever wins, it doesn’t make sense for presidential candidates to give large or small states much attention if they’re likely to vote for one party or the other. The electoral college ensures that the same limited pool of states decides the fate of the country every four years rather than the full union. That’s why in the same example of the 2016 election mentioned before, 25 states — mostly small to medium in size — saw no campaign events at all
What Can Be Done About the Electoral College?
So what can be done about the electoral college? The most straightforward option — getting rid of it outright through a constitutional amendment — would require the support of two-thirds of the Senate, two-thirds of the House of Representatives, and ratification by three-fourths of the states. This would be exceptionally difficult to pull off, since some states perceive the continuation of the electoral college to be in their self-interest.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact
The most likely option to succeed, however, may be the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). To join this agreement, states pass a law that binds their electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote. The agreement only goes into effect once 270 electoral votes worth of states sign on, and only 181 have to date. Should membership ever reach that number, the electoral college will be effectively ended. How many people actually support a candidate would become the deciding factor in who wins presidential elections rather than whether or not they have a slight majority in battleground states.