The Year Was 1787, the Place: Philadelphia. The Presidential Election Essay Example

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  • Published: 22 August 2020
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The Constitutional framers had finished meticulously drafting a fresh new government for a young country, the United States of America. Still bitter with England, the framers were sure to create a government radically different from theirs. One product of this need for extreme change was the electoral college. The electoral college allows each state two electors (equal to the number of senators in each state) and an equal number of electors as a state has representatives (this changes with the population of a state). The electors can be chosen in different ways depending on each specific state’s procedure. But, the similarity lies within how the electors generally vote in each state. In all states except for Nebraska and Maine, the electors in each state cast all of their votes for the candidate that won the popular vote in their state. A candidate needs at least two hundred seventy electoral votes to become the president of the United States. 

The electoral college has been under fire for a long period of time as five presidents that have been elected did not win the popular vote from the nation, but still managed to get elected as president. As we approach the next presidential election in two thousand twenty, many potential candidates have again begun to propose their ideas on the electoral college. Considering the last election (in two thousand sixteen) produced president Trump, who was not the electoral college winner, candidates running for president are using the topic of the electoral college as an essential stance in their campaigns. 

Those who believe that the electoral college should be abolished often argue by degrading the framers and the purpose of the electoral college as a whole. Those who believe that the electoral college should be reformed often argue through pragmatism by recognizing that amending the Constitution is difficult while still understanding that the Constitution is not a perfect system. Those who believe the electoral college should remain untouched often attack their opposers by characterizing them as democracy destroyers. Ultimately, I believe that the electoral college should be reformed to determine a clear majority winner, but provide individual states more flexibility with their allotted votes.

Advocates of abolishing the electoral college emphasize the conflict between the different parties of the framers of the Constitution when deciding to create the electoral college. Steve Cohen, author of “America, It’s Time to Abolish the Electoral College,” claims that “the electoral college [is] a solution to an 18th-Century problem that no longer exists,” characterizing the “prevention” of citizens from “directly electing the President” as “antithetical” to “democracy.” As a congressman, Cohen references that “on the first day of the new Congress, [he] introduced a constitutional amendment to eliminate the antiquated Electoral College and provide for the direct election of our nation’s President and Vice President.” 

He develops the point that the electoral college is an outdated institution that the United States no longer needs because the citizens of modern society have a larger access to information about candidates not from their state. Similarly, Damon Linker, author of “The Electoral College is a Civic Abomination” characterizes the electoral college as a “dumb idea” that would be “eliminated” in a “properly functioning political system.” He references the framers of the Constitution stating: “How Hamilton or anyone else with a knowledge of political history could have considered this a workable idea is beyond me” and continues by further explaining the creation of the electoral college. Both of these authors use critical language when describing the electoral college and the process in which it was initially created, instead of trying to comprehend how the electoral college could still be useful in modern society.

One of the core techniques used by advocates of abolishing the electoral college for reinforcing their point is to use a sardonic tone to explain why the electoral college was poorly created. For example, Linker describes reading the Federalist Paper No. 68 as “the musings of a dorm room full of mildly drunken undergraduates seeking to apply to the world the overly pious lessons of an "Intro to Political Theory" course.” By referring to the framers of the Constitution, the creators of the United States government, as “mildly drunken undergraduates” Linker paints the framers as unintelligent college students with only a remedial understanding of politics. 

By describing the framers in this light, Linker is able to convince readers that the Constitution was flawed at creation because most citizens would not want to know that their government was created by unintelligent young people. Cohen adds by explaining how the creators intended for the electors to make educated decisions when the votes of citizens were deemed un-educated. 

He later bashes the electoral college by juxtaposing their intended role with the outcome, stating: “In practice, that’s not what has happened: electors have not shown independent judgment and superior knowledge.” By stating that electors “have not shown independent judgment and superior knowledge”, Cohen is able to portray the current electors as uneducated by saying that they haven’t shown any intelligent judgement which makes the institution of the electoral college seem unnecessary, since electors are no longer fulfilling their intended role. This move also makes supporters of the electoral college seem like blind followers of a poorly constructed system.

In a similar fashion, supporters of the electoral college portray the opposition as illogical for wanting to abolish a system that is a useful part of United States history. The Wall Street Journal is a newspaper based out of New York starting in 1889. The Wall Street Journal editorial board claims that the abolishment of the electoral college “would create as many or more problems than it solves” because smaller areas would be disenfranchised by heavily-populated areas. By supporting a new system that would undermine the Constitution, as well as take away the voting power of smaller areas, the opposition seems illogical in their reasoning because their proposed solution by definition is not a solution because more issues arise from the so called “solution”. 

This is paramount for people who want to keep the electoral college because citizens are less likely to agree with a view that creates more problems in our government. Tom Wyler, a writer for CNN, describes the abolishment of the electoral college as “alluringly simple” though “such a change would have a dramatic impact on our national politics and would open a Pandora's box of problems.” Alluding to Pandora’s box allows readers to visualize the great magnitude of issues that would be caused by the solution of the opposition which is critical to portraying their argument as illogical because a solution to a problem that creates more problems is counterintuitive. By portraying the opposition as illogical and simplistic, the editorial board and Wyler are able to convince readers that their argument for reform is much more detailed and complex than the simplistic logic of the opposition.

Supporters of the abolishment of the electoral college also show the opposition as a proponent for states with large populations having a greater influence on the vote. Linker describes the inequality, stating: “what matters is not who votes but how many electoral votes a state is allocated;” this leads to a problem because there is a large “representational balance” between states with a higher population versus states with a lower population. This places emphasis on the inequality created by the electoral college due to the representation difference each state receives because of its population. 

This displays the preference supporters of the electoral college show to large states because they continuously support a system that diminishes the need for smaller state’s votes due to a representational balance. This is critical in making the opposition seem insensitive which makes readers more likely to want to abolish the electoral college. Cohen agrees that abolishing the electoral college would benefit states with lower populations, adding that “eliminating the electoral college” would “greatly benefit cities” similar to “Memphis” that are forgotten about while other larger cities and states are being fought over by candidates.

By portraying the opposition as in favor of larger states, supporters of the electoral college are able to elicit empathy from voters in smaller cities and states because they understand the feeling of not having an extremely valuable vote. This response is evoked in many citizens in the United States considering there are many states with very few electoral votes due to a low population.

Those who advocate for reform of the electoral college stress the importance of balance to maintain a healthy democracy. A Union Bulletin editorial board comprised of: Brian Hunt, Rick Eskil, James Blethen, and Alasdair Stewart wrote an article called “Electoral College Needs Reform, Not Abolishment” that characterized the electoral college as a well intended system that was “put in place by our nation’s Founder for some very good reasons. 

They develop the point that the electoral college “is not perfect” but should be reformed to allow for citizens’ votes to have a greater impact on chosen candidates, but prevent heavily populated areas from controlling elections. In addition, Tom Wyler, who wrote an article titled “Don’t Kill the Electoral College. Just Make it Work Better” described the abolishment of the electoral college as “unassailable” because the electoral college “incentivizes candidates to engage different demographic and geographical swaths of the country” which was one of the intended purposes for the institution at creation.

Also, Edward Foley, wrote an article titled “An Idea for Electoral College Reform that Both Parties Might Actually Like” that characterized the reform of the electoral college as a system that “better represents the will of American people” so that the electoral college will remain in place, but better fit the needs of the American public. All three authors describe the abolishment of the electoral college as a “simple solution” with dire implications to United States democracy because the framers of the Constitution and creators of United States democracy included the electoral college to promote stability and balance. 

Those who advocate for keeping the electoral college stress the idea that the electoral college give smaller and or less populated states voices in presidential elections. The Wall Street Journal, author of “Electoral College Should Not Be Abolished” characterizes the electoral college as a system that “[helps] ensure that states with diverse preferences could cohere under a single federal government.” They develop the point that the electoral college is a beneficial institution since it “contributes to political stability” and prevents a plurality of third-party candidates from running since “presidential elections often do not produce popular majorities.” 

Similarly, Joel Kurtinitis, a writer for the Des Moines Register wrote a piece titled “Want Iowa to Have a Voice in Our Country? Protect the Electoral College.” He distinguishes the function of the electoral college as “really important to maintaining constitutional checks and balances” and also “important to small, lower-population states.” In addition, Mark Sadd wrote a piece titled “Electoral College a State Equalizer”, in which the electoral college is described as “a creature of the Constitution designed to ensure the relevance and dignity of each state” that helps maintain “sovereignty of the states.” All of these authors use language that convey the importance of the electoral college to maintain balance in the presidential elections and ensure that small states, or states with lower populations are represented in presidential elections.

One of the most prevalent methods for reinforcing the idea that the electoral college is necessary in a reformed manner is showing how inequitable voting would be without parameters for states with large populations. For example, the editorial board describes the situation in Washington state because the “eastern half of the state” alongside the “rural parts of the west side” tend to favor Republicans while the “urban Puget Sound area” tends to favor Democrats which makes Washington a Democrat state most election years. 

With the proposed system of splitting up state votes so that there is no longer a winner-takes-all system, there would be more equity for areas in Washington like the rural west. This is important because this change to the current voting system could allow for less-populated areas of states to have a larger influence during elections. This reform would also align with the framers belief that there needs to be a balance between popular-vote election and non-direct election (which is the electoral college). 

Wyler follows by adding that, “This Electoral College 2.0 would improve the legitimacy of our process by encouraging more Americans to participate and by incentivizing candidates to campaign more broadly across the country.” This is important because more Americans voting from areas with large populations as well as areas with smaller populations would make elections more equitable because there would be a larger group of citizens contributing to the election of presidents. 

Additionally, Foley adds that states could “award all of its electoral votes to a candidate who receives a majority of the state’s popular vote” and if no candidate wins the majority vote, the state could split its electoral votes. This process fits the “Jeffersonians’ commitment to federalism” because the states have the right to change the system their state uses in election

One of the most prevalent methods for reinforcing their point is to juxtapose benefits the opposition believes would occur versus the reality of abolishing the electoral college. For example, Sadd explains the outrage many felt when Hillary Clinton was not elected as president explaining: “Hillary Clinton, won the national popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes over the Republican, Donald Trump” which is irrelevant in the context of the electoral college because the so called “popular vote” does not always dictate the winner of the presidential election. 

This highlights the importance of the electoral college because as Sadd states “Weakening federalism undermines all of the states and would consign the weakest ones.” This is crucial since the opposition believes that the abolishment of the electoral college would make elections more fair, when in reality, smaller states, or states with lower populations would ultimately be harmed as their votes would not have as significant of an impact as they do through the electoral college. 

Later, Kurtinitis describes the importance of the electoral college adding that “without it, many states practically disappear from the political map.” Kurtinitis also speaks about the issue of abolishing the electoral college stating: “half of the U.S. population now lives in the nine most populous states. If you break it down further and look at counties, half of the population lives in only 4.6 percent of counties nationwide.” This juxtaposes the view that abolishing the electoral college would make all votes more important in the elections because this quote shows how heavily populated areas would control elections. 

This is important because the electoral college functions as a limit for heavily populated areas because it limits the amount of votes those areas are able to contribute while the electoral college gives smaller and less populated states some votes, so that those states have a say in the elected president. In addition, The Wall Street Journal adds that while “‘majority rules’ has always been an appealing slogan, it’s an insufficient principle for structuring the electoral system in the U.S.” because “A free-for-all plebiscite would hurt the system’s legitimacy.” 

This exemplifies the harm that abolishing the electoral college would cause, despite the opposition’s arguments that abolishment would be equivalent to solved issues. This shows how the opposition’s views juxtapose the views of the proponents of the electoral college because while the opposition believes that abolishing the electoral college would bolster democracy, proponents of the electoral college are able to show that abolishing the electoral college would be detrimental to United States democracy.

The electoral college should be reformed to better suit the needs of the present day democracy. Some argue that the electoral college is an archaic system that needs to be abolished and simply changed to a popular-vote system to make the votes of individuals have a heavier impact. While I do agree that the current electoral college system is archaic, I do not believe that simply abolishing the electoral college to solve our problems is the correct course of action. 

The election was intended to give individuals, especially those in smaller states an equivalent voice to those in large or highly populated areas. Tara Ross, a lawyer and author, wrote a piece titled “The Electoral College: Enlightened Democracy” that details arguments for multiple perspectives on the electoral college as well as explaining the historical significance of the electoral college and how it relates to modern day. When describing the purpose for the creation of the electoral college, Ross emphasizes: “The primary effect of America's federalist presidential election process is to protect the freedom of individuals -- particularly those in small states and sparsely populated areas.”

The “federalist presidential election process” also known as the electoral college is beneficial according to Ross also because the college was designed to keep the votes of small states in mind. With that said, the electoral college is nowhere near perfect as the modern electoral college has been in place for two hundred fifteen years after being ratified by the twelfth amendment. As with most aspects of society, everything changes over time, especially over a span of two decades. This is true of the electoral college too, as the current system has produced five presidents who won the electoral college votes, but did not win the popular vote in states that they received electoral votes in. 

With reform to the electoral college, possibly similar to the District Plan, which would allocate electoral votes in each state by popular vote winners in each district, a new electoral college could be created that would still achieve the original goals of the electoral college created by the framers as well as take a more nuanced stance on democracy by allowing for whole states to vote for different people. 

Catherine Alles, a writer for the Foundation for Economic Education, wrote a piece titled “Don’t Abolish the Electoral College, Improve It” in which she details the various beliefs many hold about the electoral college and reforming the electoral college. Alles describes reform of the Constitution by saying that it prevents “direct democracy” which “The Founding Fathers warned against ‘the tyranny of the majority.’” By reforming the electoral college, the United States would be able to allow for the voices of different states and parts of states to be heard while also avoiding the “tyranny of the majority.”

Others believe that the electoral college should be abolished completely because there have been five instances throughout history in which the electoral college has “failed” to serve its purpose because the national popular vote was different from the winner in the electoral college. Opponents to the electoral college also believe that because the electoral college has produced presidents that were not popular-vote winners, the electoral college is not a function of democracy.  

Fritz Dufour, a linguist, wrote a paper titled, “Is the US Electoral College a Polite Fiction that Should Be Abolished?” In which he details how the electoral college is composed and how the institution has served American democracy since creation. Later in the paper, Dufour lists all of the presidents that were elected not by popular vote insisting that: “had it not been for the electoral college, the country never would have experienced these presidents in the first place.” 

While this may be true, there is no way of being able to say that the candidate who lost would have been a better president had they won because the “loser” of the election could have been worse than the president that was in office. Many opposers of the electoral college also believe that the electoral college is not a function of democracy because as Abraham Lincoln famously stated, democracy is government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” 

This statement leads the opposition to believe that the electoral college prohibits democracy because the people are not directly electing their president. By abolishing the electoral college, America would no longer have an American democracy, but have a true American democracy that matches all other democracies around the world since America is the only country with an electoral college. I do see the value in believing the electoral college hinders democracy, however, the citizens of the United States are still contributing to the direct election of their president in a fashion because the electors in most states vote for whichever candidate wins the majority vote in their state, which more often than not, is the national popular-vote winner.

Works Cited

National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/electors.html. 

Alles, Catherine. “Don't Abolish the Electoral College, Improve It.” Foundation for Economic Education, 28 Mar. 2019, fee.org/articles/don-t-abolish-the-electoral-college-improve-it/. 

Cohen, Steve. “America, It's Time to Abolish the Electoral College” The Commercial Appeal, 10 Jan. 2019, www.commercialappeal.com/story/opinion/contributors/2019/01/10/america-its-time-abolish-electoral-college-cohen/2513682002/. Op-ed. 

Dufour, Fritz. “Is the US Electoral College a Polite Fiction That Should Be Abolished?” SSRN, 13 Dec. 2017, papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3082282.

Foley, Edward “An Idea for Electoral College Reform That Both Parties Might Actually Like.” POLITICO Magazine, 12 Jan. 2019, www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/01/12/electoral-college-reform-conservatives-223965. Op-ed.

Kurtinitis, Joel. “Want Iowa to Have a Voice in Our Country? Protect the Electoral College.” Des Moines Register, 14 Jan. 2019, www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/2019/01/10/electoral-college-protects-iowa-voice-interests-congress-presidential-elections-voting/2536291002/. Op-ed. 

Linker, Damon. “The Electoral College Is a Civic Abomination.” The Week, 19 Sept. 2018, theweek.com/articles/796519/electoral-college-civic-abomination. Op-ed. 

Moulton, Seth. “Abolish the Filibuster and the Electoral College.” The Washington Post, 12 Mar. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/abolish-the-filibuster-and-the-electoral-college/2019/03/12/ac9bc0f2-44d9-11e9-90f0-0ccfeec87a61_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d8e84665a904. Op-ed.

Ross, Tara. “The Electoral College: Enlightened Democracy.” The Heritage Foundation, www.heritage.org/the-constitution/report/the-electoral-college-enlightened-democracy. 

Sadd, Mark A. “Mark Sadd: Electoral College a State Equalizer.” Charleston Gazette-Mail, 9 Oct. 2018, www.wvgazettemail.com/opinion/daily_mail_opinion/daily_mail_columnists/mark_sadd/mark-sadd-electoral-college-a-state-equalizer-daily-mail-opinion/article_ae413dfe-0858-5835-8696-b5305320f1a6.html. Op-ed. 

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board. “Electoral College Should Not Be Abolished.” Bowling Green Daily News, 23 Mar. 2019, www.bgdailynews.com/opinion/commentary/electoral-college-should-not-be-abolished/article_9930a22f-8110-5f31-b544-981496df4d75.html. Editorial.

Union Bulletin Editorial Board. “Electoral College Needs Reform, Not Abolishment.” Union Bulletin, 20 Mar. 2019, www.union-bulletin.com/opinion/editorials/electoral-college-needs-reform-not-abolishment/article_31439282-4b3b-11e9-822f-0313d65c82de.html. Editorial.

Wyler, Tom. “Don't Kill the Electoral College. Just Make It Work Better.” CNN, 20 Mar. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/03/19/opinions/dont-kill-electoral-college-make-better-wyler/index.html. Op-ed.