PCP: Against

Cameron Soltys - 3B Mechanical
Posted on: November 19, 2016

The US system of government is a long-established one. Its constitution came into force in 1789. That constitution included Article 2, which established the powers and procedures for the President, the head of state. Within this article, the existence of the Electoral College is ordained. While this body has been changed by several subsequent amendments—notably the Twenty-third which gave the District of Columbia (D.C.) representation in the Electoral College—its purpose remains the same: to be elected by the citizens of each state and to elect the President and Vice-President of the United States.

The Electoral College is made of 538 electors. Each elector represents a state, with the number of electors allocated to each state being equal to the combined number of federal Representatives and Senators elected by said state. (D.C., which has neither Representatives nor Senators, is allocated three electors) During each federal election, citizens vote for who they desire to become president. Based on their response, the state appoints electors who promise to vote in favour of the population’s desired candidate. In 49 of the 51 states-plus-DC, these representatives are appointed on a winner-takes-all basis; if a 51% majority of the population prefers one candidate, the state appoints all their electors to vote for said candidate. In Maine and Nebraska, the electors are decided based on the vote in each congressional-district (similar to a Canadian riding), with the two extra representatives they receive due to their two senators being decided by the state-wide popular vote.

The Electoral College is a confusing and unproductive mess that could and should be removed from the US election process. At best, it is an unnecessary level of bureaucracy that can only cause problems due to its members’ ability to vote against their constituents will. At worst, it is a system that completely marginalizes much of the voting population through its winner-takes-all stance, the creation of swing states, and the lack of representation in the nation’s various territories.

One reason that the Electoral College should be removed is that is allows a presidential candidate to receive the majority of the Electoral College vote without winning a majority of the vote. Since each state (except Nebraska and Maine) awards all their electoral votes based on the majority vote, a state that overwhelmingly votes for one candidate does not result in more support than an equally-represented state that votes marginally for another candidate. In this case (assuming a two-party system), the first candidate receives 75% of the popular vote, but only 50% of the Electoral College vote. To be fair, this is an issue with all “winner-take-all” systems (including Maine and Nebraska, where the process is performed on a congressional-district level). “Winner-take-all” systems can be infuriating in general, but it is especially the case in the Electoral College where each state already has at least three representatives that they could integrate into a proportional-representation scheme election.

Due to the winner-take-all system—and especially because most states offer homogenous, sometimes enormous, representation in the Electoral College—the US presidential election focuses on a few “swing states” that have near-parity in voter opinion of the candidates (or, frequently, the parties). In these states, intense campaigning, especially of minority groups that can be swayed to one candidate or the other, occurs. Non-swing states, which are firmly in one camp, do not receive attention because their vote has already been, in some sense, decided. This is very unfair to all the voters in the non-swing states, whose opinions do not have to matter to the presidential candidate.

Even supposing that swing states are not an issue, the winner-take-all system causes the votes of the losers—and, in some sense, the winners—to be meaningless. It does not matter how much support the losers mustered; they receive no representation for their effort. While the citizens of the state who voted for the winning side are undoubtedly elated that their entire state’s representation is going to their desired candidate, many of their votes did not matter either; once a majority is reached, all additional votes for the winning party are as inconsequential as the votes for the losing party, since they have no effect on the outcome of the election. Thus, in any election of the Electoral College, exactly half of the votes have a meaningful impact on the election, the other half having none.

In addition to providing extremely poor representation to the people of the United States states, the Electoral College categorically provides no representation to the various US territories such as Guam, among others. Despite this, the policies and decisions of the president have an enormous impact on the people living in these territories. This lack of representation is very undemocratic, and it has lead Guam to perform a straw poll each election to raise awareness of this unfairness.

It has now been established that the current Electoral College system is undemocratic, denying legitimate representation to large sections of the US population. These issues could, possibly, be fixed. However, this is an arduous task that is simply unnecessary; the Electoral College is an entirely unproductive layer of bureaucracy in the modern US political system. The electors have only one mandate: to vote in the election of the next president. The Electoral College is like a personification of the people’s opinion, their votes needlessly given a physical body. Admittedly, there is one way in which an elector differs from a sheet of paper with a presidential candidate’s name on it; the Elector is not required to vote per the will of the constituents they represent. While this wholly undemocratic process could be fixed by yet more overhaul of the system, the result of this effort would be to turn the Electoral College completely into what this essay just accused it of being; people’s vote personified by a layer of bureaucracy.

One argument made in support of the Electoral College system is that, should a presidential candidate die between the casting of the public vote in November and the Electoral College vote in December, the Elector can vote for a still-alive candidate without requiring the entire nation to return to the polling booths. However, this particular contingency could be fixed by acknowledging political parties as a legitimate political institution and allowing the party of a deceased candidate to field a new candidate who would be entitled to the votes awarded to their predecessor.

The United States Electoral College is an irrelevant bureaucratic layer that does not have any effect on the election process, except possibly to subvert the will of the people. Its use of a winner-takes-all system, especially on a multi-representative state level, results in the existence of swing states. This results in virtual non-representation of people outside of the swing states, as well as many people within the swing states. What is more, even ignoring the system overhaul that ought to be done to replace the winner-take-all process, the Electoral College has no purpose except to forward the pre-decided will of the people. The few token roles that they do play, such as resolving the unlikely issue of a presidential-candidate death, are of little consequence and could be replaced.