Created by Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the constitution of the United States and refashioned by the 12th and 23rd amendments, the Electoral College is a distinctive political institution unique to America’s democracy. Since its establishment, this system has generated confusion and discontent among the general population and political class, especially in instances where the popular vote winner could not assume the presidency. The Founding Fathers envisaged a system that would debar imprudent people from electing ill-suited candidates into office, facilitate democratic growth, and demarcate between Congressional and direct elections. Consequently, the process of electing a president in the United States is considerably long and more intricate due to the institution of the Electoral College. The conspicuous feature of the United States presidential elections is that when the people participate in the presidential polls, they are essentially voting for their states’ representatives (Electors) instead of the president. Although the Electoral College was conceived to bar imprudent individuals from voting unsuitable persons for the presidency, it should be abolished due to its distinctive undemocratic feature.
The Concept of Electoral Democracy
The Electoral College is America’s longstanding and controversial presidential voting process defined by its unique dynamics and peculiar mechanisms. In most democracies, citizens choose their preferred presidential candidate directly through a popular vote. However, in the United States, the ultimate winner of a presidential poll is determined by the Electoral College, a political institution created by Article II and the Constitution’s clauses 2 and 3 (U.S. Const. art. II, § I, cl. 2 & 3). According to Webster (2016), America’s Founding Fathers were committed to establishing a representative democracy, but their aristocratic perspectives made them apprehensive of a direct democratic formation. Under these constitutional provisions, citizens’ right to choose their preferred president and vice president is nonexistent. In this regard, the legislation requires each state, the District of Columbia, and Washington, D.C. to appoint electors equal to its cumulative total members of Congress in the House of Representatives and Senate.
The institution of the Electoral College was a compromise between three competing options for selecting the country’s president. One argument advanced the notion of having the president elected by Congress but was rejected due to the potential destruction and attenuation of the balance of power between the executive and legislature. The other consideration was to have the president selected by state legislature, an option which was dismissed since it could attenuate federal authority if the executive became reliant on another level of government. Similarly, the direct election of the president by the general public was abandoned due to the Founding Fathers’ deep-seated skepticism toward the citizens’ capacity to pick the best candidate. The failure of these options led to the birth of the Electoral College, whose outline was developed by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 68 (Webster, 2016). The system has created discontentment and confusion among Americans, especially in two elections where the winner of the popular vote lost decisively in the Electoral College.
Reasons for the Abolition of the Electoral College
Potentially Dangerous Glitches and Inconclusive Outcomes
The Electoral College is defined by its unique feature where the Electors cast two ballots, with the overall winner of the process becoming the president and the subsequent finisher assuming the vice presidency. However, this has not always been the case since there have been incidences of contingent outcomes for the presidential contender and the running mate. According to Neale (2020), this phenomenon, although rare, has occurred three times, including in 1801, 1825, and 1837. This manifests one of the inherent failures of the Electoral College system, where the polling process does not yield a decisive winner for the two seats. Although such constitutional amendments as the 12th and 13th have been enacted to address similar eventualities and the challenges associated with inconclusive contests, the potential of their recurrence is still high under the system. From this perspective, it is evident that the Electoral College as an electoral process is highly susceptible and exposed to indecisive outcomes and should be abolished.
Skeptical Notions about the General Public
The political institution of the Electoral College propagates the negative perspectives espoused by the Founding Fathers about the general public’s imprudence and incapacity to elect suitable officeholders. According to Webster (2016), the Articles of Confederation illustrate the depth of skepticism with which the constitutional framers viewed the judgmental abilities of the people. For instance, in Federalist No. 68, Alexander Hamilton contended that the obligation of electing the country’s leadership should be the preserve of a small clique of judicious and highly analytical persons (Hamilton, 1768). This implies that the desire to create a truly representative democracy was extinguished by the perceived inability of the people to internalize, interrogate, and analyze the distinct attributes of presidential contenders. Therefore, the concept of the Electoral College is elitist and a nuanced version of voter subjugation based on the imagined inability of the populace to make prudent choices.
Disregard Voter Plurality
The system of the Electoral College is anchored on the winner-take-all philosophy, which is characterized by a disregard for voter plurality. In the United States, all the ballots cast for the candidate who loses in a particular state are inconsequential and disregarded overlooked since all the Electoral College votes are allocated to the winning contender. Consequently, a substantial proportion of voters feel overlooked by the current system. Further, the states’ population sizes are immaterial under this electoral structure due to the equal representation in the Senate. In this regard, the Electoral College embraces and advances undemocratic values similar to those avoided if Congress were to elect the president. This implies that these two approaches to arriving at who becomes the president, although different, are anchored on the same undemocratic premise. Consequently, they create the possibility of a scenario where the presidential poll winner does not enjoy the support of the majority.
Bias and Skewed Focus on the Swing States
The Electoral College system promotes a highly skewed focus on swing states by the presidential contenders as a critical campaign strategy. According to Heersink et al. (2021), people who intend to run for the presidency understand that the chances of winning the poll are predicated on the events and outcomes of a select number of states. For instance, ex-president Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was assured after securing the electoral votes from states characterized by such attributes as high demographic diversity, voter volatility, and a closely politically divided population (Erikson et al., 2020). This implies that candidates will concentrate most of their campaign visits, targeted advertising, and staffing, creating a perception of varying vote weights and importance. As a result, the voters in states classified as unlikely to shift their loyalty to another political party may feel ignored due to the inherent bias of the Electoral College. From this perspective, the Electoral College should be abolished and supplanted with a system that does not embody such unfairness.
Potential of Eroded Presidential Legitimacy
One significant challenge stemming from the inherent flaws of the Electoral College political institution is the substantial erosion of the president’s legitimacy. This is aggravated in instances of voter inversion where the loser of the popular vote ascends to the presidential office (Carey et al., 2021). According to Price (2019), legitimacy is an indispensable pillar of post-election governance since it influences the winner’s ability to govern effectively and enables the country to surmount the conflicts and divisions created by an election. Indeed, a candidate who assumes the presidency through voter inversion suffers a substantial loss of acceptance, authority, and confidence from the people (Carey et al., 2021). From this perspective, the Electoral College is a system that ought to be replaced due to its invalidation of the voter’s will.
Conclusively, the Founding Fathers developed the Electoral College political institution as a compromised system between various competing options. Despite their position that it was the best approach to elect the country’s president, it suffers various shortcomings. These include the notion that the general public was incapable of selecting suitable leadership, the inherent potential of inconclusive outcomes, suppression of the democratic expression of the majority, and advancing the winner-takes-all concept. Additionally, the system downgrades the vote weight of populous states while elevating the ballot power from less populated jurisdictions. Although many attempts have been launched to cure some of these flaws, the United States should seek its abolishment and pursue the realization and installation of an authentic representative democracy.
Carey, J., Helmke, G., Nyhan, B., Sanders, M., Stokes, S., & Yamaya, S. (2020). The effect of electoral inversions on democratic legitimacy: Evidence from the United States. APSA Preprints. Web.
Erikson, R., Sigman, K., & Yao, L. (2020). Electoral College bias and the 2020 presidential election. Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences, 117(45), 27940−27944. Web.
Hamilton, A. (1788). Federalist papers: Primary documents in American history. Library. Web.
Heersink, B., Peterson, B., & Peterson, J. (2021). Mobilization and countermobilization: The effect of candidate visits on campaign donations in the 2016 presidential election. The Journal of Politics, 83(4), 1878−1883. Web.
Neale, T. H. (2020). Contingent election of president and vice president by Congress: Perspectives and contemporary analysis.
Price, T. (2019). The Electoral College. CQ Researcher, 29, 1-57.
U. S. Const. art. II, § I, cl. 2 & 3.
Webster, G. R. (2016). The purpose, structure, and limitations of the Electoral College. The Geography Teacher, 13(3), 101–105. Web.