The Presidential voting system in the USA is traditionally carried out within the realm of the Electoral College, a body of official electors who define the President of the state every four years. Although this approach to electing mostly represents the will of the majority of the population, sometimes it might result in choosing a candidate that does not obtain the majority of votes. It has happened twice in the twenty-first century that the candidates with the most popular votes failed to become President due to the rule of the Electoral College. In the professional literature, the currently implemented system of voting is referred to as a rudiment that does not reflect the true essence of a democratic society.
The National Popular Vote strategy promotes the election by the majority of votes as the most credible approach. However, there remain those who still support the Electoral College justifying their opinion by the importance of equalizing the roles of large and small states. The ongoing debate between the proponents of both strategies imposes the need for investigating the underlying issues within each and comparing them to justify a superior one.
Currently Used System of Presidential Election
Traditionally, presidential elections in the United States are held not on the basis of the popular vote but according to a long-established system involving Electoral College. This official body incorporates individuals, Electors, who carry out the voting process by representing the states. Electoral College includes 538 people from 50 states and the District of Columbia (DC). Importantly, the number of Electors representing a state is defined by the combined number of Senate and House members delegated from that state; DC delegates three individuals to the Electoral College (Sarantsev 1). Thus, different states have a different number of representatives among the Electors.
According to the currently implemented procedure, the Electors must give their votes for the candidates who receive the most popular vote in their state. Such a system functions under the force of so-called “winner-take-all” laws, which “award all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes in each state” (“Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote”). Accordingly, the candidate who wins the most of the Electoral College’s votes, which is 270 or more, becomes President. In case of a tie vote 269-269, the House of Representatives makes a decision as per the presidency of one of the candidates.
An important part of the Electoral College’s functioning is its allocation of equalized degrees of influence to different, small and large, states. Under the conditions of federalism in the USA, the addressing of the interests of each state is crucial to preserving constitutional democracy. Therefore, when voting with the help of the Electoral College, the actual number of votes allocated to a particular candidate is less important than the percentage of votes’ majority in a given state. In such a manner, the electing system helps to avoid “the influence of majoritarianism” (Villegas 205). Consequently, such a complex and debatable system is stipulated in the Constitution and has a long history of functioning for the reasons for preserving the true essence of democracy in a federal state.
The Strategy of the National Popular Vote Movement
As a way of substituting this seemingly undemocratic approach with a more just system, the activists propose a National Popular Vote compact. They consider that “electing the president by a straight popular vote or allocating electoral votes proportionally would make the system more representative of the public will” (Villegas, 203). According to the opponents of the Electoral College, the rudimental system of voting does not function properly and fails to represent the opinion of all the states.
They argue that in 2012 when the most popular voted candidate did not become President, the votes of 38 states were disregarded (“Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote”). The new system is aimed at eliminating such injustice and refers to the fact that “the winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes is state law” and can be changed by the power of states (“Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote”). Currently, the bill of the National Popular Vote Interstate compact is supported by 16 jurisdictions including 196 electoral votes, which is insufficient for changing the system. However, if the majority supports the popular vote approach, the Presidential elections will be carried out according to the will of the majority of votes.
Since some of the states have more influence than others under the provision of the Electoral College system, the candidates concentrate their attention on the most influential states, thus omitting the interests of less contributing ones. When using the National Popular Vote approach, the opinion of each citizen is expected to be influential regardless of their leaning toward a party or their home state. Consequently, unbiased democratic elections will be ensured across the USA, and such cases as the elections of 2000 and 2016 will not occur. The majority will be the decision-maker in the process of elections.
Comparison of the Two Approaches
The debate around the role of the majority’s opinion in the provision of democracy has been active for several decades. According to Villegas, the currently used approach has been deemed undemocratic and outdated; the one that fails to provide the equality of votes (201). There are several issues that serve as shortcomings of the current approach. Firstly, the Electoral College system does not always represent the popular vote of the majority of the citizens.
The two most recent cases, the elections of 2000 and 2016 showed that the candidates without the most popular vote won the elections and went to the White House (Laurent et al. 53). Such an allocation of the winning position to a candidate with fewer votes serves as a stimulus for democratic theorists and the general public to withdraw from the wrongful system and adhere to the popular vote approach.
Secondly, within the framework of a two-party political system prevailing in the USA, Electoral College is claimed to be biased in relation to partisanship matters. Since both the 2000 and 2016 Presidential elections resulted in the victory of the candidates from the Republican Party, it has been assumed that the members of the Electoral College tend to vote against the Democratic Party (Sarantsev 1). Also, Laurent et al. such shortcomings of the currently used approach as voters being “disenfranchised in four-fifths of the states,” failure to “reflect the nationwide popular vote and not every vote are equal” (58). Such validations are reasonable and have solid theoretical ground, as well as implications for more democratic practice.
On the other hand, the supporters of the Electoral College stipulate that the Constitution implies the importance of Electors’ decision-making under the circumstances of federalism. Due to the crucial role of states in the functioning of the political system of the country, the overall opinion of the state needs to play a significant role in judging the results of the voting. Posner provides several reasons why the Electoral College must be preserved (1-2). Firstly, under the rule of the Electoral College, the decisive influence of a single region is excluded since “no region … has enough electoral votes to elect a president” (Posner 1). Secondly, the candidates pay more attention to the states that are less likely to vote for them because they want to win their interest to increase the chances of being elected.
Thirdly, the system provides a political balance between small and large states. Finally, the Electoral College secures that no run-off elections occur, meaning that there is no chance that neither candidate obtains the majority and the elections will be invalid (Posner 2). Therefore, the applicability of the Electoral College is superior in comparison to the National Popular vote since it incorporates the complexity of the federal nature of the state.
In summation, the ongoing debate concerning the democratic and unbiased nature of the voting system in the USA has broad implications due to the ambiguity of the arguments from both sides. The supporters of the National Popular Vote system consider that the election by the majority of votes ensures equality of all people and thus provides a solid democratic basis. However, the ideas supporting Electoral College have more solid constitutional ground and preserve deeper democratic meaning. The currently used system ensures that no region has enough votes to choose President solely, each state preserves its interests in the elections, and the political influence of the states is balanced.
“Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote.” National Popular Vote. Web.
Laurent, Thibault, et al. “Exploring the Effects on the Electoral College of National and Regional Popular Vote Interstate Compact: An Electoral Engineering Perspective.” Public Choice, vol. 179, no. 1, 2019, pp. 51-95.
Posner, Richard A. “In Defense of the Electoral College.” Slate Magazine, 2016. Web.
Sarantsev, Andrey. “Partisan Lean of States: Electoral College and Popular Vote.” arXiv. Web.
Villegas, Christina. “Electing the People’s President: The Popular Origins of the Electoral College.” Journal Perspectives on Political Science, vol. 47, no. 4, 2018, pp. 201-209.