Should the Electoral College Be Abolished?

A new Gallup poll shows continued high support for having a national popular vote for the presidency, rather than the Electoral College. George C. Edwards, distinguished professor of political science at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, agreed, in an interview with The Christian Post.

Sixty-two percent of Americans would prefer that the president be chosen by popular vote, while 35 percent would prefer to keep the Electoral College, according to Gallup's Oct. 6-9 poll of 1,005 adults (margin of error is +/- four percentage points).

Overall support has remained steady for the past decade, but there have been changes based upon party identification. In the 2000 election, Republican George W. Bush won the election by winning the Electoral College, even though Democrat Al Gore won the most popular votes. In a Gallup poll conducted shortly after the Supreme Court case deciding that Bush would be the next president, 75 percent of Democrats, and only 41 percent of Republicans preferred a popular vote.

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Since then, Democrat support for a popular vote has remained about the same, 71 percent in the new poll, which is within the margin of error. Republican support, though, has increased to a majority, 53 percent in the new poll. Sixty-one percent of independents would prefer a popular vote.

Edwards authored Why the Electoral College is Bad for America, which is in its second edition this year.

“It's a violation of the most fundamental principles of democracy, meaning equality in voting. Under the Electoral College, every citizen vote does not count the same. As a result, the candidate who gets fewer votes can win the election. I can't see how that's a good idea under democracy,” Edwards said.

Under the current system, the candidate who wins the most votes in the Electoral College wins the election. Each state is assigned a number of electors equal to the number of House members plus two for the number of Senators. Washington, D.C., was also given three electors with the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution, making the total number of electors 538. All but two states, Nebraska and Maine, assign all of their electors to the candidate who wins the most votes in the state.

One of the arguments of Electoral College proponents is that it provides a necessary protection for the interests of small states. Due to the addition of two electors that each state gets regardless of its size, a voter in a small state will have a slightly greater influence on the outcome of a presidential election than a voter in a large state.

“It's complete nonsense,” Edwards argued. Candidates do not pay attention to small states. In his book, Edwards describes data he collected on where presidential candidates spend time campaigning. They spend time in large “swing states,” or states where the outcome is uncertain. Almost all small states are ignored, according to Edwards.

“Even when they do go to a small state,” Edwards said, “they don't give speeches that somehow focus on small state interests, whatever that may be. … We've never once in the entire history of America had a small states versus large states issue.”

If the Electoral College were abolished and the nation went to a popular vote to win the presidency, it would change how candidates campaign. Edwards thinks this change would be for the better.

Candidates may campaign even more in small states under a popular vote than they do now, according to Edwards, because it would be cheaper to campaign in those areas due to the cost of advertising in large cities.

“It costs less to reach 100,000 voters in rural areas than 100,000 voters in Los Angeles or Queens. So, unless a candidate was a complete idiot, they would certainly be advertising in all those places where it was cheaper.”

“It seems to me a reasonable proposition that [candidates] should take their campaigns to the people,” Edwards argued, and a popular vote system would encourage candidates to campaign to a much broader electorate than they currently do.

Even with strong support for abolishing the Electoral College, changing the current system would be challenging because it would require a constitutional amendment. A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures.

There may be enough voter outrage to encourage a repeal of the Electoral College if a president were to win an election without winning the popular vote. The party that controls Congress is unlikely, however, to support repeal if their candidate won the election in this manner.

The most likely scenario, therefore, that would lead to a repeal of the Electoral College would be to have a divided government after a president wins the election without winning the popular vote, which was not the case after the 2000 election.

Imagine if, for instance, Kerry had won the presidency in 2004 without winning the popular vote. With Republicans in control of Congress, there may have been enough support for changing to a popular vote system.

This scenario was not far off, according to Edwards. “If 60,000 votes had switched from Bush to [Sen. John] Kerry in Ohio, Kerry would have won the election, even though Bush would have had a majority of the vote,” by 2.5 million votes.

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