Opposing Viewpoints: Electoral College
1. Create a T-Chart and record key points from the two essays: “The Electoral College Had Destroyed
Democracy” and “Why We Need the Electoral College.” Record 10 key points for each essay.
2. Write a minimum 250 word persuasive essay regarding the Electoral College.
Electoral College: An Overview
Before the controversial 2000 presidential election focused a spotlight on the Electoral College, many people
both within the United States and abroad remained unaware of the fact that the U.S. president is not elected
directly by the people. American voters cast their ballots instead for slates of electors from all fifty states plus
the District of Columbia.
The number of electoral votes belonging to each state equals the number of its members in the Senate and
the House of Representatives. Each state has two senators while the size of the House of Representatives is
limited to 435. Therefore, including the District of Columbia's three votes, the total number of electoral votes
available in a presidential election is 538, with victory going to that candidate who amasses a majority of 270.
Such a system allows for the possibility, in a very tight contest, of the election of a president who manages to
win 270 electoral votes while losing the nationwide popular vote to his or her opponent. Although rare, this has
occurred four times: in 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000. The contentious 2000 election of George W. Bush under
these circumstances renewed a long-simmering debate over whether the Electoral College represents an
outdated and undemocratic method of choosing a president or a critical safeguard against ineffective
governance by a plurality leader.
Critics of the Electoral College argue that it unfairly exaggerates the political influence of sparsely populated
states occupied heavily by rural, white voters while effectively decreasing the value of votes cast in large states
characterized by urban, racially diverse populations. Such a system, critics contend, runs counter to the
democratic principle of one-person, one-vote, and can thwart the popular will of the nation.
Supporters of the Electoral College argue that a straightforward popular election would encourage the
candidacies of independents and representatives of parties outside of the American political mainstream. This
could result, they fear, in the even more frequent election of a plurality president. Such an outcome, critics
worry, would undermine the efficiency that has traditionally characterized American two-party governance, and
lead instead to the paralysis and instability that have plagued governing coalitions in some parliamentary-style
Understanding the Discussion
Electoral College: A body of electors chosen to elect the president and vice president of the United
States. Each of the fifty states has a number of electors equivalent to its total congressional
representation. Since 1961, the District of Columbia has also had three electors under the terms of the Twenty-
Third Amendment to the Constitution. Each state determines how electors are selected.
Plurality: The number by which the vote of the winning choice in a contest exceeds that of the closest
opponent, but is not a majority.
Disenfranchised: Historically deprived of the rights of citizenship, especially the right to vote.
Constitutional Amendment: The result of a difficult process to change the U.S. Constitution. A proposed
amendment must pass both houses of Congress by a two-thirds majority in each, before going on to the states
for approval by at least three-fourths of the whole. Alternatively, a constitutional convention can be called by
two-thirds of the legislatures of the states and any amendment proposed at that convention is then sent to the
states to be approved by three-fourths of the legislatures or conventions (this mechanism has never been
used). Regardless of how it is proposed, an amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the fifty states to
Parliamentary Democracy: A political system in which the legislature (parliament) selects the government (a
prime minister, premier, or chancellor along with the cabinet ministers) according to party strength as
expressed in elections.
When the framers of the Constitution established the Electoral College as a mechanism for electing
presidents, the two-party system that has since come to dominate American politics did not exist. In the
absence of Republicans and Democrats or similar entities, the Founding Fathers clearly anticipated that each
presidential election would feature multiple candidates, each with a realistic chance of winning.
They were sufficiently concerned about the possibility that, in any given election, no one candidate would
succeed in winning an electoral majority that they designed a default mechanism: in those circumstances, the
House of Representatives would choose the president from among the five leading candidates, with each state
entitled to only one vote.
The Founding Fathers' vision, however, did not play out as the framers had intended. Political parties, capable
of galvanizing national support for their candidates, came to wield such clout that a victory by an independent
candidate quickly became theoretically possible but practically impossible.
Also at the heart of the decision to enshrine the Electoral College into the Constitution was a deeply held
conviction that the 'ordinary run' of people were incapable of making sound political choices. Alexander
Hamilton, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, argued that average citizens could seldom make a right
decision, as they were swayed by immediate events, not the long-term good. As with the indirect election of U.
S. senators (changed in 1913 by the 16th Amendment), the Electoral College served as a means of diluting
direct democracy. That anti-democratic history also drives some of the animosity toward
the Electoral College today. This history was reinforced in Bush v Gore (2000) when Justice Scalia pointed out
there is no constitutional guarantee for citizens to play any role in selecting electors.
As the democratic process evolved to extend voting rights to the historically disenfranchised (women, African
Americans, the impoverished, and citizens as young as eighteen years old), the newly-diverse voting public
demanded increased accountability. Today, electors in all fifty states are chosen by popular vote and many
states have laws requiring electors to honor their pledges. Although not constitutionally bound to do so,
electors from all over the country have traditionally cast their ballots in conformity with the voters' choice.
Over the past two centuries, hundreds of proposed amendments to reform or abolish the Electoral
College have been introduced in Congress. Unwilling to yield the disproportionate political influence that
the Electoral College system gives them, smaller states have successfully blocked all attempts to amend the
The Electoral College Today
In the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election of George W. Bush, critics renewed their demands for a
constitutional amendment that would repeal the Electoral College and make the election of a president
contingent upon a plurality of the nationwide popular vote.
The controversy arose in part from the reality that, in 2000, more than half of the total U.S. population resided
in just ten states. Voters living in the seven least populous states, those that elect only one member to the
House of Representatives but are also entitled to two additional electoral votes because every state has two
senators, saw their ballots carry, in proportion to their state population, triple the weight of ballots cast in more
Although critics have historically made appeals to reform or abolish the Electoral College many times, the
extraordinary bitterness and confusion of the 2000 election, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme
Court more than a month after Election Day, brought a new urgency to a question that had remained largely
academic until that point. The debate over the Electoral College became part of a nationwide public dialogue,
as well as the concern of legal scholars.
Some critics, recognizing the long history of failed attempts at repeal or reform, have called for presidential
candidates to bypass the system by publicly pledging to abide by the popular vote. Even if candidates were
willing to take such a pledge, however, and neither the 2004 nor the 2008 presidential elections gave any
indication that this was a possibility, such a pledge would face difficult legal hurdles as it would violate an
election requirement specifically outlined in the Constitution.
The political obstacles of challenging the Constitution also remain formidable. In light of these impediments,
the Electoral College is likely to remain a feature of American presidential elections, and a source of debate, in
elections to come.
The Electoral College has Destroyed Democracy
Thesis: The Electoral College (the system by which the president of the United States is elected) is outdated,
fundamentally flawed, open to abuse and produces skewed results. In order to ensure that a president serves
the entire nation, and not just those states who voted for him or her, the system should be changed so that the
president is elected by direct voting by all citizens of the nation.
Summary: The presidential election, arguably most important election in our country, is also the only election
in which the entire nation participates. However, voters do not actually directly determine who wins. Voters in
each state elect electors, who in turn cast their votes, often along party lines, which ultimately determine the
outcome of the presidential election. Many Americans do not realize that this is occurring. The
current Electoral College system has strayed so far from the founders' vision of the electoral process that it
is hardly recognizable as an American election system. The obviously flawed election system should be updated
to reflect modern concerns and citizens' interests.
Electing the Electors
It may shock many Americans to learn that voters do not, in fact, elect the president of the United States by
popular vote. While ostensibly Americans cast their votes for president in the national elections that take place
every four years, the vote actually elects an "elector," who in turn votes for a candidate for president. In what is
arguably the most important election in the United States, and the only election in which the entire nation
participates, the people do not actually directly determine who wins.
Moreover, a proportion of votes are rendered meaningless when a candidate loses the popular vote in a given
state. This is because even if the popular vote in a state is almost evenly divided between the candidates for the
two parties, the electors representing the presidential candidate with the most votes ultimately apply all of
the electoral votes to the winning candidate. In this way, no matter how small the margin of victory by popular
vote, most electors vote for the slate of candidates they represent on an all or nothing basis. The only
exceptions to this rule are Nebraska and Maine, where electoral votes are distributed according to the winner
of the popular vote in each of the state's individual congressional districts, with the statewide popular vote
winner receiving two additional electoral votes. While this system is closer to a one-person, one-vote election
process, they largely function as microcosms of the national electoral system.
Furthermore, even though electors make a pledge to vote for their party's candidate, they are not required to
do so by law. Electors are chosen according to state law and the rules of each political party. Political parties
generally nominate electors at their state party conventions and voters in each state choose the electors on the
day of the general election. However, depending on state procedures, the electors' names may or may not
appear on the ballot alongside the name of the candidates running for President. Thus, citizens essentially vote
for a representative to cast a final vote in their place, but without any knowledge of the representative's politics,
or in some cases, even his or her name. It is dishonest and counterintuitive to force citizens to blindly vote for
representatives who may remain largely unknown to carry out the wishes of voters in such an important
The Electoral College system is outdated and should be overturned immediately before any further damage is
done to our nation's democracy. The only fair and just way of electing the president and vice president is by
direct election, wherein the election is awarded to the person who receives the plurality of votes. This system
means that every single vote affects the outcome of the election, which would improve voter turnout and
ensure that the candidate with the greatest public support wins the election.
A Fragmented Nation
The Electoral College has led to divisiveness between the states. Since the 2000 election, the terms "red
state" and "blue state" have become catch-all identifiers for states comprised predominantly of Republicans or
Democrats, respectively. This focus on the authority of the Electoral College has fragmented the country and
imposed the false notion that political ideology is entirely defined by geography.
There are many Democrats in red states, and as many Republicans in blue states, and plenty of Independent
voters who are not readily identified with either party. The focus on blue states and red states has removed the
nuanced political affiliations that characterize the United States and has instead redefined the complex political
landscape in the simplest terms available. Further, in some instances the terms "red state" and "blue state"
have been used pejoratively, raising the potential for prejudice and discrimination by those with differing
If the Electoral College were dismantled, the political fragmentation between the states would largely
disappear. Patches of "red" and "blue" would appear not just on a statewide base, but throughout individual
states, counties, cities, neighborhoods, and even households. The true picture of the United States' diverse
political ideology would be reflected, rather than the false impression of statewide uniformity perpetuated by an
outdated notion of representative government.
The Electoral College system further distorts the picture of the United States by giving variable weight to
individual votes. Since every state has at least one representative and exactly two senators, but differing
populations, the electoral votes from smaller states can have vastly different weight. Wyoming, the least
populous state, has one representative for every 510,000 inhabitants, while Montana has one representative
per 935,000 inhabitants. Thus, a single vote in Wyoming is worth almost twice as much as a vote in
Montana. This disparity points to the counterproductive nature of the archaic Electoral College system.
Senators, representatives, governors and most other state and local officials are elected directly, and often only
with a plurality of the votes. This method could work equally well for presidential
elections. The Electoral College, no matter how long it has been in practice or how many false benefits are
attributed to it, makes no sense.
Correcting the Constitution
The Founding Fathers of the United States settled on this electoral method mainly as a compromise between
rival factions. Some thought Congress should elect the president, while others thought the people should elect
the president. However, the compromise, which became the Electoral College, did not solve the problems
associated with the other proposed systems but instead created a host of new issues. The four reasons cited by
those opposed to electing the president by direct vote were the following:
1. Citizens residing in distant or less populous states would not be familiar with the candidates and would
likely vote only for those candidates who hailed from their own state or region.
2. The large slave population in the South was unable to vote, and thus that part of the country, though
populous, would be under-represented.
3. The choice of president would almost always be determined by the most populous states with little
regard for the smaller, less populous ones.
4. A direct election could imbue the office of the president with too much perceived power.
Television and the abolition of slavery have invalidated the first two criteria. The final criterion has arguably
already occurred and is at least restrained by the systems of checks and balances within the governmental
process. Thus, only the third reason, and one of the weaker criteria, remains for avoiding a direct election. One
further reason may have been the logistics of tallying a nationwide direct election. Today, this too is an
Today, the results of the popular vote are reported alongside the results of the electoral vote. The 2000
election, wherein Al Gore received 539,893 more votes than George W. Bush, proves that the government has
the ability to tally individual votes in a nationwide election. The Founding Fathers were intelligent, thoughtful,
forward-thinking, and well-meaning people, but they made mistakes, namely implementing
the Electoral College system.
We must recognize the mistake inherent in the Electoral College system and correct it before the system fails
the people on a significant scale. The current system has strayed so far from the Founders' vision of the election
process that it is hardly recognizable as the American democratic system. The Founders did not think
candidates should campaign and felt that political parties were wrong-if not patently evil-and yet both of these
concepts are widely embraced today. The United States needs to eliminate the Electoral College and move
toward creating a system that accurately reflects the voices of the people as expressed through the votes they
Supporters of the Electoral College claim that the system keeps candidates in check by forcing them to appeal
to voters in all states, even those with small populations, rather than campaigning only in states with large
populations or populations that mostly support the candidate. Otherwise, a candidate with strong support in a
handful of populous states could defeat a candidate with moderate support across the majority of less populous
states, which would result in a president owing allegiance to a very narrow margin of the country. What this
position fails to address is that the current situation is remarkably similar to this inequitable view of the political
landscape without the Electoral College. As a result of the red state/blue state phenomenon, candidates have
the mistaken impression that an entire state supports them simply because they won the plurality in that state.
Presidential candidates rarely campaign in stalwart liberal states such as California and Massachusetts, or
staunchly conservative states like South Carolina and Texas, either because they know they have no chance of
winning in the state or because they take for granted that they will win it. Additionally, the apportionment of
electors is such that it is possible to win the presidential election with the support of a mere handful of "swing"
states, or states in which no candidate has overwhelming support for a particular candidate. Swing states are
usually the only ones who ever see the candidates campaigning for election because any of the major
candidates has a reasonable chance of winning the state's Electoral College votes. In a country where
campaign efforts are focused and driven by monetary and time constraints, candidates economize their
campaign by focusing their attention on those states wherein the population is not decisively Republican or
This strategy might make campaigning easier or less time-consuming for candidates, but it is disillusioning for
the voters. People ought to be able to determine how their votes affect the outcome of the election. Instead, a
voter in Massachusetts or Texas is faced with the realization that their vote may not matter because the state is
so liberal or so conservative that one vote is not going to change the outcome of the election.
The Electoral College also damages the chances of third-party candidates for making a serious bid for the
White House because such candidates rarely gain enough voter support to win entire states. However, third-
party candidates often make a significant showing in the popular vote, which can affect the winner of an
individual state and thereby determine how that state’s electoral votes are cast.
A 2004 ballot initiative that was proposed in) by Colorado as an amendment to the state constitution, but
ultimately defeated, would have awarded electoral votes in a truly proportional manner by distributing
the electoral votes proportionally to the statewide vote count. Thus, if Candidate A received 59 percent of the
popular vote, Candidate B received 37 percent, and Candidate C received 4 percent, the electoral votes would
be divided accordingly. For instance, given California's 55 electoral votes, Candidate A would receive 33 of
the electoral votes, Candidate B would receive 20, and Candidate C 2. This system has been proposed as an
alternative for the country as a whole, but would likely result in more elections being decided by the House of
Representatives because it would be harder for any candidate to get a majority of the electoral votes.
Other proposals, include the awarding of 100 electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote, skirt the issue
and may make the Electoral College an even more confusing, convoluted system. All of the proposed reforms
would require an amendment to the US Constitution.
If Congress is willing to amend the Constitution, it should seriously examine the shortcomings of the
Electoral College. The outdated Electoral College system should be discarded in favor of a system that allows
every American's vote to count. The emphasis on a tiered, indirect electoral process is unnecessary and
arbitrary and not in keeping with how other officials are elected in our country. If candidates were required to
win a mere 40 percent of the popular vote, which every elected president has achieved save for Abraham
Lincoln in his first presidential campaign when his name was actually left off the ballots in many parts of the
country, the prospect of an unmanageably large field of candidates would be mitigated.
Support for the Electoral College is waning, but since the determination of electors remains the
electoral procedure in most states-many of which benefit under the current system-its abolition is unlikely to
occur anytime soon. However, the elimination of the Electoral College is the most common subject of
proposed Constitutional amendments: there have been more than 700 proposals over the last 200 years. As of
1987, 69 percent of the members of the American Bar Association were opposed to the Electoral College. In
January 2007, the Democrat-sponsored Every Vote Counts Amendment was proposed. This Amendment would
finally correct the problem of an unjust electoral process, but, like previous efforts to do so, it has been stalled
in subcommittees for months.
The reliance on an outdated electoral model has resulted in the disenfranchisement of many American voters
and the election of a president who proved to be one of the least popular presidents in recent history. It is time
to overturn this indirect method of electing the US president in favor of a system that allows every vote to
Why We Need the Electoral College
Thesis: The Electoral College is essential to presidential elections in the United States, and has been for over
two hundred years. The Electoral College keeps the nation united and there is no reason to abolish it.
Summary: Throughout U.S. history, the Electoral College has been the subject of contentious debate
because it supposedly subverts democracy and the will of the people. However, the Electoral College serves
as a way to guarantee that the United States is a federal nation and not a fractious confederation of competing
states. While it is true that the design of the Electoral College is undemocratic, it helps maintain the United
States as a republic. Calls to abolish the Electoral College and allow direct popular election of the president
will only further divide the public and the states into competing and opposing camps. Instead of stifling
democracy, the Electoral College brings consensus to the chaotic democratic process of deciding who will be
president of the United States.
A Republic, Not a Democracy
In the debates about the creation of the U.S. Constitution, the framers had to devise a system that would allow
the states to put aside their differences and work together as a nation. Therefore, the Constitution was designed
so that the interests of the nation trumped the interests of the individual states. Through the give-and-take of
compromise in the legislative branch, the states find ways to set aside regional differences and work toward the
national interest, with the executive branch providing guidance. This is where the Electoral College comes into
The framers wanted to form a system where the general population could not elect a president who did not
have the national interest at heart. At the same time, they did not want to give Congress the right to decide
who would be president, since it would make the executive branch beholden to the legislative branch. For both
these reasons, they decided to create the Electoral College.
The Electoral College is the board that actually elects the president. The people vote for electors, who then
cast their state's vote in the Electoral College. Whichever candidate wins a plurality of votes in
the Electoral College becomes the next president. Each state has a number of electors equal to the number of
Senators and Representatives from that state. Thus, states with higher populations receive
more electoral votes.
Of course, there are some obvious contradictions. First and foremost, the winner of the popular vote might not
be the winner of the electoral vote. Moreover, there is no law stipulating that the electors must vote for the
people's choice. While these facts might seem contrary to the idea of democracy, it must be stressed that the
framers were not democrats. They feared that direct popular election of the president would divide the people
into voting solely for local candidates for what was designed as a national office. As a result, the framers
allowed for electors that could, if need be, prevent an unqualified candidate from reaching the presidency.
Historically, there have been only a handful of times where "faithless electors" have not voted for the people's
choice, but never in large enough numbers to affect the election's outcome. However, there have been several
instances in which candidates won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote.
Practice and Theory
Controversy has dogged the Electoral College from the very beginning. In 1800, 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000,
the presidential elections were thrown into disarray when no candidate won a plurality of electoral votes. As a
result, the elections had to be decided either in the House of Representatives or by the courts. In the aftermath
of each election, there were calls and appeals to change the way American presidential elections are held. Many
reformers want to get rid of the Electoral College and switch to direct popular election of the
president. The Electoral College, according to its critics, is undemocratic and subverts the will of the people.
This viewpoint denies the vast majority of times the Electoral College has functioned as intended. Any
candidate wanting to win the presidential election must think beyond the interests of any single region and
express a moderate viewpoint that has national appeal. For example, in 1948 and 1968, two Southern
candidates, Strom Thurmond and George Wallace, ran highly segregationist, regional presidential
campaigns. Both times, however, the Electoral College served to prevent purely regional interests from
defeating national ones, and both candidates failed to win the election.
However, the Electoral College also allows third-party candidates to affect the policies of the two main
parties. In 1992, Ross Perot appealed to conservative voters who would normally vote Republican and managed
to prevent George Bush's reelection. More recently, during the 2000 election, Ralph Nader managed to spoil the
election for Al Gore by siphoning away enough liberal voters from the Democratic Party. Following the elections,
both parties had to find ways to co-opt these disaffected third party voters and lead them back to one of the
two major parties.
Moreover, on a state by state level, the Electoral College helps protect the interests of minority groups. When
political analysts talk about the "Cuban vote" or the "African American vote" or the "Jewish vote," they are
referring to one of the quirks in the Electoral College. Often, these minorities represent a significant voting
bloc on a statewide level, where their votes can be a deciding factor in winning the state. Minority groups have
very important influence in the so-called battleground states or swing states, where many ethnic minorities
have organized into voting blocs. During presidential elections, most candidates cater to these minority groups
in order to win electoral votes.
Despite its success, many Americans feel that the Electoral College would benefit from more democratic
reforms. The National Popular Vote bill, designed by the non-profit group FairVote, calls for the eventual
dismantling of the Electoral College and a switch to direct popular voting for the president. Currently, this bill
is gaining popularity in some state legislatures. While this bill might appear more democratic, it is important to
consider some hidden aspects of the National Popular Vote bill.
In 2007, the state of Maryland ratified the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This law states that
regardless of which presidential candidate wins Maryland, the state will reward its electoral votes to the
candidate who wins the national popular vote. Rather than adding democracy to the electoral process,
however, this law makes the presidential election blatantly undemocratic. Essentially, it disenfranchises
Maryland voters by ignoring their stated preference in favor of the national popular vote. Since this was not how
the Electoral College was designed, the voters of Maryland have effectively given up their right to vote. In
2008, New Jersey, Illinois, and Hawaii joined the compact, although bills are currently pending in Maryland and
New Jersey to repeal that decision. A number of other states considered adopting the measure as well, but
ultimately decided against doing so. When a similar measure was approved by the state legislature in California,
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it and stated that the bill subverted the democratic will of California
voters by disregarding their presidential preference.
These examples illustrate the fact that direct popular voting has as many disadvantages as it has
advantages. Politicians already tend to concentrate on major urban centers in order to spread their message
during election cycles. If direct popular voting were instituted, there would be less incentive for candidates to
cultivate a national appeal. Instead, they would concentrate on policies that benefit the most populous regions
of the country, such as California, New York and Texas. These states would increase in influence while other
less populous states would decrease in influence. Since both the Electoral College and the Constitution were
not designed for one state to have advantage over another state, direct popular voting could lead to a
A less controversial reform is the system used in both Maine and Nebraska, where the electors cast their vote
according to the percentages of the statewide popular vote. Thus, unlike other states, there is no winner-take-
all of the state electoral vote. While this appears to have more broad popular support than the National
Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an attempt to enact the system in Colorado failed to pass a referendum in
2004. The problem with the Maine-Nebraska system is that it tends to weaken the overall influence of the state
in the outcome of national elections. Without all other states adopting this system, it essentially dilutes the
power of the voters in these two states.
No electoral system is perfect. The Electoral College is a flawed but functional system. While it is easy to call
for its abolition in the aftermath of a contentious election, few reformers have presented a demonstrably better
system. The framers of the Constitution wanted to keep the popular passions that go along with democracy in
check. In this respect, the Electoral College works exactly as it was designed to work. Fortunately, one of the
strengths of our system is that we are free to make changes to any aspect of government. Before we go about
tinkering with the machinery, however, it would serve us well to remember why the machine was designed in
the first place, and how it has performed more or less to our expectations for the past two centuries.