During the founding of the United States, the creation of the Electoral College was a compromised that was reached to direct the election of a President. It allows individuals to vote for the candidates they wish and then to have electorates cast ballots based on the voting trends of their region. This allows every state to have an equal vote for President in the US, based on their total population size.
A majority of 270 electoral votes is required for a President to be elected. How each allotment of electoral votes is given is based on the number of representatives in the House and the two senators which represent the state. That means the minimum number of electoral votes is 3, while there is no maximum.
The advantage of the electoral college is that it promotes fairness from a regional perspective. Individual votes count, but in a way that is represented by states. This prevents 2-3 very large states from overwhelming the popular vote count so that a greater portion of the country can be represented by the government.
The disadvantage is that individual votes feel like they do not count either. In 2000 and 2016, the candidate who won the popular vote did not win the electoral college. Here are some additional advantages and disadvantages of the electoral college to consider.
Here Are the Advantages of the Electoral College
1. It requires a distribution of popular support.
Because of the structure of the Electoral College, a President must receive national support to win an election. This promotes a healthy cohesiveness within the country because there must be a distribution of that support so that a majority of electoral votes can be received. Without this structure, a candidate would spend most of their time in large population centers campaigning because that’s where the popular vote would be won.
2. It gives minority interests a say in the election.
Since a national level of support is required because of the Electoral College, minority causes, interests, and concerns are given a voice that reaches a national level. The votes of a small minority in a state can sway the difference in an election, especially since most states award all their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. This allows a certain amount of leverage to be used during the election that may not be possible in general society otherwise.
3. It encourages political stability.
The United States focuses on a two-party system because of the structure in the Electoral College. That doesn’t mean other political parties can’t get involved in the election. It just means most candidates that are elected will be either a Republican or a Democrat. The only independent candidate to be elected President in US history was George Washington. The last third-party candidate to win a state’s electoral votes was George Wallace in 1968. This means there is a reasonable certainty as to how the government will run, no matter which major party in the US winds up with the white house.
4. It maintains a system of national representation.
The United States was founded on the idea that taxation without representation was unfair. It was part of the reason for the rebellion of the colonies in the first place. With the Electoral College, a general consensus can be maintained so the structure of the government and the independent political powers of each state and local government can continue existing. In national representation, each state and population district receives equal representation, in either the house or the senate, and that allows individual voters to still have a say in what happens.
Here Are the Disadvantages of the Electoral College
1. It creates the possibility of a minority president being elected.
The US has elected two minority presidents in the last 20 years because of the Electoral College. In 1992, President Bill Clinton was elected with less than 50% of the total popular vote as well. If no one individual candidate reaches the 270 threshold, then anyone who has received an electoral vote can be elected President by the legislative branch of the government. All it takes is 1 electoral vote.
2. There is a risk of faithless electors casting ballots.
No elector has changed the outcome of an election in the United States by not voting for the candidate their individual voters wanted, but the structure of the Electoral College makes it a possibility. There have been 167 faithless electors in history, but 81 of those votes were changed because the original candidate died before the date on which the votes were to be cast. In 2016, there were 10 faithless electors.
3. It can depress voter turnout in some areas.
In the 2016 Presidential election, candidate Hillary Clinton had a consistent 15- to 20-point lead over Donald Trump in the polling for several weeks before the election. The final outcome showed a difference of 16.2 percentage points. For Republicans or Independents, casting a ballot for the election could seem pointless because Clinton’s win seemed like a foregone conclusion. Because of the structure of the Electoral College, this can lead to voters choosing not to vote because they feel like their vote is not going to matter anyway.
4. It may not be an accurate reflection of the will of the people.
In the Republican primaries leading up to the 2016 Presidential election, Donald Trump was consistently receiving about 35% of the Republican vote. 30% were voting for Marco Rubio and another 30% were voting for Ted Cruz – both men part of the Tea Party movement and the son of an immigrant. Without that split, Trump may not have made it out of the primaries. Even then, he failed to win a majority of the votes in the main election. With the Electoral College, all that matters is the final count of electoral votes, not actual votes, and that means a candidate may be supported by a minority only.
The advantages and disadvantages of the Electoral College show us that the system, while imperfect in some ways, has been a beneficial force in the elections held in the United States since its founding. The alternatives to the Electoral College could offer even more problems than what are currently being experienced, which is why efforts to abolish the structure have failed so far.
The Electoral College was designed to solve the problem of population distribution. It continues to do so today, even though the US is much larger than it was during the first elections.
How do you feel about the continued existence of the Electoral College?