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For more than 200 years the Electoral College has provided the United States with its President, but some may argue that this process contains many flaws. One argument is that it takes democracy out of the hands of the people. Another argument is that it allows for democratic compromise in various situations. When considering either argument one should also consider that it is time this system is reformed and that this revision should not wait any longer. When looking at the failures of the Electoral College a common mistake many American’s make is thinking that when they vote they are electing the President. In reality what happens when a person votes is their vote goes for an Elector. This Elector, who is selected by the respective state in which a vote is cast, casts ballots for two individuals: the President and the Vice President. Each state is entitled to a number of electors equal to the total number of senators and representatives it sends to the U.S. Congress. So, each state has at least three electors. When the voting is over the candidate with the majority of the Electoral votes for a state receives all the electoral votes for that state. Next, all the votes are sent to Washington, D.C. for tallying, and the candidate with the majority of the electoral votes wins the presidential election. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, the responsibility of selecting the next President goes to the House of Representatives. This system of Presidential selection is thought by many to be an, “18th century anachronism” (Hoxie 717). What it really is, is the outcome of a 200-year-old debate over who should select the President and why. In 1787, the infinitely fair Framers saw the need to respect the principles of both the Federalists and State Righters, or Republicans (Hoxie 717). A compromise was made between those who believed that Congress should select the President and those who believed the states should select the President. In 1788 the Electoral College was formulated, adopted, and put into operation to meet these needs. The College allowed people to have a say in who would lead them, and also served to protect against the general public’s ignorance of politics. It was argued that, “the people, left to their own devices could be swayed by a few designing men to elect a king or demagogue” (McManus 19). With the Electoral College in place the people could make a screened decision about who the highest authority in the land was to be (Bailey 60); at the same time the fear of the newly formed nation being destroyed by a demagogue could be put to rest because learned men had the final word. 200 years later the system is still working in serving its purpose of preventing against the ignorant capacities of the people. The Electoral College has virtually remained unchanged in form and function since its founding date in 1787. This in itself creates a problem because in 200 years the stakes have changed yet the College has remained the same. A safeguard against a demagogue may still be needed, but the College as this safeguard has proven to be flawed in other aspects. These flaws have shed light on the many paths to undemocratic election. The question then is what shall the priorities be? Shall the flaws be addressed or are they imperfections of a system that has effectively prevented the rise of a king for 200 years? To answer this question we must first consider a number of events past and possible that have or could have occurred as a result of the flaws Electoral College. Under the current processes of the Electoral College, when a member of the general electorate casts a vote for a candidate he is in fact casting a vote for an Electoral College member who is an elector for that candidate. Bound only by tradition this College member is expected to remain faithful to the candidate he has initially agreed to elect. This has not always happened. In past instances Electoral College members have proven to be unfaithful. Occasionally an elector pledged to one candidate has voted for another. Technically an elector may vote as he or she wishes, and such votes have usually been validated by Congress(McGaughey 81). This unfaithfulness controls all the votes for a candidate in a particular district. To be fair it must be noted that instances of unfaithful electors are few, and in fact 26 states have laws preventing against unfaithful electors (McGauhey 81). But the fact still remains that the possibility of an unfaithful elector does exist and it exists because the system is designed to avoid direct popular election of the President. The unfaithful elector is an example of how the popular will can be purposely ignored. The Numbers Flaw reveals how the will of the people can be passed over unintentionally due to flaw of design. The following is a diagram of how this works (Hoar 25): (a)6/b(4) | (a)6/b(6) Candidate a: 18| Candidate b: 22————-|———— | Electoral Votes(a)6/b(4) | (a)0/b(10) Candidate a: 3| Candidate b: 1 In this theoretical example candidate (a) receives a minority of the popular votes with 18, but a majority of the electoral votes with three. Candidate (b) receives a majority of the popular votes with 22, but receives only one electoral vote. Under the “winner-take-all system”, the candidate with the majority of the electoral votes not only wins the state but also receives all the electoral votes for that state. In this hypothetical situation candidate (a) receiving a minority of the popular votes wins the state and takes all the electoral votes. The acceptability of this rejection of the popular will, unintentional or not, is questionable at the very least. The instance of a tie, or no one person receiving a majority of the electoral votes, first arose in the elections of 1800. Originally specified in the Constitution, the electors were to vote for the two most qualified persons without specifying which was preferred for president and which for vice president. The candidate receiving the greatest number of electoral votes, provided the votes of a majority of the electors were received, would be President; the candidate winning the second largest number of votes would be Vice President. A serious flaw in this procedure was revealed in the election of 1800, when Thomas Jefferson was the presidential candidate of the Republican, later the Democratic, party and Aaron Burr was the candidate for vice president. The electors, by voting strictly for candidates of their party, gave Burr and Jefferson the same number of votes. As the Constitution provided, the election was referred to the House of Representatives, where a extended struggle took place, requiring 36 ballots before Jefferson was chosen president and Burr vice president. Therefore, in 1804 Congress enacted and the states ratified the 12th Amendment. The 12th amendment provides that electors are to cast separate votes for the President and Vice President, and to make sure that an event such as the Jefferson-Burr incident cannot happen again (Bailey 61).

Though this whole incident was significant the most notable aspect was the fact that the President was essentially chosen by one man, Alexander Hamilton. The final decision was taken entirely out of the hands of the people and was left to the judgement of a single congressional individual. In effect the 12th amendment prevents the issue of a tie from going to the House under a very narrow scope of conditions. If this could have been prevented from going to the house, the issue of democracy would not be left to compromise. This all reveals yet another flaw of the Electoral College process and how congressional selection of the President can lead to democratic compromise. If at this time the United States would have changed its policy we would not have had to face this problem again, but as we can see in the next example the same problem recurs. A serious dispute occurred in the presidential election of 1876 in which the Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes, and the Democrat, Samuel J. Tilden, were the candidates. The dispute involved the validity of the electoral votes of four states, and the outcome was crucial since Tilden needed just one of the 22 votes to have a majority and Hayes needed all 22 to win. Under existing law, it was the duty of Congress to resolve the dispute, but Congress found itself in a stalemate. The issue was finally, settled through the creation of the Electoral Commission of 1877 which chose Hayes on a strict party vote, eight to seven. Later, in 1887, Congress enacted a law that gave the states almost exclusive power to resolve all controversies regarding the selection of presidential electors and that made mandatory, except in cases in which electors vote “irregularly,” the acceptance by Congress of all certificates of election duly made by the states. The enactment also provided that Congress may intervene to settle a dispute over the election of the presidential electors of a state only when the state is unable to do so. The government was finally beginning to see the injustices of the Electoral College and was dealing with its problems first through the 12th amendment and now through this enactment. In the more recent past the United States has again seen similar problems in dealing with the electoral College. 1968 a three-way tie nearly brought to rise the same undemocratic modes of presidential selections that emerged almost 200 years earlier with the Jefferson-Burr incident. The 1968 elections race was extremely close. Richard Nixon barley received a majority of the electoral votes to win the presidency. The candidates in the race were Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace respectively. Had Nixon failed to win a majority Wallace would have been in a position to control who the next President would be (Bailey 65). Though he could not have won himself Wallace could have used his votes as swing votes to give Nixon a majority, or give Humphrey enough to prevent Nixon from getting a majority (Bailey 65). In the latter instance the issue would have, just like in 1800, been sent to the House for correction. In either instance Wallace would have had a great deal to gain, and the temptation to wheel and deal at the compromise of democracy would have been large. It is possible that Wallace could have used his influence with Southern House members to get Humphrey elected. In the process he would have likely acquired great political power for himself. Wallace could have negotiated with Nixon for an administration position in Nixon’s cabinet in return for Wallace’s electoral votes. The possible scenarios are endless. What is significant of all this is that the processes of the Electoral College again paved a path for democratic compromise, just as it did in 1800. If time is supposed to allow for change, not enough time has passed. The weaknesses of the Electoral College presented above are only a few of its many flaws. Other flaws include: the bias toward small and large states, which gives these states a unbalanced advantage and the bias toward those who live in urban areas and therefore enjoy a stronger vote than those living in sparsely populated areas (Bailey 63). The list of flaws is extensive. The question that still remains is whether or not the flaws are extensive enough to warrant change. The Electoral College has successfully provided the U.S. with its Presidents for 200 years and has done so without allowing the ascension of a demagogue. But in the process of 200 years of electing the College has allowed the will of the people to be compromised. It is true, however, that at the time of the 1800 elections the College was young and its shortcomings were not entirely clear. 200 years later the flaws have revealed themselves or have been revealed in various fashion. The question remains then, are flaws acceptable considering the duty the College performs? If the purpose of the College is to provide democracy but prevent demagoguery then its success seems doubtful. The U.S. has seen no demagogue but has seen compromise of democracy. The evidence shows that the flaws of the Electoral College are responsible for democratic compromise. It would seem then that the flaws of the college are self-defeating to the purpose of the college. If this is true, then it is definitely time for reform.

. Bailey, Harry A. Jr., Shafritz, Jay M.The American Presidency. California: Brooks/Cole Publishing Co., 1988. Chapter III. Hoar, William P. “The Electoral College: How The Republic Chooses its President,” New American, v. 8 n. 16 p. 23-28. Hoxie, Gordon R. “Alexander Hamilton and the Electoral System Revisited,”. Presidential Studies Quarterly, v. 18 n. 4 p. 717-720. McGauhey, Elizabeth P., “Democracy at Risk,” Policy Review, Winter 1993: 79-81. McManus, John F. “Let the Constitution Work,” The New American, v. 8 n. 14 p. 19.


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