the case for the electoral college

I found an interesting article that purports to present the pros and cons of the Electoral College System. As I read this article it heavily favors having the electoral college.

It gives these reasons to prefer the electoral college to a national popular vote:

  • contributes to the cohesiveness of the country by requiring a distribution of popular support to be elected president

    without such a mechanism, they point out, president would be selected either through the domination of one populous region over the others or through the domination of large metropolitan areas over the rural ones. Indeed, it is principally because of the Electoral College that presidential nominees are inclined to select vice presidential running mates from a region other than their own.For as things stand now, no one region contains the absolute majority (270) of electoral votes required to elect a president. Thus, there is an incentive for presidential candidates to pull together coalitions of States and regions rather than to exacerbate regional differences. Such a unifying mechanism seems especially prudent in view of the severe regional problems that have typically plagued geographically large nations such as China, India, the Soviet Union, and even, in its time, the Roman Empire.

    I see more merit to this argument then I would like. This is especially so under the plurality voting system (aka ‘first past the post’) which is our current election method that tends to favor extremest candidates over centrist candidates. Does anyone have a good rebuttal to this point?

  • enhances the status of minority interests

    This is so because the voters of even small minorities in a State may make the difference between winning all of that State’s electoral votes or none of that State’s electoral votes. And since ethnic minority groups in the United States happen to concentrate in those State with the most electoral votes, they assume an importance to presidential candidates well out of proportion to their number. The same principle applies to other special interest groups such as labor unions, farmers, environmentalists, and so forth.
    It is because of this “leverage effect” that the presidency, as an institution, tends to be more sensitive to ethnic minority and other special interest groups than does the Congress as an institution. Changing to a direct election of the president would therefore actually damage minority interests since their votes would be overwhelmed by a national popular majority.

    I disagree with this point. The ‘minority interest’ only counts in our current system in a very arbitrary unbalanced way that strikes me as unabashed pandering with a very short attention span.

  • contributes to the political stability of the nation by encouraging a two-party system

    There can be no doubt that the Electoral College has encouraged and helps to maintain a two party system in the United States.

    In addition to protecting the presidency from impassioned but transitory third party movements, the practical effect of the Electoral College (along with the single-member district system of representation in the Congress) is to virtually force third party movements into one of the two major political parties. Conversely, the major parties have every incentive to absorb minor party movements in their continual attempt to win popular majorities in the States. In this process of assimilation, third party movements are obliged to compromise their more radical views if they hope to attain any of their more generally acceptable objectives. Thus we end up with two large, pragmatic political parties which tend to the center of public opinion rather than dozens of smaller political parties catering to divergent and sometimes extremist views. In other words, such a system forces political coalitions to occur within the political parties rather than within the government.

    In my view this is irrelevant to the process by which a president and vice president are selected. The argument really seems to be against proportional representation in congressional bodies which is a distinct topic.

  • maintains a federal system of government and representation

    To abolish the Electoral College in favor of a nationwide popular election for president would strike at the very heart of the federal structure laid out in our Constitution and would lead to the nationalization of our central government – to the detriment of the States.

    Indeed, if we become obsessed with government by popular majority as the only consideration, should we not then abolish the Senate which represents States regardless of population? Should we not correct the minor distortions in the House (caused by districting and by guaranteeing each State at least one Representative) by changing it to a system of proportional representation?…

    It is true that it would decrease the degree to which we have a federal system of representation. In my view this is not harmful. There is a place for national governments and a place for state-level governments. In my view the national government should favoring representing the people of the nation and not the states that compose that nation. In answer to the author’s questions:

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    5 responses to “the case for the electoral college

    1. The current system of electing the President certainly does not cause candidates to campaign across the country. In fact, the major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President arises from the winner-take-all rule under which all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who gets the most votes in the state. Presidential candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Instead, candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states, with 88% of the money and visits being focused on just 9 states. Fully 99% of the money goes to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people are merely spectators to the presidential election.

      Starting soon, you will see the candidates focusing only on the top battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, New Mexico, and New Hampshire. The rest of the country will be ignored, except for fund-raising.

      The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). Every vote would be equal throughout the United States and every vote would be politically relevant. The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill is enacted by states possessing 270 or more electoral votes, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

      The National Popular Vote bill has 419 legislative sponsors in 47 states. It has been signed into law in Maryland and New Jersey. Since its introduction in February 2006, the bill has passed by 15 legislative houses (one house in Colorado, Arkansas, New Jersey, North Carolina, Vermont, and Washington, and two houses in Maryland, Illinois, Hawaii, and California).

      See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

    2. joreko,

      Thanks for your comment. I wonder if you can specifically address this point of the referenced article:

      contributes to the cohesiveness of the country by requiring a distribution of popular support to be elected president

    3. contributes to the cohesiveness of the country by requiring a distribution of popular support to be elected president

      No it doesn’t. I think Joreko sufficiently covered how rather than require a distribution of popular support, it merely creates a handful of battleground states. Some states will always go red or blue, no matter what, or they have barely any electoral votes. candidates will never, ever campaign in these states. No distribution of popular support necessary, just winning florida/ohio/new hampshire, etc.

      enhances the status of minority interests

      And again, we have a small number of people whose votes count more than everyone else’s. Blatantly undemocratic.

      contributes to the political stability of the nation by encouraging a two-party system

      The two party system is evil. It simplifies the choice of who to vote for. And when it’s “black or white” (red or blue), people are swayed by bullshit issues and don’t really examine what each candidate is doing. Proof? Well, Washington DC isn’t burning down.

    4. “It is true that it would decrease the degree to which we have a federal system of representation. In my view this is not harmful. There is a place for national governments and a place for state-level governments.”

      Of course there is a place for National and a place for State governments. The framers worked extremely hard to balance the interests, and a change like this would throw that balance off.

    5. I agree that the electoral college is broken — and that abolishing or subverting it would undermine the balance of power in the Constitution. I’d rather see a system that maintains the compensating advantage to small states, while allocating electoral votes in proportion to popular votes. See: http://recoveringintellectual.blogspot.com/2008/12/fixing-electoral-college.html

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