Description: This paper discusses the many shortcomings of the Electoral College, and posits possible alternative electoral processes which likely be more democratic.
Time for Reform? Considering the failures of the Electoral College
A common misconception among American is that when they vote they elect the President. The truth is not nearly this simple. What in fact happens when a person votes is that there 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 has the same number of electors as there are Senate and House of Representative members for that State. When the voting has stopped the candidate who receives the majority of the Electoral votes for a state receives all the electoral votes for that state. All the votes are transmitted to Washington, D.C. for tallying, and the candidate with the majority of the electoral votes wins the presidency. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, the responsibility of selecting the next President falls upon the House of Representatives. This elaborate system of Presidential selection is thought by many to be an 18th century anachronism (Hoxie p. 717), what it is in fact is the product of a 200 year old debate over who should select the President and why.
In 1787, the Framers in their infinite wisdom, saw the need to respect the principles of both Federalists and States Righters (republicans) (Hoxie p. 717). Summarily a compromise was struck between those who felt Congress should select the President and those who felt the states should have a say. In 1788 the Electoral College was indoctrinated and placed into operation. The College was to allow people a say in who lead them, but was also to protect against the general public's ignorance of politics. Why the fear of the peoples 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 p. 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 & Shafritz (p. 60); at the same time the fear of the newly formed nation being destroyed by a demagogue could be put to rest because wiser men had the final say.
200 years later the system is still designed to safeguard against the ignorant capacities of the people. The Electoral College has remained relatively unchanged in form and function since 1787, the year of its formulation. This in itself poses 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 relevant, but the College as this safeguard has proved flawed in other capacities. 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 acceptable foibles 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.
The Unfaithful Elector
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 member have proved to be unfaithful. This unfaithful elector ignores the will of the general electorate and instead selects candidate other than the one he was expected to elect (McGaughey, p. 81). This unfaithfulness...