My favorite campaign bumper sticker of this election reads, “Let’s not elect Bush this year either.” It might seem confusing, but in 2000 the people picked former Vice President Al Gore to lead the country. The Electoral College chose George W. Bush. We are supposed to have a government “for the people, of the people, and by the people.” Apparently this saying does not apply to picking the president.
Elections are much more complicated than they seem, so I will run down the process quickly for those who are unfamiliar. When someone steps in the voting booth on Nov. 2, they will not be voting for the president. They will be voting for a group of either Republican or Democratic electors corresponding to the candidate they chose. The political parties in each state pick their group of electors, equal to the number of U.S. representatives and senators in their state. The winning party’s electors go on to pick the president on Jan. 6 by a majority vote.
This roundabout method of election is supposed to ensure a democratic result, and most of the time it does. The system is not perfect, however, as we saw in the last presidential election.
George W. Bush joins John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison in the group of presidents who won the electoral vote, but lost the popular vote. Granted, the last time the results differed was in 1888 with Harrison, but the 2000 election showed that the system is still flawed.
Political scientists note a few other problems with our current method of presidential election. The states operate on a “winner take all” method, where the winning party in a particular state gets all the electors. For instance, if 51 percent of Pennsylvania votes Republican, all of Pennsylvania’s electors will be Republican. The votes for the state’s losing party are not counted. Yes, there is a possibility your vote will not count on Election Day.
Another problem political scientists cite is the method of deciding how many electors a state gets. Each state gets two senators and at least one representative, regardless of population. Even states with considerably low numbers will get at least three electors. Combine five of the least populous states, with three electors a piece, and together they will equal the electoral votes of a bigger state with 15 electors of its own. The problem is the combined voting age population of these five states could be half of the bigger state’s, but will still equal its elective power. This means the people of the bigger state have only half the power of those in the five smaller states to pick their electors. So much for “one person, one vote.”
With all this in mind, I find myself wondering how the Electoral College is supposed to make elections more democratic. The Fair Election Commission states that the Constitutional Convention settled on this method not out of fear of the public’s ignorance, but to keep each state from electing its own “favorite son,” making it impossible for any one candidate to get the majority vote. With the mostly two-party system America has today, that argument is irrelevant.
The Electoral College itself is starting to ssem irrelevant. Based on these criticisms, the current electoral system has outlived its usefulness. It may have made things easier more than 200 years ago when America was still just a loose confederation, but today it is unnecessary. If the government really does not doubt our capability to pick our own leader, then give us back the power to do so.
Torin Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.