Point: Abolishing the Electoral College

Article excerpt

The United States was founded on a movement that stressed the importance of representation of people in government. "Taxation without Representation" still adorns the license plates of vehicles in the District of Columbia, which serves as a reminder of one of the principle causes of the American Revolution, and that residents of the nation's capitol have no representation in Congress. Representation comes in several forms. In Congress, Senators represent entire states, and Representatives in the House represent bodies of constituents, which, in most cases, can be characterized as sub-state districts. In the Electoral College, the representation of the state is of a "winner-take-all" nature. This creates a great deal of inequity that betrays American values of majority rule, equality before the law, and representative government.

Representation in the Electoral College is based on population, which is assessed every ten years by the census. Each state receives a minimum of three electoral votes. Additional votes are assigned for each seat a state holds in Congress above that minimum. This is a cross between how congressional seats are assigned in the House of Representatives, where they are divided according to population with a minimum of one per state, and the Senate, where each state is represented equally by two Senators. While there is a similarity between how seats are assigned in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College, there is an important distinction in how Electoral College delegates are selected. Rather than having each delegate chosen by a group of constituents, where some may go to one party and others are controlled by another as is the case in the House, Electoral College seats in almost every state go entirely to the members of the victorious party in that state. Only Maine and Nebraska award their electoral votes to the winner of each congressional district; the remaining two votes are given to the overall winner of the state vote. This can create a situation which has happened four times in American history, most recently in 2000, where one candidate wins the presidential election by close margins in enough states to win the Electoral College, but loses by large margins in other states and thus gets elected with fewer popular votes than his rival. (1) This creates an aberration that fails to uphold the principle of majority rule.

To be sure, some aspects of American democracy do not follow the principle of majority rule. Most, however, are designed to check government power. No majority may pass a law that prohibits free speech or establishes a national religion due to the First Amendment. To cite another example, a super-majority is needed to amend the Constitution. But unlike these examples, where the result of a minority's right would be the maintenance of the status quo, a president must be selected. Allowing the Electoral College to select a candidate who has failed to win the greatest number of votes is an exception to the standard for elected officials. For all other elected offices, the winner is determined by the candidate who receives the most votes.

Simple calculations show that some states are grossly overrepresented in the Electoral College. States with small populations control a disproportionate number of electoral votes compared to those with large populations. Wyoming and California offer the most striking comparison. According to the 2000 census, California's population was 33,871,648, giving it fifty-five electoral votes. Wyoming, the least populous state, had only 493,782 residents, earning it three electoral votes. (2) In other words, California gets one electoral vote per 615,848 residents; Wyoming receives one vote per 164,594 residents. That is nearly a 4:1 ratio in favor of Wyoming. Residents of Wyoming, the District of Columbia, Vermont, and North Dakota each receive a disproportionately influential vote in comparison to residents in California, Texas, and Florida. …