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The Electoral College is Essential

Updated on September 16, 2008
Freedom and a Voice for All
Freedom and a Voice for All

Without it, would your vote count?

Now and then over a period of many years, someone with enough notoriety to make the news suggests that the United States of America should consider eliminating the Electoral College. This idea has been voiced again several times during the past eight years. In case anyone reading this is not familiar with the Electoral College, a brief explanation is in order. The paragraph below is the portion of our Constitution that created the Electoral College.

“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.”

As provided elsewhere in the Constitution, it is these electors who actually cast the votes for choosing the president and vice president of the United States. Each state’s popular vote is the basis for directing the vote of the electors. Our founding fathers made some impressive, exceptionally wise decisions when creating the structure and operation of the federal government. This was one of them.

Just as having two senators from each state helps to give a voice in Congress to all parts of the country, the Electoral College does the same for presidential elections. There are currently 25 states with 5 or less representatives. At the other end are California with 53; Texas, 32; New York, 29; and Florida, 25. So all of the representatives from half of the states add up to less than the number of representatives from just 4 of the most populous states. Geographically, this is a huge part of the country. And from this large portion of the country come much of the fuel, many minerals, and most of the food sources that supply the rest of the country. The only way for these states to have a significant voice in Congress is by having the Senate divided equally among all states.

Likewise, in the presidential elections, if the winner were to be chosen on the basis of a simple majority of the population of the nation, all of these states and more would simply have no voice in the outcome. In fact, a president could be elected based on just the votes of a dozen or less metropolitan areas. Such a thought should be very frightening to the citizens of most of our great nation. Without the Electoral College, San Francisco, southern California, a few areas in Texas, and a few chunks of the eastern seaboard states could determine every election. The Electoral College, giving each state at least 3 votes, doesn’t completely put things in balance, but it helps.

Those who advocate elimination of the Electoral College are either ignorant of its importance or believe they can gain personal power by giving control of presidential elections over to these small but heavily populated areas. It is interesting to note that these areas have a concentration of elements that strongly tend to vote for Democratic Party candidates, no matter how liberal or out of step with traditional American values.


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    • John Juneau profile imageAUTHOR

      John Juneau 

      6 years ago from Sierra Nevadas

      As a resident of rural California, I can assure you that senate and gubernatorial candidates do not give us any attention during their campaigns. (And the current two senators, while in office, don't pay any attention to those who may disagree with them, but that is a separate issue.) How I wish we could change the CA system away from winner-take-all, but the irony is that, even if all of us in the rural areas banded together to do so, we would be a tiny voice next to the millions in Sacramento, the Bay Area, and southern Calif.

      You say that the population of the big cities isn't enough to outweigh the rest of us. But it appears that you are talking only about the city proper. When you consider the huge megalopolis areas of the nation, it is like a larger version of CA. Just as there are 3 population centers in CA, there are what, maybe 12-15 in the nation. Without the Electoral College, the entire population of several states like AK, MT, WY, the Dakotas, etc. could not come close to the voting power of those population centers. Since CA is a winner-take-all state, (and since I rarely vote the same way as the big city folks,) my vote rarely has any influence in the presidential race. All of those who vote with me put together get 0 electoral votes. But that is the fault of the winner-take-all system, not of the Electoral College. If we dropped winner-take-all, we could then have at least a few electoral votes.

      The longer I live and listen to news reporters, commentators, and politicians, the more I am aware of and disappointed that most of them have no concept of, or any great interest in, real life on the farms and in the small towns of America. So I will stay on record as opposing winner-take-all and supporting the Electoral College. Then, when we make our expected move to MT, we might have a better chance of being counted than while we are here in mighty CA.

    • John Juneau profile imageAUTHOR

      John Juneau 

      6 years ago from Sierra Nevadas

      The existence of winner takes all is definitely a problem, and robs those of us in rural areas especially. I will comment more below.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Anyone concerned about the relative power of big states and small states should realize that the current system shifts power from voters in the small and medium-small states to voters in a handful of big states.

      Under National Popular Vote, when every vote counts equally, because states possessing a majority of the electoral votes-- enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), would award all their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC, successful candidates will find a middle ground of policies appealing to the wide mainstream of America. Instead of playing mostly to local concerns in Ohio and Florida, candidates finally would have to form broader platforms for broad national support. It would no longer matter who won a state.

      Now political clout comes from being a battleground state.

      Now with state-by-state winner-take-all laws presidential elections ignore 12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes), that are almost invariably non-competitive, and ignored, in presidential elections. Six regularly vote Republican (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota), and six regularly vote Democratic (Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC) in presidential elections.

      Support for a national popular vote is strong in every smallest state surveyed in recent polls among Republican voters, Democratic voters, and independent voters, as well as every demographic group. Support in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Alaska -- 70%, DC -- 76%, Delaware --75%, Idaho – 77%, Maine -- 77%, Montana – 72%, Nebraska -- 74%, New Hampshire --69%, Nevada -- 72%, New Mexico -- 76%, Oklahoma – 81%, Rhode Island -- 74%, South Dakota – 71%, Utah - 70%, Vermont -- 75%, and West Virginia – 81%, and Wyoming – 69%.

      Nine state legislative chambers in the lowest population states have passed the National Popular Vote bill. It has been enacted by the District of Columbia, Hawaii, and Vermont.

      Under the current system, the 11 most populous states contain 56% of the population of the United States, and a candidate could win the Presidency by winning a mere 51% of the vote in just these 11 biggest states -- that is, a mere 26% of the nation's votes.

      With National Popular Vote, big states that are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country, would not get all of the candidates' attention. In recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states have been split -- five "red states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) and six "blue" states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey). Among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Kerry. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659).

      With National Popular Vote, big cities would not get all of candidates’ attention, much less control the outcome. The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities (going as far down as Arlington, TX) is only 19% of the population of the United States. A “big city” only campaign would not win.

      Suburbs and exurbs often vote Republican.

      Evidence as to how a nationwide presidential campaign would be run can be found by examining the way presidential candidates currently campaign inside battleground states. Inside Ohio or Florida, the big cities do not receive all the attention. And, the cities of Ohio and Florida certainly do not control the outcome in those states. Because every vote is equal inside Ohio or Florida, presidential candidates avidly seek out voters in small, medium, and large towns. The itineraries of presidential candidates in battleground states (and their allocation of other campaign resources in battleground states) reflect the political reality that every gubernatorial or senatorial candidate in Ohio and Florida already knows–namely that when every vote is equal, the campaign must be run in every part of the state.

      Even in blue states with the biggest cities, urban voters don’t control statewide elections, so they can hardly control a national election. In California state-wide elections, candidates for governor or U.S. Senate don’t campaign just in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and there have recently been Republican governors Reagan, Dukemejian, Wilson, and Schwarzenegger. Just as with a national vote, a vote in rural Alpine county is just an important as a vote in Los Angeles.

      The main media at the moment, namely TV, costs much more per impression in big cities than in smaller towns and rural area. So, if you just looked at TV, candidates get more bang for the buck in smaller towns and rural areas.

      If the National Popular Vote bill were to become law, it would not change the need for candidates to build a winning coalition across demographics. Any candidate who yielded, for example, the 21% of Americans who live in rural areas in favor of a “big city” approach would not likely win the national popular vote. Candidates would still have to appeal to a broad range of demographics, and perhaps even more so, because the election wouldn’t be capable of coming down to just one demographic, such as voters in Ohio.

      With National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. It would no longer matter who won a state. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      The current system of electing the president ensures that the candidates, after the primaries, do not reach out to all of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the state-by-state winner-take-all method (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), under which all of a state's electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

      Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on only a handful of closely divided "battleground" states and their voters. In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives agree already, that, at most, only 14 states and their voters will matter. None of the 10 most rural states will matter, as usual. Almost 75% of the country will be ignored --including 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and 17 medium and big states like CA, GA, NY, and TX. This will be more obscene than the 2008 campaign, when candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their campaign events and ad money in just 6 states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). Over half (57%) of the events were in just 4 states (OH, FL, PA, and VA). In 2004, candidates concentrated over 2/3rds of their money and campaign visits in 5 states; over 80% in 9 states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states.

      2/3rds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential election. That's more than 85 million voters ignored.

      Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

      Because of the state-by-state winner-take-all electoral votes laws in 48 states, a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in 4 of the nation's 56 (1 in 14 = 7%) presidential elections. The precariousness of the current state-by-state winner-take-all system is highlighted by the fact that a shift of a few thousand voters in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 13 presidential elections since World War II. Near misses are now frequently common. There have been 6 consecutive non-landslide presidential elections (1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008). 537 popular votes won Florida and the White House for Bush in 2000 despite Gore's lead of 537,179 popular votes nationwide. A shift of 60,000 voters in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 million votes. Some insider Republicans believe under the current system in 2012, President Obama could win the electoral vote without winning the popular vote.


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