The US electoral system was developed and approved within the framework of the Constitution in 1787. It presents a rather complex procedure for the electoral process. Unlike the more traditional Popular Vote system, used in other countries, US citizens work with the Electoral College to vote for the President and Vice-President. Despite some clear advantages, such as providing decisive majorities and minority protection, Electoral College has serious drawbacks (Lin 1). Among these are a failure to represent the opinion of every voter due to the disproportionate weight of a single vote for each state, depending on the size of a state, and the winner-takes-all approach (Young 36). Other flaws include the phenomenon of the “referendum paradox,” the issue of faithless electors, disproportionate strategic campaigning, and census, which is not time-consistent (Siderius 1; Lin 1). Therefore, this paper’s thesis is that Electoral College is an outdated system that should be displaced by a better alternative, preferably by the more widespread globally Popular Vote electoral procedure.
What is the Electoral College?
The Electoral College is a group of 538 who elects a President and Vice-President in a general election. This system has an absurdity element since US voters vote for electors chosen by parties who cast the ballots in favor of candidates from the party they represent. If none of the candidates gains the 270 votes necessary to win, the election is decided by the House of Representatives (Lin 1).
The electoral procedure is as follows: once in four years, the voters come to the polling stations on Tuesday after the first Monday of November. They cast the ballot in favor of the candidate of the preferred party, but they vote for the electors, who represent parties and candidates. After the voting, electors representing the winners are approved by the governors of each state. They gather at the electors’ meetings held in each state on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December (“What is Electoral College?”). At this gathering, the electors vote for the President and Vice-President using separate ballots.
The votes are recorded on the voting certificate and sent to Congress, where the votes are counted. Then, at the joint session of Congress on January 6 of the year that follows the electors’ meeting, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate conduct an official count of electros’ votes. The current Vice-President announces the voting results and the names of the new President and Vice-President (“What is Electoral College?”). Further, on January 20, the procedure for the inauguration of the newly elected President and Vice-President occurs, and they can finally start working. Therefore, the electoral process takes about three months, during which the incumbent prepares cases for transfer to the President-elect, and the President-elect prepares plans for the most important reforms that were presented to voters during the phase of the election race primaries.
It is noteworthy that parties choose electors among the most loyal party members or state officials who proved their trustworthiness. Even though not all the states have legislation that obliges electors to vote in favor of the party that chose them, today more states are implementing such laws, especially considering cases of faithless electors chosen by the Democratic Party in the 2016 elections, who eventually gave their votes for the Republican Donald Trump. Electors’ faithfulness is a significant issue that causes many debates among experts, scholars, journalists, and politicians.
Scholars on Why Electoral College System Does Not Work
Scholars widely criticize the Electoral College system, even though some admit that it has several substantive positive aspects. Grabarek (131), in his review of the book by Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson, Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today, states that “the document that the Framers of the Constitution penned in 1787 contained, the authors contend, “limitations, ambiguities, and flatly bad ideas” that have led to crises throughout the centuries” (Grabarek 131). The scholar implies that constitutional fault lines include gerrymandering, the Electoral College, bicameralism, and emergency powers (Grabarek 131). It is also said that Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson presented a “fascinating reading” with pragmatic solutions to the listed issues, based on the experiences of other nations solving similar problems.
Therefore, Grabarek shares Lin and Young’s opinion, who are sure that the new electoral system should be based on globally excepted experiences. Counterarguments may include appealing to the uniqueness of the US electoral process. Still, given the detailed report presented above, the voting procedure, being added up to the pre-election campaigning, usually takes up to six months, which is a substantive time that could be spent by the politicians more productively.
Several purely scientific quantitative studies research particular aspects of the Electoral College voting system. According to De Mouzon et al., who conducted a study using the Bantzaf and Shapley-Shubik probabilistic models, both of these models demonstrated the violation of selective justice at small states’ expense (189). The models analyzed the electoral process of 2010 held under the Electoral College procedure (De Mouzon et al. 189). Scientists have also documented violations of electoral justice at the expense of large states using May’s probabilistic model (De Mouzon et al. 189). Despite the apparent inconsistency of the results, they reflect one essential fact – the violation of electoral justice.
This violation occurs because each state has an equal number of electors, but the states’ population levels vary considerably. According to Lin, the Electoral College voting procedure implies that “the vote of each citizen weighs more or less depending on which state they’re in – it is not a one-person-one-vote system” (1). The author states that this uneven distribution of voters’ weight is a particular flaw of the Electoral College. He also says that the increasing polarization of political forces makes Electoral College and Popular Vote formats increasingly incompatible. Cervas and Grofman also say that “one measure, the minimum population needed to win a majority, offers a readily comparable measure across legislatures and jurisdictions, and is easy for non-specialists to understand” (2238). The scholars suggest using this particular measure to identify the ‘malapportionment.’
Siderius has even more critical arguments concerning the Electoral College. The scholar develops the concept of the “referendum paradox,” which happens when “one candidate wins an election by an electoral college but loses in a popular vote” (Siderius 1). It means that a candidate can win an election by winning most states but with a cumulative number of votes lower than the second candidate’s. This paradox startled the wide society in the 2016 elections when Donald Trump overraced Hillary Clinton. It also happened in four other cases in American electoral history.
Moments of such ‘violations of electoral justice’ happened systematically. Lin states that “four presidencies were the product of incongruent elections when the candidate won the electoral college but lost the popular vote, and each of these presidencies resulted in immense consequences” (1). Amar (63) speaks of the election of George W. Bush in 2001, Benjamin Harrison in 1889, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877, and Abraham Lincoln in 1861.
Moreover, Amar (63) counter-argues the voting process’s adversity, saying that Abraham Lincoln himself benefited from the winner-take-all approach integrated into the Electoral College procedure. President Lincoln won almost 40% of voters, overtaking Stephen Douglas from Democrats, who got nearly 30%, and John Bell and John Breckinridge, who led sizable splinter groups (Amar 63). However, although Lincoln got the relative majority of the votes, he would never have won an absolute majority if the election took place in two rounds. Most voters who gave their voices to Douglas, Bell, and Breckinridge did not see him as a proper candidate. Nonetheless, Lincoln won, and that was a genuinely historical moment that had significant implications for the Civil War outcome.
Wildenthal (1) mentions the current deeply polarized political climate and proposes a constitutional amendment to reform the Electoral College. The scholar has no particular pretenses to Electoral College and suggests preserving its basic constitutional structure and the slight advantage given to the small states. However, the scholar says that the amendment will “balance the need to more closely reflect the popular vote (guaranteeing that this would be the basis for selection of electors)” (Wildenthal 1). Therefore, the scholar suggests keeping the status quo, which makes him an opponent of Young, who is sure that the Electoral College cannot serve as an approach that reflects the popular vote.
Young (40) admits that adjusting the process of choosing the electors is one of the existing alternatives but insists on total reformation. Specifically, Young (50) states that he is the proponent of the Popular Vote system that proved its efficiency in many other states and can ensure the honest representation of the voters’ opinions. Young also questions the uneven distribution of votes’ weight between the smaller and bigger states, seeing it as another threat to just elections. The scholar describes three alternatives to Electoral College besides the Popular Vote: The Automatic Plan, The District Plan, and the Proportional Plan (Young 46). However, because these alternatives give rather vague solutions regarding many essential aspects of voting, Young concludes that they should not be implemented.
Thus, the presented arguments demonstrate that Electoral College is an outdated system that should be displaced by a better alternative, preferably by the Popular Vote electoral procedure. Scholars broadly criticize the Electoral College since it undermines electoral justice through the uneven distribution of voting weight among voters. It also has the flaw of the “referendum paradox” and does not exclude the phenomenon of faithless electors, who sometimes eventually give their votes to opposing candidates with no judicial consequences.
Amar, Akhil Reed. “The Inaugural Abraham Lincoln Lecture on Constitutional Law: Electoral College Reform, Lincoln-Style.” Nw. UL Rev. 112 (2017): 63.
Cervas, Jonathan, and Bernard Grofman. “Legal, Political Science and Economics Approach to Measuring Malapportionment: The US House, Senate, and Electoral College 1790–2010.” Social Science Quarterly 101.6 (2020): 2238-2256.
De Mouzon, Olivier, et al. “One Man, One Vote” Part 1: Electoral Justice in the US Electoral College: Banzhaf and Shapley/Shubik versus May.” Evaluating Voting Systems with Probability Models. Springer, Cham, 2021. 189-227.
Grabarek, Daryl. “Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today.” Language Arts 96.2 (2018): 131.
Lin, Mei. “Disillusioning the Illusion of Choice: A Rogerian Approach on Electoral College Reform.” (2019).
Siderius, James. “Polarization and the US Electoral College.” Available at SSRN 3564820 (2020).
“What is the Electoral College?” National Archives, 2019, Web.
Wildenthal, Bryan H. “Proposed Electoral College Amendment.” Thomas Jefferson School of Law Research Paper 3777733 (2021).
Young, Cheyenne. “The Electoral College and the Winner Takes All System.” (2020).