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Afterimage Review

This Is Why We Should Absolutely Abolish The Electoral College

Electoral College

It’s time to abolish the Electoral College system.

While there are quite a few reasons to support any of the third party candidates if you agree with their views on any number of issues, even if they do win the popular vote, they still have no representation in the Electoral College.

The Electoral College actually holds a particularly uniquely puzzling role in American history because even the most highly respected historian and constitutional experts will agree that no one actually knows precisely why our country’s founders established it to begin with.

There is some evidence in the Federalist papers to suggest that the founding fathers established the Electoral College as an attempt to establish a safeguard so that if someone who was particularly mentally unstable or tyrant who seems to be excessively power hungry were elected in the popular vote, then the parties would have one last legal safeguard in place to stop that person from becoming President or Vice President.  Although there is no direct evidence to suggest this, another popular theory is that even in the era when we’d finally succeeded in seceding from British colonial rule in the 1780’s so that we could establish the world’s first truly democratic government, the founding fathers were still attempting to preserve some degree of privilege.

Some historians believe that the founding fathers were assuming that the most of the leaders of our political parties would likely be from wealthy families, and so by giving the final say as to whether the winner of the popular vote will in fact become or next President or not, they were attempting to ensure that descendants of wealthy families would preserve a degree of control over the future of the leadership of our country throughout the course of the following centuries.  As I stated, there is no direct evidence to support this, but all of our country’s founding fathers were from wealthy families, nearly half of them came from families who owned slaves, they established terms within our original constitution which permitted for counting slaves as 3/5 or a person in population censuses, they refused to grant citizenship to Native Americans, they did not permit women to vote, so it is clear that they were attempting to preserve some degree of privilege- whether or not the Electoral College was a part of that is not knowable, but it is a very reasonable guess.

Another explanation for the founding fathers’ decision to establish the system of electors is that the concept of a President who was directly elected by the citizens was quite simply an idea that seemed too radical in the 1780’s.  They were willing to permit the citizens to directly elect all another city, county, state and Federal offices, but they simply were not ready to allow for people to directly elect a President and our Vice Presidents.  It had never been done before yet anywhere in the world, and the idea may have just seemed overwhelming and frightening back in the 1780’s.  It’s easy for us to view this from a modern perspective in the 21st century and say that sounds preposterous, but we were not alive in the 1780’s, and we can’t know for certain what it would have been like to be attending our Constitutional Convention in 1787.

Whatever the original purpose of the system of electors may have been, the continued presence of it has been controversial for the past two centuries.

The phrase “Electoral College” does not actually appear anywhere within the Constitution- that’s a popular misconception.  The word “electors” appears, the phrase “electoral college” was coined by newspaper writers sometime during the early decades of the 1800’s.

Over the course of the past 200 years, there have now been at least 700 proposals to either modify or eliminate the Electoral College; there have probably been more proposals to modify or eliminate the Electoral College than there have been proposals for anything else within our country’s history so far.

The system of directly electing all political offices except for the President, and electing electors for the President made impressively little sense in the 19th and the 20th centuries, and it still makes equally little sense today.  We may never know what our country’s founding fathers were intending when they established the system of electors in 1787, what they effectively accomplished was creating an enormous boondoggle.  The electors are volunteers, they all get paid a total of $0.00, so the process doesn’t actually waste any funding, but it certainly does clearly waste an enormous amount of time.

A Boondoggle, Now Of 21st Century Proportions:

The first waste of time comes in the process of the parties selecting the electors themselves.  The leaders within two major parties select the electors, though the processes vary slightly among the 50 states as well as Washington, D.C.  Most credible journalists and political analysts agree that at the moment, the “third” party candidates are all predicted to receive such small percentages of the popular vote this year, that there is no real possibility that anyone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will become our next President.

If there comes a time when a candidate from a party other than the Democrats or the Republicans seems that they may likely receive a significant percentage of the popular vote, then that party will also have to select electors.  We’ve not had a candidate from outside of the 2 major parties who was predicted to receive a sizeable number of popular votes since 1992, though if that situation were to occur, the party (or parties) whom the other candidate or candidates are from would be required to follow the same procedures for selecting their electors as the Democrats and the Republicans do.

The selection of electors is accomplished at party conventions or at party meetings.  Sometimes there are meetings which are held specifically to select the electors, other times the selection process is part of a larger convention in which other issues are addressed.  While the process of selecting the electors can anywhere from few hours to a few days, the party leadership usually goes through lengthy discussions prior to these meetings.  They discuss the people whom they want to select, and they engage in a lot of research about the backgrounds of the people whom they are considering to select as electors, to make certain that these are the people whom they want to select, and that the party leadership is confident that the electors will do their job and that they will opt to vote for their party’s candidate if that party’s candidate wins the popular vote.  While the electors are volunteers, they all get paid a total of $0.00 for their efforts, being an elector is often a means of working their way up to higher positions within party leadership, which can be useful if these people intend to run for offices in future years.

And it is all almost entirely purposeless; there has not been an elector who voted for a candidate whom they were not pledged to support since 1976.  They do occasionally opt to vote for no one at all, or they inadvertently reverse the Presidential and the Vice Presidential candidates, though this has never effected the final outcome of an election.  (One elector opted not to vote for any candidates in 2000, and in 2004, one elector voted for the John Edwards for President- which was an accident, because he was the candidate for Vice President in the 2004 elections.)  This is just my opinion here, but this is 2016, this is the United States Of America here, and the leadership of our political parties just might have a few other issues that they could be spending their time paying attention to.

The second waste of time is the process of the electoral vote itself.  You may have noticed that following the elections for your town, village, city, county and state offices, your school board elections, special elections, by-elections, ballot measures, bond issue referendums as well as the elections for your Congressmen and Congresswomen, unless the results or too close to determine a clear winner, in which case the board of elections will need to conduct a recount, or unless the return of absentee ballots is delayed due to severe weather, you’ll usually know the results of the elections within 24 hours of the election itself.

However, with our Presidential elections, you find out the results of the popular election relatively quickly, usually within a day following the election.  And then we wait for the electors to elect the President.  As I pointed out earlier, in 2004, the 2008 and the 2012 elections, the Electoral College elected the candidate who had won the popular vote.  Such was not the case in 2000.  All of these electors are either politicians or hold administrative positions within their parties.

Once again, this is just my opinion here, but it does seem that they’re wasting a lot of time in this process here, while there are a number of other issues that they could be spending their time working on.  And if we were to eliminate the electoral college, the winner of the popular election would simply become our next President.  We would not have to wait for the subsequent process of the electoral votes to determine whether the winner of the popular vote will become the next President.

Don’t “Misunderestimate” the Effects of the Electoral College

Most Americans know that when you vote for President, you’re not really voting directly for the candidate, you’re voting for the party’s elector.  The number of electors within each state is based on the population of the state, as per the most recent census.  This creates three serious major problems.

Firstly, this still means that a candidate can win the popular vote and lose the electoral vote.  Secondly, this means that candidates from the two major parties are actually interested in winning the electoral votes and not the popular votes.  Candidates know that in order to win the electoral vote, they’ll need to concentrate most of their efforts on the states which have the highest numbers of electoral votes.  This means that they are going to spend a lot less time campaigning in the states which have fewer electoral votes.  And this often means that they are simply less interested in paying close attention to the issues which affect the people who live in the states which have fewer electoral votes, and they focus a lot more of their attention on a handful of the “key battleground states.”

There have been four elections so far in the course of our history in which a candidate has won the popular vote and still not become President.  These are the elections of 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000.  In the election of 1824, there was actually no clear winner of either the popular vote or the electoral vote, so the decision to select John Quincy Adams was accomplished by the House Of Representatives.  In the elections of 1876, 1888 and 2000, the candidates who won the popular vote ended up losing the electoral vote.  While articles about the results of the elections of 1876 and 1888 are found in libraries, in history books, and in history museums, the memories of the 2000 elections are still quite alive and well with many of us today.

There’s also a third manner in which the continued presence of the Electoral College is actually a corruption and a perversion of the entire concept of a democratically elected Federal government.  The number of electors for each state is equal to the number of Congressmen/ Congresswomen that each state has (meaning the number of Representatives plus 2 because each state has two Senators.)  The number of electoral votes that is assigned to Washington, D.C. is automatically equal to the number of electors for the least populous state, which means that Washington, D.C. automatically gets 3 electoral votes.

The territories and colonies of Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands only have no- voting delegates in the House Of Representatives, and they have zero (0) Senators, so they actually get a total of zero (0) electoral votes.  That means that while the entire populations of those islands do get to vote in the general elections, their popular votes count for absolutely nothing whatsoever.  These are not American states, these are American colonies and territories.  Our President and Vice President are also the President and the Vice President of these islands as well, and the candidates have no incentive to want to pay attention to issues affecting these islands or to campaign for them because these islands all have a total of zero (0) electoral votes.  This is the 21st century.

How would you feel if you were voting in a national election, and you knew that your votes actually don’t count for anything at all?  There are close to 4 million U.S. citizens who are presently residents of Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.  If a comparable situation were to occur in any other country in the entire world, the American media, as well as newspapers and news television shows around the rest of the world, would be very quick to identify this a very obvious civil rights violation.  So why are we still willing to accept that this somehow makes sense here in our own home country?

So why haven’t we eliminated the Electoral College yet?

If the majority of our politicians actually do decide that it is finally time to eliminate the Electoral College, it actually won’t be an impressively simple process.  The presence of the electors is clearly established within our Constitution, so while the entire concept contradicts both the most fundamental basic principles of Democracy as well as violating most fundamental basic principles of common sense, the Supreme Court’s hands are really tied- they can’t declare that the Electoral College is unconstitutional in any way.  The leadership of our political parties and our state governments can’t do anything either- not directly at least, though they could make speeches in which they point out that they feel that the entire system of electors should have been eliminated centuries ago.

The decision to eliminate the Electoral College would have to come either directly from our President or from Congress.

If we ever do finally opt to eliminate the Electoral college, then and only then will we finally have a government of the people, for we will finally have a government that is actually really elected directly by the people- and we will, therefore, have our best chance at having a government that truly represents (“of”) we, the people.

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About the author

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Scott lives in Rye, N.Y. photo credit: Liza Margulies