is there any reason to keep the electoral college?

Yes, Yes, I know that the constitution created the electoral college, and we can’t just throw it out arbitrarily. That said, is there any reason to keep it around? In this day and age we have the technology to count everyone’s vote individually, so is it really in our best interest to have someone else electing our president for us?I think an amendment should be drafted to abolish the college–anyone think otherwise?

Nope. Just get rid of it, and baseball too. They’re both too old fashioned…

When the US was first formed, the individual states were MUCH more soveriegn than they are now. It made a lot of sense back then. Probably less so now, although you could certainly argue that RI and Montana would not get much campaigning if it were straight popular vote. Think about the Senate, though. Why do we need a Legislative body that represents each state eqaully? I think the electoral college is pretty weird on the face of it, but I’m a big enough supporter of states keeping authority to think it may have some usefulness still. BTW, if you think we have a tough time on things like this, look at what the EU is going thru. Does Luxembourg get the same pull as Germany? How about Malta…?

The only good argument I’ve ever heard for keeping the electoral college is that it gives extra weight to the states. If it wasn’t for the electoral college, Presidential candidates would never set foot in North or South Dakota or any other place with a low population density. They would campaign only in big cities, and rural voters would be left out in the cold.

But that’s not a very compelling argument, IMHO. I wrote a paper for my AP American History class fifteen years ago in high school advocating the abolition of the electoral college. If they’d listened to me then, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are right now!

I read a mathematician’s analysis linked from Arts & Letters Daily that showed that your individual vote was more powerful with an electoral college in place than without. The argument was that your vote really matters only in the same degree in which it could be the swing vote. In other words, in an electorate of 11, your vote has a 1 in 11 chance of being a swing vote. The mathematician went on to demonstrate that one’s vote has a greater chance of being the swing vote under the current system than in a straight popular vote for president.

The Electoral College was designed for a small, rural population. I do not believe the Framers forsaw anything like we have today because they did not expect the Constitution to last as long as it has. The Electoral College is not broke. It is working as intended.

The real problem is voter apathy. As long as people feel they are disenfranchised, they will not vote. It then becomes its own self-fulfilling prophecy.

Had the 2000 presidential election a 90 percent voter turnout instead of the 51.21 percent voter turnout, with everything else being equal, would pundits be clamoring to get rid of the EC?

I think not.

It’s easier to blame the system than to look in the mirror to see where the problem lies.

IANA mathematician, and since I’m not even American this stuff somehow is none of my business, but I’d like to add something to hansel’s post.
It’s true that the smaller the electorate, the bigger is your chance that your vote is the decicive one (although in an electorate of 11 I doubt the probability is 1 in 11 - it rather ought to be the probability of five people voting for candidate A and five for B, which, I guess, is not 1 in 11, but that’s a different matter).
But even if your vote is the swing vote in a state, it doesn’t necessarily have more weight than in popular vote because it’s only the swing vote in this particular state. If candidate B has a big enough majority among other states’ electors, your vote might get your state to vote for A, but B is elected nonetheless, so your vote doesn’t affect the final result. The probability of being the swing vote nationwide is lower, but then again it actually is the swing vote fixing the final result, so the argument might be pointless.

Anyway, if asked whether I’d support abolishing the college, I’d say yes. It might reduce the influence of small states, but then again I’d say that is just fair - the EC gives the small states more influence that they should have, because one vote in a small state counts more than one in a big one, volating the principle that all votes should at least be roughly equal.

I could live with abolishing it only if the votes were still weighted by state. You could ditch the actual electors, but still assign the number of votes as before. Popular vote is a crock, IMHO. Some sort of system needs to give weight to the less populated states. Clearly the people of California and Vermont have very different interests, and our government needs to recognize those interests even if California may happen to be far more populous. I for one don’t want California and New York bossing us around all the time, at least institutions like the Senate and the electoral college help to prevent that from happening more than is absolutely necessary.

Of course, I only care that each state gets that number of votes, not how those votes are determined or how they’re physically and ceremonially counted. If Georgia gets 11, and it wants to apportion those 11 according to the ratio of how many votes each candidate got in that state (rather than winner take all), they’re presently free to do so, and one might advocate that position as a preliminary reform.

Let me add something here that is, I think, even more critical than the electoral college itself. Some states award ALL electors to the winner and some states award them in proportion to the votes. I don’t recall which ones, but yoiu could make a huge change to the system w/o ending the electoral college by having all states award electors in proportion to the votes. Also, I believe we would need a Constitutional amendmanent to get rid of the EC. You’d never get enough small states to ratify that change, so I’m guessing it’s here to stay.

Nebraska And Maine use proportional voting for their electoral votes. I know that Maine gives one electoral vote to whoever wins the popular vote in each of its two Congressional districts. Maine’s other two electoral votes go to the candidate who wins the statewide popular vote. I am not sure if Nebraska follows this same arrangement.

The systems in Nebraska and Maine are better described as “winner take all at the district level”. They are not proportional.

Under the electoral college, candidates give their time and attention first to states which are large and close, and second to states which are small and close. Under direct popular vote, they would probably concentrate on large metropolitan areas in general, regardless of the surrounding state.

One issue which would need to be resolved if you switch to direct election: Would states continue to establish suffrage requirements, administer the mechanics of the election, and report final and official vote counts? If “yes”, picture the Florida fiasco multiplied times 50 in a close election. If “no”, you need a new federal bureaucracy to perform these tasks, and you probably need to decouple the presidential election from state and Congressional elections.

It is futile to talk about abolishing the electoral college. It may or may not be a good thing to keep, but in order to change it you would need a constitutional amendment. Constitutional amendments need to pass a 2/3 majority in the House, a 2/3 majority in the Senate, and then be ratified by 3/4 of all state legislatures.

This will never ever happen. Why? Under the current system each state has a number of electoral votes equal to their number of Senators and Representatives. So Alaska, with only one representative, has 3 electoral votes. This means that each individual Alaskan has proportionally more say in the presidential election than each individual Californian. There is absolutely no incentive for smaller population states to give up a system that disproportionallly benefits them. Since all it requires is for 13 states to refuse to ratify the constitutional amendment, the issue is dead. And while the larger states might have more representatives in the house to pass the 2/3 majority there, the small states would be equally represented in the Senate. All it would take is 34 Senators from small states to oppose the measure and it never reaches the state legislatures.

So electoral college reform is never going to happen, regardless of whether it is a good idea or not. So why bother arguing that it would be a good idea?

One argument for keeping the Electoral College is that it sets a ceiling on how much voter fraud a single political machine can commit by containing the fraud to a single state. Let’s take the 1960 Presidential election, for example, in which there were charges of widespread voter fraud by the Democrats in Illinois and Texas (and of fraud by the Republicans in other states, but they lost, so let’s stick with the Democrats for this example). And let’s say that Mayor Daley I is going to deliver Chicago and Illinois for John F. Kennedy by hook or by crook. With an Electoral College, the maximum fraud that the Daley Machine can commit is limited to Illinois’s electoral vote, and cannot affect the votes in other states. But without an Electoral College, the Daley Machine can manufacture thousands or millions of fraudulent votes in Chicago, which will offset legitimate votes cast in other states.

I think there are two different issues here:

  1. Should the votes of residents of small states have more weight than those of residents of large states?

  2. Should the president be elected by a small group of political insiders rather than by all U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote and choose to do so?

(Why, no, there’s no bias built into the way I framed the issues. Why do you ask?)

I think the answer in both cases is no, but I agree there’s not much hope of ever changing #1 without scrapping the entire Constitution and starting over again. (Anyone?)

As for #2, we could in theory have a system of direct election in which we still gave more weight to the votes of Alaskans than those of Californians. However, this would put legislators from the smaller states in the awkward position of publicly acting against the principle of “one person, one vote,” so I don’t think it’s likely to happen, to either.

So, IMHO, it’s a crummy, anachronistic system, but we’re stuck with it.

You have to remember that, at the beginning, states had to WANT to join the Union. They could all have remained totally independent if t hey wanted to. If we scrapped the whole thing and started again, I’d bet we’d have most the same issues, and the electoral college, or something like it, would be put in place.

I’d like to ask you anit-EC folks how you justify the Senate? Same idea. I don’t think you can trash one w/o trashing the other.

I’ve seen this argument before, but I’ve never understood it. Without direct elections, wouldn’t the effect of voter fraud be limited to the number of fraudelent votes, rather than the entire electoral vote of the state?

Same deal with the Senate: philosophically, I’m agin’ it. Pragmatically, I realize it’s not going anywhere without a major upheaval. (No, Mr. Ashcroft, I’m NOT calling for the violent overthrow of the government. I like America, really!)

Personally, I’d like to see representation in one house of Congress of the kind suggested in “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,” where voters choose their own alliances rather than have them assigned on the basis of geography. (This is probably exactly how it works in some other countries, but because of my ignorance of foreign political systems, I’m forced to resort to science fiction.)

Suggested amendment:

Section One. The President and the Vice President shall be chosen by the popular vote of all American citizens who shall have reached the age of eighteen years. The Secretary of State shall certify the election of the President, and of the Vice President, on a showing that he received a plurality of valid votes constituting at least forty-five per centum of the valid votes cast and that he was the candidate receiving the most votes in at least twenty states.

Section Two. In the event that no candidate for the office of President or Vice President receives votes sufficient to certify his election as provided in Section One, the Secretary of State and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall jointly call for a runoff election between the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes nationally, to be held between six and eight weeks following the general election.

Section Three. If owing to unforeseen circumstances no candidate shall qualify under the provisions of either of the above Sections, the Congress elected at the general election shall assemble in joint session as soon as practicable after they shall take office, and shall choose a President and a Vice President from the two candidates for each office having the highest vote in the general election, or as provided by law authorized by Section Four. Such choice shall be by simple majority, with each Senator and Representative having one vote.

Section Four. Congress shall provide by law for circumstances in which a candidate for President or Vice President in the general election is unable to take office, such as by death or disabling illness. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Then again, in the Electoral College System, one ignores the will of minorities in large states. How are substantial Republican minorities in California, or substantial Democratic minorities in Texas, for example, supposed to get recognition.

By giving power to small states, one takes away power from minorities within states. With the EC in place, a liberal man’s vote in Texas literally doesn’t matter, because he’ll be outvoted on the state level.


I like your logical consistancy, even though I disagree with you on the result… The “Moon is a harsh mistress” scenario ignores the fact that when the US was first set up, the idea was to keep as much authority on the local (state) level as possible. I guess as cyberspace takes up a more and more significant part of our lives, then your scenario makes more sense. I don’t thinke we’re close to being there yet.


Really only an issue in winner-takes all states. I’ll be interested to look up which states are set up that way. I’m ashamed to say that I live in CA but don’t know how it works here…