A 15 Year Old Debates the Reasonableness of the Electoral College
A 15 Year Old Debates the Reasonableness of the Electoral College
by Dominic MacAulay
This is research paper by a 15-year old girl in Clayton North Carolina named, Sumner Manning. The paper is an argumentative paper taking the side of the reasonableness of the Electoral College. Sumner uses succinct, persuasive language and logic to convey the truth on the Electoral College, and well, I will just let her take it from here:
Early evening on the 8th of November, 2016, people throughout the United States of America wait with bated breath for the results of the country’s latest presidential election. Conventional wisdom is clear: Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is bound to win against the Republican Donald Trump. At 7:05 PM EST the first few states are called; Clinton captures Vermont’s three electoral votes and Trump takes Indiana and Kentucky’s combined fourteen. The numbers continue to come in; at 10:39 Trump captures Florida’s twenty-nine votes, shocking people and making Clinton’s path to the presidency much more difficult. The confidence of her supporters began to wane slightly. At 1:35 AM on November 9th, Trump’s claim to Pennsylvania is announced, a serious blow to Clinton. Some of her supporters still cling to the hope that she will manage to pull through, despite Trump’s claim to two hundred and sixty-four votes out of the two hundred and seventy required to win the highest office in the nation. At 2:30 in the morning, the ending call comes in: Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes, three more than those required to propel Trump to success, have been claimed by the Republican candidate. Five minutes later, television networks across the country report that Clinton had called Trump to concede her defeat.
Disapproval from some of Clinton’s supporters began even before her defeat was officially called. These dissidents called the election rigged and tampered with, accusing Trump of cheating somehow. When it was revealed that, while Trump had won a vast majority of the electoral votes, Clinton had won the plurality of the popular vote, her supporters felt even more cheated out of the presidency. Despite protests, Donald J. Trump was inaugurated on January 20th, 2017 and became the 45th president of the United States of America. The unexpected outcome, however, sparked an uproar that led to a large movement promoting the reconsideration of the Electoral College, the system by which the President of the United States is elected. Those in this movement hold that in a free country, a direct vote from all citizens should be used to elect the leader of the country; each citizen should have the exact same say as each other citizen.
This is not how the Electoral College is designed. According to the National Archives and Records Administration, a federal agency devoted to the preservation of historical and legal documents, the system spreads three hundred and fifty-eight “electoral votes” across the country’s fifty states and the District of Columbia, where the capital of the country is located. Each place has a minimum of three votes, with more granted based on how many members the state has in Congress. Each state has two Senators. The number of members in the House of Representatives depends on the population size of the state, with a minimum of only one Representative. California, for example, is the largest state in the U.S. with two Senators and fifty-three Representatives. Therefore, it has fifty-five electoral votes. Wyoming, one of the smallest states, has only one Representative, with a resulting mere three electoral votes. In the presidential election, the winner of the popular vote in each state is awarded all of the electoral votes aliquoted to that state, with an exception in two states. According to 270 to Win, a website dedicated to the Electoral College, “Using the ‘congressional district method’, [Maine and Nebraska] allocate two electoral votes to the state popular vote winner, and then one electoral vote to the popular vote winner in each Congressional district (2 in Maine, 3 in Nebraska). This creates multiple popular vote contests in these states, which could lead to a split electoral vote.” Votes in each State for the president are cast every four years. The States then announce which candidate receives its electoral votes; the first candidate to pass two-hundred and seventy electoral votes wins the presidency.
In the years since Donald Trump’s success over Hillary Clinton, this system has been reviewed and many have called for its abolition. This movement to get rid of one of the most unique and important parts of the United States government, dating back to the original Constitutional Convention in 1787 has gained a shocking amount of traction, peaking at a Constitutional Amendment created by Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz that attempts to replace with a simple plurality-based popular voting system. It, of course, has not passed Congress.
Though the effort to destroy one of the most unique and centric parts of the U.S. government is often considered futile, the movement does raise questions. At a glance, the system appears to be an unnecessarily complicated, outdated, and perhaps even an immoral way to choose the leader of a so-called free country; it seems to ignore the votes of those who vote against the plurality in each state and gives more power to smaller States comparative to larger ones. The “winner-take-all system” seems contradictory to the free speech and liberty the United States itself claims to stand for. However, a glance is rarely a recommended way to understand topics, especially ones as complex as the presidential voting system; although undemocratic, the Electoral College is still relevant and important today, and preferable to a popular vote.
The electoral college provides many benefits a popular vote does not; for example, it provides a clear winner. According to Jurist Richard A. Posner, ties in the Electoral College are possible, as there are an even number of electoral votes (five-hundred and thirty-eight). However, with so many votes spread so broadly around the country, it’s unlikely for a tie to occur. Though admittedly, it is much more likely than a tie in a popular vote. Despite this, a dispute of whether the number candidate’s electoral votes are accurate is much, much less likely than an argument over whether the number of each candidate’s votes is accurate. Recounting votes to ensure that the number is as accurate as possible, something which many candidates would undoubtedly ask for if they thought there was a chance it could help their campaign, would delay elections exponentially and cause unnecessary arguments, uncertainty, and confusion; imagine a nationwide conflict every election season like what happened in Florida in 2000. Constant recounting would be an unnecessary and taxing stressor on all Americans, particularly federal and State officials. Beyond that, Joseph E. Uscinski, an associate professor of political science at the University of Miami, states that “In 2012, the difference between President Obama and Mitt Romney’s vote totals was only about 5 million votes out of 127 million cast. Some elections are much closer, and such small margins can seem unclear and inconclusive. The Electoral College tends to make victories appear clear and margins distinct. In 2012, despite the 4 percent margin in the popular vote, the Electoral College vote was a decisive 332 to 206. Such numbers are easy to interpret and provide newly elected presidents with the legitimacy they need to govern.” If the Electoral College weren’t there to provide clear pathways to victory, the conflict over who was truly president may lead to not only arguments among voters and media members, but government officials as well. A government cannot function properly if its members are constantly divided over whether their leader is truly their leader, nor can the country they’re supposed to be governing.
Moving from practicality to legality, the Electoral College preserves the federalist and democratic-republican system of the U.S.A.’s government, which is essential to who we are as a nation. Criticizers of the system call it “undemocratic.” It is. The United States is not a democracy, it is a democractic republic, with a Constitution to which all members of its government are bound – a Constitution that clearly outlines where the federal government’s power begins and ends, setting up state and local governments to deal with the other required responsibilities of government without handing all the power to a small, elite few to wield over the population. (White House) Judge Richard A. Posner says, “No form of representative democracy, as distinct from direct democracy, is or aspires to be perfectly democratic. Certainly not our federal government. In the entire executive and judicial branches, only two officials are elected—the president and vice president. All the rest are appointed—federal Article III judges for life.” The Electoral College not only is an essential part of U.S. history but an essential part of its government; combining both the “democratic” voting for officials with the “republican” appointing under the U.S. Constitution. Without the republican element, a mere 51% of the population could vote to crush the will of the other 49%. A plurality of the votes would also work if the votes were split among enough candidates. Anyone charming or manipulative enough to convince a plurality of voters to vote for them could win; promises of only taxing a certain minority group to pay for whatever the majority wanted would encourage the unfair treatment of minorities in favor of the majorities for the sake of being re-elected as many times as possible.
Furthermore, if the argument against the Electoral College is that it ignores portions of the population, it is ironic that one of the most effective arguments against the popular vote is that it would, in fact, ignore more regions than the Electoral College does. Indeed, the Electoral College is often appraised for forcing candidates to appeal to more regions than a popular vote would. In the popular vote system, 51% of votes guarantees election; even less if enough people vote for more than two candidates. This means that an appeal to a majority group could carry a candidate to the highest office in the country whilst ignoring minorities – for context, an approximated 61% of the population is Caucasian, (Statistico) with most other ethnicities in teen percentages. This means an effective appeal to solely white voters could win an election. If more than two candidates are running, the risk of only appealing to one large audience decreases. On the other hand, as Judge Posner from the U.S. Court of Appeals puts it, “The Electoral College requires a presidential candidate to have transregional appeal. No region (South, Northeast, etc.) has enough electoral votes to elect a president. So a solid regional favorite, such as Romney was in the South, has no incentive to campaign heavily in those states, for he gains no electoral votes by increasing his plurality in states that he knows he will win. This is a desirable result because a candidate with only [one] regional appeal is unlikely to be a successful president. The residents of the other regions are likely to feel disfranchised—to feel that their votes do not count, that the new president will have no regard for their interests, that he really isn’t their president.” The Electoral system forces candidates to attempt to reach as many groups of Americans as possible, focusing on whatever regions with whatever demographics that hold states that seem likely to be convinced, and those states change every election. Is this not preferable to a system in which an appeal to solely Caucasian voters can win a presidential election?
The Electoral College is not perfect; no system of election can be. However, it is clearly preferable to a system that easily provides an opportunity for constant debate over winners, eliminates many of the fundamentals of the Founders of the U.S.A. and the governmental system to which she ascribes, and is determined solely by a majority rather than as many demographics can be represented. Despite the protests, this system remains the best option for choosing the president, and likely always will.
Sumner Manning, 15yrs old, North Carolina
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