The Out-of-Date Electoral College

18 September 2012

Before I dive full speed into the politics and posturing of the US presidential election, I thought I would first share my thoughts and opinions on the system that officially elects the President of the United States. For those that failed middle school civics class or are not from the United States, the President of the United States is not elected by popular vote. Rather, each state is awarded a number of ‘electors’ based on its population size and they vote based on the popular vote of the state (or district in the case of Nebraska and Maine). If you win a majority of the electors in the electoral college, you win. Simple as that, right.

Some of the advantages to having this system is that it gives a reason for a candidate to visit an entire state, as a small town voter has just as much sway as a urban voter. This system also prevents there ever having to be a national vote recount as only close races in a few states ever require it. Additionally, the electoral college will always end in voting for a majority of a single candidate, preventing the awkward outcome of a candidate with a minority of electoral votes becoming president.

There are also numerous disadvantages to the system, such as making the vote of someone from one state worth more than another (Ohio vs California). It is because of this that many states are left out of campaigning, simply because they are already going to vote one way no matter what. The electoral college also makes it even more difficult for a third party to enter the playing field, as any splitting of the electoral votes could lead to there being no majority and forcing the House of Representatives to pick the president.

So what options are there. Well many would say leave the system as-is because it has worked for over 100 years and 50 elections without ‘fault’ (some would argue that the 2000 election was a fault). Others would say move straight to a popular election, however the nightmare scenario of a national recount could have the country lose faith in its polls. However, using both the electoral college and popular vote also cause radical differences in campaigning as the further makes candidates skip over states, while the latter would make rural voters obsolete.

However, I think there is a solution, and it lies in making what Nebraska and Maine already do a requirement nationwide. By using congressional districts as the break down for the electoral college, there would be a much more granular division of the electoral votes, while still keeping to a system that protects minority voting blocks. Instead of ‘battleground states’ you would have ‘battleground districts’ which would be spread more nationwide. Even in a heavily republican or democratic state, a candidate would have to weight visiting a suburban, mixed district, as an electoral vote here or there could swing the election. Finally, having a viable third party is possible in the future, because smaller voting blocks could make a difference in the election, rather than an entire state having to swing one way or another.

There are some downsides that come with moving the electoral votes being based on congressional districts, including making the campaigning scope even smaller. Additionally, with many district maps being redrawn after the 2010 census, the fear of gerrymandering, or making districts ‘safe’ for a certain party, becomes even greater because of its effect on the presidential election. Also, there are two more electoral votes for each state than there are congressional districts, so it would have to be determined what to do with those.

While many states have tried to make this change to a distributed electoral vote system (and some have even tried to back away from it), it would need to become a national movement to make any difference. However, I personally believe that downscaling the electoral voting system to congressional districts would be a positive difference. It puts the focus back on regional scale politics, all the while making a voter’s vote matter more. Not only that, but presidential candidates would once again start to visit states that have not seen active campaigning in decades, because they would no longer entirely be considered ‘safe’ for any party. Overall, it would hopefully lead to a more informed and active electorate than we have had in a long time.