Hello Planetary Pals,
With the election results being determined as I write this, I figure that this would be the proper week to tackle a topic of much debate: the electoral college. This group of 538 electors is responsible for officially choosing the president of the United States. Supporters claim that the electoral college allows for equality and prevents populism. Opponents believe the system to be undemocratic and out of touch.
The Constitutional Convention aimed to fix many of the problems of the original Articles of Confederation and set about creating a new (and still used) system of government. One issue that came up was determining who should oversee the selection of the president. The original plan sought to have Congress select the president, however this plan was quickly shut down to prevent the legislative branch from gaining too much power over the executive and judicial branch. A system of nonbiased electors was proposed, becoming the electoral college.
There are several prudent reasons envisaged by the Founding Fathers that led them to create an electoral college, and some still ring true to this day. The chief reason the Framers chose this system was because of the lack of information available to eligible voters in the country at the time. In the 18th century, the transfer of information occurred at a slow rate, and it was feared that some voters, typically those in rural areas, would make uneducated and uninformed votes. The electoral college was also designed so that less populous states could achieve more equality. It prevents a candidate from only campaigning in the areas with high population. Small towns and rural areas would feel that the presidential candidates would ignore them, endangering the federal system of government.
The electoral college has also faced its share of criticism as well. The most common criticism is that an electoral college system does not always match the popular vote. This has occurred in the 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016 elections. For a country that values democracy, it may seem counterintuitive that the popular vote does not directly affect the presidency. The electoral college has also led to the development of swing states. Swing states are heavily targeted by candidates as they have populations which are generally ideologically equally split. Candidates spend such a large amount of time visiting and use much of their budget campaigning for these states. The existence of swing states does reduce the role of money, as a candidate will not need to spend the extra money campaigning in every single state but can focus in on a few states, allowing less total money to be used. The problems with swing states is that they lead to over campaigning in those states, while leaving other states essentially untouched. This disproportionate division of electing power is exactly the outcome that some cite the electoral college as preventing. This also has the side effect of discouraging voter turnout in many other states. The lack of electors for U.S. territories means that the citizens living there are not represented.
Public support among the majority of Americans for the electoral college has generally been low, however the support often changes with the result of the election; after Trump won via the electoral college in 2016, Republicans support for the popular vote fell from 54% to 19%, with the opposite being true for Democrats rising from 69% to 81%. Despite this, no substantial reform efforts have gained much support in Congress.