Philip Angelides of Colorado College Remarks on the Electoral College

During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, America’s founding fathers fought tirelessly over how the President of the American people would be chosen.  Many influential individuals at the convention debated how the leader of the free world should be chosen—either by a direct election of the citizenry or by the choice of Congress.  After constant deliberation and frequent deadlock, they compromised and created the Electoral College that we know today. Despite being a highly controversial institution, it remains a seldom talked about topic, especially among policy makers. 

Through research of the various inequalities of voting power and weight among citizens in several states, it has become clear that the Electoral College favors voters of some states while disadvantaging others.  This is due to the incongruity of a winner-take-all system within states and the federal republic meant to provide political equality for all citizens of the U.S.A.  In 2008, while Florida’s 27 electoral delegates represented almost 480,000 voters, each of the three Wyoming delegates represented only 135,000 voters.[1]  According to Sarah K. Cowan, Stephen Doyle, and Drew Heffron of The New York Times, “[t]hat makes a voter casting a presidential ballot in Wyoming three and a half times more influential than a voter in Florida.”[2]

The existence of swing and battleground states exacerbates this problem because some voters in some states become more meaningful to candidates than others.  Voters in a decidedly red or blue state mean little to candidates that are concerned with states that could go either way.  The phenomenon of battleground states elucidates why President Barack Obama spoke 16 times in Colorado since January 2009, despite never visiting Idaho or Utah and visiting Wyoming and Montana only for family vacations.[3]   This face-time is important because it forces the candidates to engage with the people they represent and encourages citizens that their politicians care about their preferences and interests.  A candidate that provides face-time to certain states while ignoring other states undermines the ideal of equal representation and worth for all U.S. citizens. 

If these basic arguments are true, why is the Electoral College still around? First of all, many other political issues—including defense and the national debt—crowd out discussions of our electoral process that occurs only every four years.  Secondly, many scholars and policymakers still believe the Electoral College preserves the federal nature of our republic and the importance of states.  Proponents of the Electoral College, however, neglect the effects of an unbalanced and divided system on our electoral such as decreased voter turnout and periodically silenced voices in a winner-take system. 

Reforms to the system include an electoral system based on congressional districts and a national bonus plan that would add 102 electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote on top of their electoral votes from states.  These plans are interesting, but come nowhere close to what is needed.  A national popular vote would rid the system of the current complexity, give equal voice to all Americans, increase voter turnout, and help unite our oft-divided and unequal republic.  Even Thomas Jefferson recognized that as an advanced democracy, we should compel our government to respond to unfair truths by compelling our institutions to evolve and adapt.  The problems with the current Electoral College are undeniable.  With that in mind, the choice of the American President may be the most important in the world and there should no doubt that choice should lie in the hands of all of the American populace. 

[1] Sarah K. Cowan, Stephen Doyle, and Drew Heffron, “How Much Is Your Vote Worth?,” The New York Times (New York, NY), November 1, 2008.

[2] Cowan, Doyle, and Heffron, “How Much Is Your Vote Worth?,” p. 1.

[3] Allison Sherry, “Obama easily tops past presidential visits to Colorado,” The Denver Post (Denver, CO), September 20, 2012, Politics.

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One Response to Philip Angelides of Colorado College Remarks on the Electoral College

  1. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. There would no longer be a handful of ‘battleground’ states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80% of the states that now are just ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.

    When the bill is enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

    The presidential election system that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in recent closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 states with 243 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions with 132 electoral votes – 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

    Follow National Popular Vote on Facebook via NationalPopularVoteInc

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