As the U.S. Government Archives likes to say, the Electoral College “is a process, not a place.” This structure was placed in the Constitution by the Founding Fathers of the United States as a compromise between having a vote in Congress to elect the President and the election of a candidate by qualified citizens. This process stopped the process that was used in England to select a Prime Minister.
The Electoral College consists of an elector selection, a group of people who will meet and vote for President and Vice President based on the results of their state’s election. There are currently 538 electors up for grabs in an election, which means a majority of 270 is necessary to elect the President. It’s also the only place where the District of Columbia functions as a state since the 23rd Amendment allocates 3 electors to it.
Although there are some advantages to this system, the disadvantages have been highlighted in recent elections. A presidential candidate who doesn’t receive a majority of the votes can still win the Electoral College to get into the White House. There are also circumstances where a majority of electors might not be available, which would throw the results of the election into the House of Representatives.
As Americans look at their election processes, a complete review of the pros and cons of abolishing the Electoral College is useful when taking this unique structure into account.
List of the Pros of Abolishing the Electoral College
1. It causes some votes to have greater weight than others.
Because the Electoral College is based on the structure of state populations and representation in the House, some people have a vote that carries more weight per delegate than others. Despite California having millions of more people living in the state compared to Wyoming, the weight of a vote is 30% less. That means if you live in a rural area, your vote may count more toward who gets to be the eventual president. If this system were to be abolished, then every vote counted would have the exact same weight in the final tally.
2. This action would allow the popular vote winner to take the White House.
Over 2.8 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump, but it was Trump who won the White House because of the results of the electoral map. In the history of the United States, there have been five elections where the eventual winner didn’t receive a clear majority of the vote. Two of those elections have occurred since 2000. Only one election was so close that it had to go to the House of Representatives, which is how John Quincy Adams won over Andrew Jackson.
Instead of dealing with these complications, a simple majority vote would always speak of the will of the people. We already see gridlock and partisanship in Congress that limits the opportunities for collaboration. Switching to this standard system would not likely create an adverse result.
3. It would stop the requirement to redistribute the electoral votes.
The U.S. Census creates the allocations of electoral votes that each state receives. That means the information receives an update every 10 years. The 2010 census is therefore valid for the 2012, 2016, and 2020 Presidential elections. Then the 2020 census will be valid for the 2024 and 2028 elections.
Abolishing the Electoral College would get rid of this confusing process. There can be distinctive advantages to one party in a decade where three election cycles are possible. It also stops the distribution process where California gets 55 votes, but a state like Delaware only gets 3. Every vote would count equally instead.
4. The reasons for the Electoral College may not be relevant any more.
When the Founding Fathers built the idea of the Electoral College into the structure of the American government, their idea of information management was very different than what we have today. It took time for people to learn what was happening in the nation’s capital. Candidates had to go to each state to talk about what they wanted to do for the country because there was no other way to let people know what was happening.
Thanks to the Internet, telephones, email, social media, and every other form of communication that we have today, people can choose for themselves whether a new story has an underlying sinister bias. We’re already letting women, former slaves, and 18-year-olds vote, changing the structure of the election since the country’s founding. Abolishing the Electoral College seems to be the next logical step in that process.
5. It no longer serves the intended job.
Alexander Hamilton was a significant supporter of the Electoral College. Although he said that the system was far from perfect, it was at least excellent. Hamilton believed that it would prevent the Office of the President from falling into the lot of a person who was not endowed with the requisite qualifications to serve the American people. Critics of the system would argue that the elections of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump are evidence that this impact is no longer present in U.S. politics.
There will always be a concern about the tyranny of the majority in the United States. This issue exists in the Electoral College when the rural states face off with the urban ones. The only difference is that in this unique structure, the voice of the minority can actually shout down the desires of the majority.
6. Abolishing the Electoral College stops swing states from having sway in the election.
During the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had 90% of their campaign stops in only 11 states. Out of those visits, almost 70% of them happened in only four states: North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Even though proponents of the Electoral College want it to stay so that every state can have a specific say in the outcome of the election, the candidates are already starting to behave in the same ways that people fear they would when targeting a majority population groups.
It also prevents candidates from going into states where the electorate typically votes for the other party. When you know that one state will vote the same way in every election, there is no need to visit that place. There have been some unusual elections, such as the 1972 affair when Richard Nixon took 520 electoral votes to George McGovern’s 16. Reagan also dominated in 1980, taking 489 votes to Jimmy Carter’s 49. Reagan would almost make a clean sweep in 1984 as well, taking 525 of 538 electoral votes and only losing Minnesota and DC.
7. The electoral college ignores the will of the people.
There are over 300 million people currently residing in the United States, but only 538 people actually get to choose who gets to be the president. Even when it is against the law for these folks to vote for someone other than what the electoral results in their state indicate, there is always an option to become a faithless elector under the American structure.
The presidential election in 2016 saw a modern-era record for faithless electors, but five of them came from the Clinton camp. Only two Republicans voted for someone other than Trump and Pence. Four of the electors came from the state of Washington. Colin Powell was the primary beneficiary, receiving three votes. Bernie Sanders, John Kasich, Ron Paul, and Faith Spotted Eagle received one each. There were two additional votes for Sanders that were invalidated in Minnesota and one for Kasich in Colorado.
List of the Cons of Abolishing the Electoral College
1. The interests of the minority would no longer receive protection.
The primary benefit of the electoral college is that it works to protect the best interests of the minority in every election. Electors manage the needs of the state and community instead of following the will of the general public throughout the country. That means there must be a majority of states that agree with a specific candidate instead of allowing the people to decide who they want to have as president. The electors can vote their conscience as well, refusing to follow what their state elections guide them to do.
This process means that each candidate must speak with the entire country instead of visiting the largest cities as a way to solicit for votes.
2. This design promotes the two-party system.
Even though some Americans don’t like the gridlock that a two-party system creates, the electoral college keeps this design healthy with each 4-year cycle. It is a process that allows the people to choose who serves in the White House instead of throwing it into Congress. That means centrist ideas tend to be the ones that receive the most traction instead of the individual priorities of platforms on the extreme left or right. That means more people can feel like their government accurately represents their needs.
Having this structure go away would encourage more third-party development. That means the major party that can maintain its base could win elections without a clear majority.
3. It would create problems when multiple candidates run.
The Electoral College has given one candidate a majority win in this political structure since 1992, but there have been four times when the winner of the election didn’t receive a clear majority of the votes across the entire country. Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992 with only 43% of the vote, and then in 1996 with 49.2%. George W. Bush won the Electoral College in 2000 even though he received 0.5% less of the popular vote against Al Gore.
Then in 2016, Donald Trump won the Electoral College despite receiving 2.1% less of the popular vote. Adding even more candidates into this discussion without the protections of this structure could create circumstances where someone with less than 35% of the vote could potentially win a four-year term.
4. The chances of a recount would increase dramatically with election.
The general threshold that an election result must reach to trigger an automatic recount is a difference of 0.5% of the vote or less. In the history of the United States, there have been six presidential elections that would have qualified for this issue – and three of them have occurred since 1968. There have also been five elections where the eventual president didn’t win a majority of the vote, including Trump in 2016. Only Rutherford Hayes, with a 3% difference, won the electoral college despite being in the minority. The cost of conducting a nationwide recount could be hundreds of millions of dollars, which is money that may not always be in the budget. Sticking to the electoral college format allows us to use electors as intended instead of relying on all of the votes counting.
5. It creates 50 individual contests.
Under the current structure of the United States, there are 50 unique presidential contests instead of one nationwide affair to elect a President. If the U.S. were to abolish the electoral college, then the restrictions that territories experience against voting in this election would disappear. Residents of places like Puerto Rico and Guam would have their votes be counted in the final total, and these locations consistently vote for one party. This shift would likely benefit that party for more than a generation. Keeping the electoral college restricts the voting to acknowledged states only.
6. All parts of the country would not be involved in the selection of the president.
Without the Electoral College in place, presidential candidates would build platforms that would speak to their base. Instead of having a regional focus that incorporates specific campaigning elements, there would be a national campaign instead. Iowa farmers might lose out to California union workers since their population numbers are larger. The small towns in the United States, along with all of the rural areas, would become marginalized if this system were to be entirely abolished.
7. Getting rid of the Electoral College would radicalize politics.
The political game in the United States would change dramatically without the Electoral College present. Instead of a politician trying to appeal to someone with specific needs, the adoption of a general platform that maximizes votes in urban centers would become the emphasis of each party. The places where there are more people become the top priority, especially if there is a chance to swing some votes. The current structure limits Americans from pushing in this direction even though candidates tend to visit swing states more often. Eliminating this barrier could mean that some parts of the country never become part of the overall campaign.
Should the U.S. Abolish the Electoral College?
When Americans are polled about the Electoral College, most of them say that they want it to disappear. They want the option to select a president based on who gets the most votes nationally. During the 2020 election cycle, there are several candidates who are promising to work on doing just that.
“Every vote matters,” commented Senator Elizabet Warren (D-Mass) in an early campaign stop in Mississippi in 2019, “and the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting and that means get rid of the Electoral College.”
One of the ways that states are considering a way to go around the Electoral College is called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This agreement includes several states and DC, giving the electoral vote count assigned to them to the candidate who receives the most votes in the national election. It would only come into effect when it could guarantee that outcome. The group of 16 (as of August 2019) currently control 196 electoral votes together.
The pros and cons of abolishing the Electoral College must go beyond the 65% of people who want it gone. There would need to be a Constitutional amendment if the compact idea doesn’t work. With the divide between Democrats and Republicans currently in place, the likelihood that this idea will receive any movement any time soon is quite minimal.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.