An American Debate: Electoral College or National Popular Vote?

Picture by Hoosier Times.

Picture by Hoosier Times.

William Rantis

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Ever since the 2016 election, the electoral college system has been scrutinized by the people. Proponents of the system argue that it encourages candidates not to focus on urban centers, giving smaller states more power. Opponents of the electoral system say that it puts the focus of the election on highly contested states, otherwise known as swing states. They also say that smaller states should not have the extra power afforded by the electoral college system, as it means those votes in more popular states count for less.

Before proceeding, it is worth it to consider if the system is worth the effort to change. Out of 58 elections, only five presidents have won without the popular vote. While changing the system would lead to small changes in who will win future races, for the most part results would stay the same. If people decide that it is still worth changing, then there is some interesting information to consider.

According to the Atlantic, at the constitutional convention, the idea of a national popular vote was rejected because they believed that people would be uninformed about potential candidates. In one sense, this problem no longer exists. Candidates originating from any state can, with funding and news coverage, be seen across the country. Defenders of the electoral college system could argue that news media is untrustworthy, and that while voters are not uninformed, they are misinformed. This is a different issue, one that deserves consideration, but may not be overly relevant to this one, as in our current and proposed system, any one can vote regardless of their research.

An argument against the electoral system is that candidates don’t focus on states they are sure to win, and only focus on swing states which they judge likely to be contested. However, this problem may be fixed not only by a popular vote but by a proportional system of voter delegation. Most states have a winner-take-all system, but some have a proportional system, where votes are split based on a proportion of who voted for a candidate, usually in a particular district. This may have the effect of encouraging candidates to work to secure votes in a state where they have local majorities but not statewide majorities.

It might be possible to change the system to a national popular vote. Many opponents of the electoral college are discouraged when they learn that in order to change the electoral system, a constitutional amendment would have to be passed. This is on the face of it infeasible, but there is a workaround. States are allocated electors, but can choose the process for how their electors should vote. States in agreement that their state should follow the national vote can sign into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. States that sign this compact agree that their state votes will go to whoever wins the national popular vote.

Whether the electoral college is a system that should be reformed is up to individuals to decide for themselves. If your state has not ratified the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, consider whether this would be something you would support. Having an opinion and examining it will make you a better informed voter. Being well informed will allow you to help make better decisions for everyone.