November 23rd, 2007
10:39 AM ET
13 years ago

Is the Electoral College a political dinosaur?

Watch this report about the Electoral College.

(CNN) - Remember Florida's hanging chads, the Florida recounts in 2000, and waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide Bush v. Gore?

In this report, CNN's U.S. Affairs Correspondent Jill Doughtery takes a critical look at the Electoral College.

Is the Electoral College a political dinosaur that ought to be scrapped in favor of electing the President through a direct national popular vote? Or, does the institution still serve an important purpose in modern times? What do you think?

Filed under: Uncategorized
soundoff (65 Responses)
  1. Bob, Hoffman Estates, IL

    The electoral college is a joke and it has provided us and history with the biggest joke in our history- George Bush.

    November 24, 2007 06:31 am at 6:31 am |
  2. Andy, Albuquerque New Mexico

    American cities have been neglected for years because of the electoral college. With a popular vote we would have a democrat as president every year, and hopefully eventually that party would decline as well as it becomes obvious that they are only marginally more interested in curbing predatory capitalism. Let the the majority speak! Congress would still protect the weak states. Just imagine, no more insipid faith-and-propaganda-based elections where 90% of the election is geared towards deceiving the uninformed with feel-good lies. Well it feels good to say anyway. But who are we kidding reform will never happen. I see nothing that suggests America will rise again only more evidence of slow and apathetic decline.

    November 24, 2007 06:35 am at 6:35 am |
  3. R Kyle, Columbus, Ohio

    Nobody really knows if Bush lost the popular vote or not because millions of absentee ballots for President were not counted in states where they could not have altered the outcome of that state's vote. Without the electoral college, all of those votes would have had to be counted, and because the overall vote was so close, what was going on in Florida would have been going on across the entire country. One improvement without scrapping the whole thing would be to do what Maine and Nebraska do–a win in a Congressional District is 1 vote; the winner of the state gets the 2 senatorial votes–the proposed amendment in California. But every state would have to agree to make this fair.

    November 24, 2007 07:09 am at 7:09 am |
  4. john riggs eagle pass texas

    The electoral college must remain, Americans are too dumbed down to make an intelligent decision. What do poor people know about handling billions in tax dollars? If the masses took control of the resources by representation they would just want money spent on housing and food and other trivial matters.

    November 24, 2007 07:41 am at 7:41 am |
  5. Jack, Fort Myers, FL

    It needs to be revamped. After the issues in the Bush/Gore election...with such close margins in the popular vote. It beffudles me that a someone could win the popular vote and still lose an election. More populous states may have some advantage over less populated states–but they already do in the legislature. Majority vote is how everything is done in the country. I say eliminate the electoral college. It is indeed a dinosaurs–and as we've seen before–it may not represent the will of the people.

    November 24, 2007 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  6. robin warren, michigan

    Of course amendments are allowed and should be looked into but a very, very close search is called for. I just think that if an amendment drive is started, then the cause has to be very important. The one about gay marriage was plain stupid. And this one, well, i dont think it had the votes for it and i do have a strong feeling for the founding fathers.

    November 24, 2007 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
  7. Tikara, Warsaw, Indiana

    In my home state of Indiana, everyone knows the Electoral College is going to go to the GOP, so no one campaigns here, the local news and newspapers barely registers there is an oppossing view, leaving people ill-informed about what is going on. Get rid of the Electoral College, make each canidate work for each vote, instead of working for just the college.

    November 24, 2007 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  8. Steve L., W. Lafayette, IN

    Read the work done by Prof. Arnold Barnett of MIT. He suggests, and I agree, that each state's electoral college votes be distributed in proportion to the popular vote in that state. So if you got 60% of the popular vote in the state, you get 60% of the electoral college votes from that state (rounded to the nearest integer). This preserves the good aspects of the electoral college (small states still have a say) while eliminating the winner-take-all negatives. It would also make the candidates have to campaign in (and appeal to) all the states rather than just a few key swing states.

    November 24, 2007 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  9. Jim Cooper

    It's time for the popular vote. A good example is to look at what the republicans want to do with the electoral votes in California. The Electoral College is a dinosaur and should become extinct.

    November 24, 2007 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  10. Bob, Rocky City Falls, NY

    Hanging chads, Supreme Cour decisions, etc. have nothing to do with the Electoral College. But the question about the relevancy of having the EC a tall and the indirect method of "popular" election that it represents is huge.

    The net effect of the EC is to transform the "national" Presidential race into series of 50 state-by-state elections, with the states (not the eople) actually controlling the voters who do the electing. The EC members appointed by each state (various methods are used to select them) are "pledged" to vote in accordance with the poular vote results for their state, at least on the first go-around (which is all it usually takes). But in most states this first-round voting "pledge" is based on a winner-take-all approach (what California is talking about changing), so winning by only a single vote in most states is the same as winning every single vote in that state – you get the full allotment of the state's EC votes. This clearly distorts the actual facts of the popular vote (nobody is a unanimous choice in any state, but you can't tell that by the EC voting). Remember 2000, when Gore actually had the (slightly) greater number of total popular votes nationwide, but lost the election (let it go with the Flordia thing) because his "distribution" of votes didn't get him the winning margin of EC votes? That's what can happen, though in fairness the EC voting usually mirrors the popular vote in choice, if not always the magnitude (i.e., Reagan's "landslide" victory in 2004).

    The EC system is a hold-over from an age when communications across the nation were anything but instant. It has the potential i nany election to contradict the "will of the people", and at the very least is a no-longer-needed buffer. In every other election all the votes are counted together and the winner determined by direct count – it's time that the holder of the most important office in the world, this country's representative and spokeperson to the world, finally also be truly elected "by the people" in an actual national election. Abolish the EC and let's all be counted together!!

    November 24, 2007 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  11. Andrew, Haslett, MI

    If the country wants to change the workings of the Electoral College, then the STATES need to change the way they apportion their electoral votes. It's not rocket science! The Electoral College only provides for a winner-take-all situation because 48 states have a winner-take-all law which governs the distribution of their electoral votes. If people want a popular election, then simply pass a law in their state which says the proportion of electoral votes each candidate receives is the same as the proportion of the popular votes each candidate receives. Problem solved! The people get the kind of government they deserve. The events of the 2000 election did not happen because of the Electoral College, but because of corrupt political parties and lying, cheating politicians in states with disputed elections. Perhaps the states should stop pandering to the parties and focus on the candidates and the issues. What a concept!

    November 24, 2007 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  12. Scott, Manteca, ca

    We are a country of states, and not of individuals. We vote as states, and our state's votes should be represented as such. The Constitution is a contract between states, and our vote should represent what each state wants as their leader. This was the reason the Electoral College was set up to do, cast the vote for the states in the way that the states voted.
    Go Ron Paul.

    November 24, 2007 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  13. Bob, Long Beach, CA

    In discussing this issue we need to stop thinking in 21st Century terms and start thinking like the framers of the Constitution.

    In writing the Constitution the framers were seeking (desperately) to save a newly-born country that was sinking fast. One of the major millstones draging things down was the opposition by each newly minted state (former independant colonies all) to cede power to a central "federal" government. The Constitution represented the best way out of this mess, but to get it passed in the first place (rememeber, States needed to ratify it before it went into effect) meant making compromises and deals. One of those compromises was the Electoral College. The EC gives each state ultimate "selection power" for the office of President, since electors are appointed by each state individually, a power the state governments of early America craved.

    So the EC owes its exitance not to a prophetic desire of the founding fathers to protect future generations against tyranny or facisim, or as check on the fickle whims of the people; it was a real-world compromise made by politicins (the framers of our Constitution) to appease other politicians (the power-brokers of their day who ran the various states). It was an plain, old-fashined political deal.

    Does this deal continue to have any relevance in this day and age. Of course not. Do we still need an Electoral College? NO!!

    It's time to begin the process to amend our Constitution, to do away with this vestige of 220 year old politics and to bring the electoral process for the most important office on the planet into the 21st Century. Abolish the EC and let's all be counted together!!

    November 24, 2007 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  14. MLO, Brooklyn, New York

    I agree that the Electoral College ought to be swept into the dustbin of history. Perhaps if voters were truly in a position to understand that their individual votes actually do count, they would actually take more of an interest in participating in this country's elections, local or national in importance. One person equals one vote doesn't have a lot of bite when that equation effectively has no teeth as long as the EC exists.

    November 24, 2007 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  15. Carl Burton, Sacramento, California

    While we are at it, one of things we need to do is re-examine how the Electoral College votes are apportioned by the census which includes illegal aliens. The question we need to ask ourselves is should illegal aliens be counted in a census to determinable how many Electoral College votes each state is allocated.

    Carl Burton, Sacramento, CA

    November 24, 2007 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  16. John Los Angeles, California

    I think it's very unlikely that Congress will ever amend the 12th Amendment, because it will ultimately take 3/4 of the states' legislatures to approve it.

    This constitutional amendment process in Article 5 probably reflects the same sentiment outlined for the Electoral College; the less densely populated states will still be protected and represented through their legislatures.

    Despite what the media would have you believe, we have always been a republic nation. I believe that sentiment still resonates today...

    "I pledge allegiance to my Flag,
    and to the REPUBLIC for which it stands:
    one Nation indivisible,
    With Liberty and Justice for all."

    November 24, 2007 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  17. Kim, Dallas. TX

    The electoral college had it's merits in days gone by. It was set up to ensure that the vote would give equality to the many differing points of view and different lifestyles in America back then. With today's dynamics and people moving all over the place, relocating due to jobs, it seems a bit archaic. I know that I live in an overwhelmingly republican area and my democratic vote never seems to mean anything. Why should I have no say as to who runs our country. I didn't vote for Bush in these past two elections and as poorly as the country has been run, having votes for a different administration could have made the difference. He is the only president ever in office that was not elected by a popular vote and look what it got us. I think it's a shame that a minority group can make all of the decisions for the majority.

    As far as the arguement that the populated areas would all agree on how a country should be run, I absolutely disagree. Not everyone in NYC or Chicago thinks the same.

    As far as change, it would be amazing to see what getting rid of the electoral college would do to voter turn out. I think you would have more people voting, since voter apathy would be less of a factor. Change is a natural product of time. Our forefathers could not have predicted what life in 2007 and on could have been like. Life is more fluid now, people less likely to remain planted in one geographic area.

    November 24, 2007 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  18. Timbo West Columbia, So.Carolina

    One person, One vote !! IF that favors the folks who are concentrated together in big cities, so be it. Sparsely populated states should NOT have the same power as heavily populated states, no way buddy, and I COME from a rural state myself (SC). One person, One vote. Ditch the Electoral College, the sooner the better.

    November 24, 2007 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  19. Mike Sutton, MA

    The inherent problem with the Electoral College is that it creates major inequalities in the value of individual's votes and that it does not adhere to the principle of one man, one vote established by the Supreme court in Reynolds v. Sims.

    Take the example of Wyoming and New York. Wyoming has a population of roughly 515,000 and New York 19,300,000. While Wyoming has 3 electoral votes, New York receives 31 electoral votes. This leads to a situation where every 171,000 Wyoming voters receive one electoral vote, while every 622,000 New Yorkers receive one. Therefore, in the upcoming election, a resident of Wyoming's vote counts roughly 3.6 times more than a New Yorker's.

    The electoral college also creates a system whereby many people in this country have never truly had a voice in the outcome of a national election. In a red state like Utah, a lifelong democrat has never seen their vote contribute in any way to their presidential candidate's victory. The same could almost be said about a lifelong republican living in a blue state such as Massachusetts.

    In looking at past election results, the outcome the Electoral College produced has conflicted with the outcome of the popular vote four times. As the system is inherently unfair, this should not be allowed to happen again. Unfortunately, too many states benefit from this system, making it unlikely for an amendment to garner the necessary votes to do away with the system.

    November 24, 2007 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  20. Chelsea, Houston, TX

    Genreally speaking, the electoral college is a dessimation of the voter's voice, but in the eyes of the goverment, it does serve some purpose in that it minimizes the paperwork, so to speak. Unfortunately, it's doubtful that it will be completely scrapped anytime soon. However, it should and could be modified from the current winner-take-take-all system to one that allows for a candidate to win part of of the votes for each state. Also, in response to J Reed in Plano, TX: Our founding fathers had the foresight to include provisions in the Constitution that allowed for our laws to adapt as our country and times changed. During their era, though, a direct election was impractical and near impossible, considering the slow rate that information travelled. Thankfully, they had powerful discretion that gave them a vision of what this country could accomplish, given the proper tools.

    November 24, 2007 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  21. Brian, San Jose, CA

    Keep the EC! It has never been broke so it doesn't need to be fixed! It ensures that the winning candidate be truly representative of all America, not just the population centers or one region. Don't believe me? Look at a map of every single county in the 200 and 2004 elections. It is clear who was supported by the country as a whole (even if he wasn't supported by this voter).

    The winner-take-all system is what is archaic and outdated. That system is what is non-representative of the people. Award electoral votes by a means other than that. That would be the best thing for this country.

    November 24, 2007 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  22. Ivan, Chicago, Illinois

    NO,NO,NO. The people who don't like it are the same people who don't like the Freedom of Speech and the Seperation of State and Religion,and the Freedom of the Press in the Constitution. And they also don't believe in the Three Branches of our Government being seperate and equal.

    November 24, 2007 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  23. William Courtland, Waterford, Ontario

    In a district of 30 000 people you have a high chance as a legislative member or even as a middle class citizen to know personally who is running for such congressional representation.

    The election system for the Representative includes all those people who might regularly deal with them (the local public); this 'vote for' should seem more like a 'vouch for'.

    The President is not for the people. The position is similar to a President of a Corporation–or as the position of the chief diplomat; if you are not in the high corporate management of that company the President must direct or 'checkmate with executive power' the decisions of that management–and The President deals for the majority of States with other foreign national powers. The Vice-President can only check the power domestically.

    As a citizen, who could vouch for The President so as to provide a character reference in a court of law? This is the investment made of an Electoral College Voter: to become so informed as to account and vouch for that character. While the State governor might endorse a Candidate along with every State legislative member and their federal counter-points: the State pre-selects the electors before making such endorsements; this is a freedom.

    The fact that New York does not have 600+ districts is a failing of those who uphold the Constitution as to with proper apportionment represent all of its people.

    The President is not meant to have time for the public individually, and so the public at large can not responsibly hire such an administration.

    Even with the ability of modern technology the current system is best for in times of troubles or extreme poverty relying on a low-tech solution is a safe guard.

    November 24, 2007 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  24. William Courtland, Waterford, Ontario

    The fact that New York CITY does not have 600+ districts is a failing of those who uphold the Constitution as to with a proper apportionment level represent all of its people.

    November 24, 2007 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  25. William Courtland, Waterford, Ontario

    The majority of voters will not invest the time required to learn of all '68?' current candidates, the few that do will be lost like a drop of blood in the sea.

    If it is a popularity contest, the media inform the voter, and that news medium must hold a bias.

    Otherwise write-in Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford, for popularity wins.

    "apologies to both actors for their mention," who, just like the presidential candidates will not read this.

    November 24, 2007 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
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