Electoral College 101 - A Brief Explanation of the Electoral College

The electoral college is an obstacle to people who desire the Presidency to be decided by the nationwide popular vote. Four times in our history, the President has not defeated his opponent in the popular vote. In 1824, John Quincy Adams lost in both the popular vote and electoral college, making his election the only case in our history where the President was chosen by the House of Representatives. In recent history, we have George W. Bush beating Al Gore in the electoral vote in 2000 while losing in the popular vote. Similar situations to this arose in 1876 (Rutherford B. Hayes beating Samuel Tilden) and 1888 (Benjamin Harrison beating Grover Cleveland).

The battle against the electoral college is centers on whether we are a collection of states versus us being one federal state. With that said, there are still some lesser issues that are still pertinent.

The electoral college serves no role after the first vote. Twenty-nine states have legally bound their electors to vote for their candidate. The others, who are not legally obligated, are still strong party supporters chosen by the party, so they typically do not stray. Straying, or what is known as being a faithless elector, has only happened 158 times in our nation's history. None of those 158 times have ever swung an election. If a candidate does not have a majority of the electoral vote after the one vote of the electoral college, the President would be immediately decided by the House of Representatives, which happened in 1824.

The electoral college system might not be the best thought out system in the world for a democracy, but this is not due to elections being stolen by the electors. It will run into problems if a third or fourth party ever arises. In Europe, a multitude of parties run in a preliminary election followed by a final election in which the two highest vote getters in the preliminary election run off against each other. This is preferable compared to a third party candidate, if they were to ever gain traction again, causing the candidate they are pulling votes from to lose. Or even worse, causing the outgoing, lame-duck session of the House of Representatives to choose the President. The biggest problem with the electoral college, as with many of the systems in place for presidential campaigns, is that it discourages a third, fourth, or fifth party. Most political issues have more than two sides. Having more parties involved in the public discussion would create more constructive policy debate rather than the tit-for-tat we are wallowing in.

Despite the drawbacks of the electoral college, I would like to propose that it is beneficial to keep an electoral system where votes are given by state rather than purely by popular vote. If we moved to selecting the President through popular vote, the President would be decided by a few major cities rather than the nation as a whole. The campaigns would focus on city issues and ignore the rest of America. The electoral college insures that each state matters.

The main change that needs to happen is not the abolishment of the electoral college but the institution of a preliminary election. After each party has their primary, an election would be held in which every party could run against one another. This preliminary election would empower everyone to vote for the candidate they want without "wasting" a vote rather than just voting for "the lesser of two evils." Having a preliminary election would help move our nation away from party-centered politics toward issue-centered politics. This preliminary election would be followed by a runoff election between the two candidates who received the most votes in the preliminary election. This system is normal election procedure in many nations around the world and would help promote additional parties, bringing additional solutions, to the political arena.

It doesn't hurt for us to evaluate the antiquated systems our founding fathers developed. They were radical and revolutionary for their time, but since then many of their great and original ideas have been improved upon by other nations experimenting with them. I would love for the grand experiment that is America to keep on experimenting.