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The Problem with the Electoral College
By Alex Ferro on December 3, 2009 9:44 PM | No Comments

The way the Electoral College currently works is a bit of a disaster. The Federal Electoral Commission has asked me to help them come up with a few ideas to fix the most blatant problems. For those not familiar with the system, the Electoral College is a group of representatives who actually vote in the presidential election. The vote that the everyday person on the street takes is actually selecting those groups of electors. Each state has a number of electors proportional to its population. California gets 55 electors while Alaska gets 3, and Indiana gets 11. Most states devote all of their electors to one candidate in a winner takes all allocation. Nebraska and Maine are the only exceptions to that rule; they allocate electors by congressional district instead. 

One of the biggest faults of this system is the winner takes all mentality. If California votes 51% Democratic and 48% Republican with 1% Independent, all 55 of California's electoral votes go to the Democrats when only about half of the state supported them. A real world example of this was the 2000 presidential election. George W. Bush was running against Al Gore. Al Gore won the popular vote by 0.5%, or 543,895 votes. However, George Bush won the presidency because of the Electoral College. He picked up 5 more electoral votes than Al Gore. Bush was able to achieve small victories in more states than Gore. The end result was a president who was not the choice of the majority of the voting public. 

There are two options that I feel can help the presidential election process. The first option is to follow the lead of Nebraska and Maine and just select the electors based on congressional districts. The second option is to simply excise the Electoral College altogether. The first option is a more conservative change to the status quo and may be a more accepted proposal. This plan breaks up a state into its congressional districts. Each congressional district then gets one electoral vote. Due to other laws and procedures besides those for the federal election, these districts are reasonably similar in population and political views. This system still provides for an indirect election, but this way there would be a more fair elector division. 

Alternately, we could use the second plan. We could completely abolish the Electoral College. This would mean that the saying "every vote counts" would actually be true and that the result of the presidential election could come down to one person's vote. We already have the infrastructure in place for a 100% popular vote election. We still need those totals to pick for the Electoral College. The big problem with this plan would be trying to get it through Congress. Many attempts have been made to completely abolish the Electoral College; to date none of them have been successful. Part of the problem is that a constitutional amendment would have to be enacted to implement this change. The congressional district plan could be done at the state level if the federal level fails. 


Unless otherwise stated expressly, any opinions, views or ideas expressed (or implied) in this paper are mine and not those of the Federal Election Commission. Disclaimer may be updated or altered at anytime without notice.

This was written from the point of view of a consultant brought in to improve the U.S. Electoral College. I don't actually work for the Federal Election Commission.

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