WASHINGTON, D.C., October 7, 2012 — Every four years the Electoral College debate resurfaces. But contrary to what you may have heard, the Electoral College is a very stable and reliable way of electing a President of the United States.
Sure it has its intrinsic flaws, as evident in the dispute over Florida’s electoral votes during the 2000 presidential election. Nevertheless, it is a well-structured system that provides geographical balance and conclusive outcomes.
The Electoral College is a group of representatives chosen by each state to formally elect the president. The 538 electoral votes in the Electoral College correspond with the 435 members in the U.S House of Representatives, 100 members in the U.S Senate, and the District of Columbia’s three electoral votes.
Scholars like Mike Edwards and Danny Oppenheimer argue that the Electoral College should be abolished. In their most recent article in the Huffington Post, they argue that the Electoral College is a “cancerous tumor on American democracy” partly because it gives voters in some states greater influence over the presidential election than citizens of other states.
As a consequence, they advocate for a National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) which requires states to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.
But in this national popular vote scenario, wouldn’t candidates just ignore small states and concentrate on big states in order to reach a popular majority? So if the problem with the Electoral College is that votes from certain states are worth more than others, then a national popular vote is hardly the answer since it does not solve the problem of candidates’ dismissal of some states.
While it is true that in the current Electoral College system, “swing states” usually determine the outcome of the election, it is also the case that a solidly Democratic or Republican state can change over time.
For example, the state of California was once a red state. President George H.W Bush carried California in the 1988 presidential election. It only became a reliably Democratic state in 1992 when President Bill Clinton won the state.
Prior to 1992, the last Democratic presidential candidate to win California was President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis all lost California during their presidential run.
Even Florida was considered a safe Republican state as recently as the 1990s. President Ronald Reagan carried the state of Florida in 1980 and 1984. George H.W. Bush also won Florida in 1988 and 1992. It was not until Bill Clinton carried the state in 1996 that it became a toss up state once again.
Similarly, in the 2008 presidential election, President Obama won the state of Indiana, and North Carolina which were seen as reliable Republican states.
The point is that unlike a national popular vote election where the same group of big states will make the difference, in an Electoral College system, swing states can change or even increase in number in any given election cycle. This reduces the number of states candidates can overlook and it forces them to appeal to broader constituencies.
Just as important, a direct election is antithetical to what the framers intended. The delegates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 reached an Electoral College compromise to prevent the process from being too dependent on the inconsistencies and variances of public opinion.
But beyond all of these, a national popular vote election will be time consuming. The election cycle will have to be extended to give candidates time to campaign in 50 states. It will also be incredibly expensive. Many already complain about the influx of big money in American politics. Can you imagine the amount of money it will cost presidential candidates to run a 50 state campaign every four years?
The Electoral College is the most efficient way to elect the president. It broadens the map, makes presidential candidates appeal to a broader national constituency, and weeds out ideologically extreme candidates.
Any attempt to abolish this system is just a solution in search of another problem. The Electoral College works.
Ayobami is a graduate student in George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. For questions, comments or story suggestions, contact him on Facebook and on twitter at @ayobamiao.
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