ViewPoint: Recognizing validity of the Electoral College


    By Bret Clark

    The battle between Bush and Gore brought to light many questions about the efficiency of the U.S. election system, in particular the Electoral College.

    Despite widespread public questioning of the Electoral College, its purpose still remains valid and it should not be replaced.

    At the constitutional convention the Electoral College was a last-minute compromise. The same small states that supported a non-proportional Senate called for the Electoral College because both structures give states with less population more say than in a strictly proportional system.

    Each state gets as many electoral votes as the number of the senators and representatives they have in Congress. This entitles every state to two votes (corresponding to its two senators) and more votes according to population (corresponding to its representatives).

    The reason for the non-proportional system makes up one of the main planks of the U.S. form of government. The framers feared the tyranny of the majority. The Senate and the Electoral College give states with fewer people more say.

    Large states not only have more Congressmen, but they also have more money to lobby and promote the issues important to them. Smaller states often lack the resources to promote their specific needs. The Electoral College counteracts large state clout by strengthening the voice of states with smaller populations.

    When the Electoral College was created, the battle was essentially between smaller agrarian states and larger industrial states. While few modern states are strictly agrarian, differences remain between large states and small states. Large states have huge incomes and are able to support expensive federal programs. Smaller states are hard pressed to provide the basics, and federal mandates require them to take from important programs to fund federal programs.

    The Gallup Organization found in a Dec. 15 poll that 59 percent of Americans supported a constitutional change providing the president to be elected by the popular vote. Only 37 percent supported the current system. Interestingly, a majority of Americans have supported proportional representation for the last 50 years.

    But, the extra weight the Electoral College gives smaller states is important. It is a safeguard against the power of big states. New York and California have plenty of power compared to Idaho and Montana as the constitution stands. A change in the Electoral College will only help big states.

    Still, the constitution does not require every state to devote all its votes to the same candidate. The vote in Florida and many other states was too close to call.

    Since all the votes in these states went to the narrowly winning candidate, half the voice of that state was not heard.

    Why didn”t half of these states” votes go to Bush and half to Gore? If states cast votes in proportion to election results, rather than the current winner-take-all system, even minority voices in a state will be heard and small states will still have a slightly inflated voice.

    The non-proportional Electoral College remains important in the US, and it can be adjusted to meet American”s sense of the justice of proportional representation.

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