Reform, Don't Eliminate, the Electoral College

April 1, 2013

The Electoral College was established in an era when news traveled by horse and buggy and the United States was a young country. It works by granting each state electoral votes equal to the number of its House representatives plus two for its senators for a total of 538 electoral votes (435 in the House, 100 in the Senate and three for the District of Columbia). The current system disenfranchises some presidential voters in winner-take-all states and should thus be reformed, says Robert Levy, chairman of the board of directors at the Cato Institute.

  • Presidential candidates can receive 270 electoral votes and win an election even if they lose the popular vote, which happened in 2000 in the Bush-Gore election.
  • Because of the controversial Bush-Gore election, some have called for a complete elimination of the Electoral College.
  • In 48 states, the candidate who receives the most popular votes receives all of the state's electoral votes.

In two states, Maine and Nebraska, electoral votes are awarded on a district-by-district basis. One electoral vote goes to the winner in each congressional district with the remaining two electoral votes awarded to the winner of the statewide popular vote.

  • The Constitution does not require states to award all the electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote in the state or even national election.
  • The Framers of the Constitution designed the United States to be a constitutional republic and as such, the majority does not always win.
  • The electoral system ensures that large states and regions with high population density are represented fairly.

In the winner-take-all states, candidates typically avoid states where the outcome of the popular vote is evident, such as California and Texas. In both of these states, some districts are competitive and vote opposite of how the state as a whole votes.

  • District-by-district voting would increase the number and influence of marginal candidates who are not likely to win the election, but instead splinter the vote and send an election to the House of Representatives.
  • District-by-district voting is also likely to promote gerrymandering.

Politicians are unlikely to support any proposition that would endanger their livelihood, though transitioning to district-by-district voting would be more representational while avoiding the need for a constitutional amendment.

Source: Robert Levy, "Should We Reform the Electoral College?" Cato Institute, March 2013.

 

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