As Election Day approaches, many Americans are making their final decisions as to who will get their votes on Nov. 6. However, in our presidential race, citizens in some states feel their vote “doesn't count” in the grand scheme of things. Much of this has to do with the U.S. Electoral College system and how it influences the outcome of our elections.
Developed in 1787 by the framers of the U.S. Constitution, the Electoral College system was created as a compromise between two viewpoints on how presidential elections should be managed. Some politicians were concerned a popular election would be uncontrolled, giving too much voting power to residents of highly-populated regions who may be more familiar with the candidates. The other proposal was to let Congress select the president – an option many believed to be tyranny.
The framers’ solution was to have citizens vote for a group of electors – the Electoral College – who would then cast votes for a candidate. Under this system, each state has a number of electors equivalent to its number of U.S. senators (two per state) plus its number of U.S. representatives, which depends on the state’s population. In Indiana, we have two senators and nine representatives, giving our state 11 electors.
Over the decades, the workings of the Electoral College have changed greatly. The Framers, who were opposed to having political parties, intended for voters to choose electors who were regarded as men of high character and intelligence, and for those electors to then choose the president based on qualifications instead of following the desires of the general population.
The system developed very differently. Early in our nation’s history, newly formed political parties began to dominate the list of candidates for electors. A voter wanting a Federalist to be president would vote for all of the Federalists’ electors, and a person wanting a Democrat to be president would vote for all of the Democrats’ electors. Today, our election ballots shortcut this process by simply asking voters if they want to vote for the electors of Candidate A or the electors of Candidate B.
Even now, there are conflicting opinions on the Electoral College system. One of the most notable controversies involving this system came during the 2000 presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Although Gore won the popular vote, Bush received five more electoral votes and, therefore, won the presidency. This was the first time the popular vote and electoral vote had different winners since the 19th century. It raised many concerns about how well the system represented American voters.
Some opponents believe the system over-represents lesser-populated states by giving them more electoral votes and, therefore, more voting power than they would have under a direct election. This allows those states’ particular interests to get too much consideration, some argue.
The Electoral College also sets up a system where candidates pay more attention to “swing states” – states that are not firmly Republican or Democrat. Nominees spend a considerable amount of time and resources in big swing states with a large number of electoral votes, such as Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. This keeps candidates from campaigning in states they assume are voting for the opposite party.
However, many others think the Electoral College is beneficial to our elections. Because it requires a distribution of popular support in many states to be elected, it forces candidates to campaign across the country instead of only particular regions. Without this system, only highly-populated regions would matter in the election, and nominees would neglect rural areas in favor of big cities. Through this system, the country is more unified in its selection of a president than it would be through a direct election, they say.
Proponents also note the Electoral College gives more power to minority groups. These groups are typically concentrated in states with a large number of electoral votes, so even small ethnic minority groups or special interest groups can make a major difference between winning all of their state’s electoral votes or none. Because of that situation, candidates often devote much attention to reaching minority groups, allowing people who would normally be ignored in campaigning to have a bigger voice.
It will be interesting to see how the Electoral College system affects this year’s presidential election. Current polls show the race is neck-and-neck, and every vote will count in deciding who will lead our country.
I encourage all eligible voters to vote on Nov. 6 and seriously consider this question: What do you think?