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Electoral College: Potential Problems

Written By:

Laura Ruzicka

Publishing Date:

November 19, 2022

The distribution of electoral votes in each state is currently determined by the U.S. National Census and updated every ten years. However, according to the National Archives, Congress introduced over 700 proposals to either reform or abolish the Electoral College. Public opinion polls show most Americans favor abolishing it by 58% in 1967, 81% in 1968, and 75% in 1981. Even so, many are unaware of the potential problems that lie within one of the nation's most fundamental processes. Not even the Founding Fathers could have foreseen the repercussions of the Electoral College.


Our nation’s electoral process has racist origins, as noted in the inclusion of the Three-fifths Compromise in the Connecticut Compromise. At the time of its creation, the Three-fifths Compromise determined how much representation a state’s slave population would have in accordance with the state’s total population. This gave most slave-owning southern states a huge electoral advantage because, without the Three-fifths Compromise, southern states would have been out-voted in the House every time. When the Thirteenth Amendment passed, southern states were able to further benefit from their Black populations for decades on.


Back then, our nation’s population was more uniform than it is today, and there were only thirteen states compared to fifty in 2022. With more states, and the population growing every day, this has led to a more uneven representation and an imbalance of power. Despite the increase in population , the total number of electoral votes has stayed the same for decades. The number of congressional districts in each state is equal to the number of electoral votes that each state gets. However, after the National Census is completed, states’ congressional districts are reapportioned according to how much each state loses or gains in population, thereby gaining an electoral vote or losing one. This could skew the Electoral College, because states with a lower population have more Electoral power per capita.


As time has gone on, people have begun to view the Electoral College not as a democratic process, but more of a barrier to true democracy. For instance, in a Presidential election it is possible to win the popular vote but still lose the election if your opponent wins the Electoral vote. In 2016 Hilary Clinton won the popular vote, having 2,868,686 more votes than Donald Trump. Yet Clinton only received 227 electoral votes compared to Trumps’ 304 electoral votes, winning him the election. Faithless electors are another potential problem of the Electoral College, where members vote against the candidate that won the majority in their state. Breaking faith and putting their views ahead of the majority. For a long time, it was rare to have a faithless elector, but when it did happen there usually was only one. However, the 2016 elections marked a significant shift in our politically polarized nation’s when seven electors in a row disagreed with the majority, voting for someone else instead.


As history will point out, the Electoral College is not a process that is 100% infallible as can be seen with past elections like Clinton vs. Trump. Unfortunately, there are only two ways to permanently reform the Electoral College. According to the National Archives, since the electoral process is part of the U.S. Constitution, Congress would need to pass a constitutional amendment to change the system. To do that, the amendment must first be proposed by a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Congress, and later be ratified by three-fourths of the States’ Legislatures. However, there are still some reforms that can mitigate the problems with the electoral college. One such reform is the National Popular Vote Bill that allows the electoral votes of any state that passes the bill to be awarded to the candidate that wins the national popular vote. However, this bill will only take effect when enacted into law by enough states with at least 270 electoral votes in total. As of April 26th 2021, the bill has been enacted into law in fifteen states totaling 195 electoral votes.

Sources

Lau, T. (2021, February, 17). “The Electoral College, Explained” BrennanCenter.org. Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law. https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/electoral-college-explained


Funakoshi, M., Foo, W., Wolfe, J. (2020, October, 16). “How the Electoral College works” Reuters.com. https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ELECTION/ELECTORAL-COLLEGE/qzjpqaeqapx/


National Archives and Records Administration. (2019, December 23). “Electoral College History.” National Archives and Records Administration. https://www.archives.gov/electoral-college/history


“What Is the 3/5 Compromise?”. (n.d.). ConstitutionUS.com. Retrieved August 5,2022. https://constitutionus.com/constitution/what-is-the-3-5-compromise/


Electoral College Fast Facts”.(n.d). History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives. Retrieved September 17, 2022. from https://history.house.gov/Institution/Electoral-College/Electoral-College/


National Popular Vote. (2021, April 27). Status of National Popular vote bill in each State. National Popular Vote. Retrieved October 7, 2022  https://www.nationalpopularvote.com/state-status


A brief history of electoral college reform efforts. Goddard Media LLC. (2020, January 30). Electoral Vote Map. Retrieved October 7, 2022. https://electoralvotemap.com/history-of-electoral-college-reform-efforts/#Reform_Efforts_by_Advocacy_Groups