Electoral College vs. Popular Vote

Story by Gabriela Odisio, Opinion Editor

With the 2020 elections getting nearer and nearer, voting has become one of the main topics of conversation in the last year of this decade. Bringing in multitudinous opinions to the table, the entire American voting system and its legitimacy is being held into question. 

Created in 1787 by the Founding Fathers, the electoral college is a body of electors established by the United States Constitution with the purpose of creating a buffer between presidential classes and the population, while keeping Congress out of the process. Its intentions vary between not allowing a manipulative candidate appeal to the masses, while preventing highly populated states such as California or New York to dominate elections and therefore receive all benefits and attention for campaigning ends.

To guarantee the number of electors weighing on the election is proportional to the size of regional population, each state receives one vote per member in Congress. Considering that each American state is represented by two people in the Senate, plus a specific amount of Representatives in the House according to its population, all states receive at least three votes in the Electoral College process. Keeping that in mind, while places like Montana, Wyoming, and Washington D.C have an input of three votes, highly populated areas such as California have a total of 55 votes.

However, there are many nations worldwide who turn to direct elections to pick their next representatives. The most common types of this practice of popular voting are the plurality and two-round system. 

In the plurality system, each voter is allowed to cast a ballot for solely one candidate, so by the end, the candidate with the most amount of votes wins the position. Also referred to relative/simple majority system or first past the post (FPTP), the plurality elections for head of state are applied by countries such as Mexico and Paraguai. 

In regards to the two-round system, the necessary amount of votes achieved for a candidate to be elected is a simple majority. Therefore, once voters pick their preferable one, if none of the candidates receive more than 50% of the national votes, a second round is applied with the top two runners. Highly popular worldwide, the two-round system is the official electoral strategy in francophone Sub-Saharan Africa countries such as Congo, Mali, and Togo, other than nations in Latin America such as Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, and Europe at Russia, Portugal, and France.

A big argument in favor of the popular vote is that it grants the country’s entire population political equality, fulfilling the main objective of a democracy. The “winner-takes-all” nature of the Electoral College may make voters feel powerless every four years, as they realize their vote won’t make any difference if their state doesn’t agree with them. Many think that the removal of the Electoral College would drive up voting rates as the government starts to focus more on major issues instead of individual states.

In the United States, discussion about the Electoral College is far from ending, given that pros and cons about both sides are being constantly brought to consideration.

“I’ve been doing a lot of research for the last year since the 2016 elections, because I’ve had a lot of students asking me about it,” said AP U.S. History teacher, Jonathan Greene “And I think there are positives and negatives about both. One of the big negatives is that [such as] in the last elections, Hillary Clinton won the general vote but only received 19 states’ support. So 31 states would not have elected her as president, even though the most populous states are the ones that get the popular vote.”

Having happened four other times before 2016, Presidents John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and George W. Bush were also given the presidency by the Electoral College, while losing the popular vote. 

“I think the balance when it comes to elections is always important, because you want to make sure people are fairly represented,” said AP U.S. Government teacher Calder Alfano “I think the Electoral College does a good job of preserving the role of states, and states’ rights. (…) If you look at the alternatives to the Electoral College, like just going by popular vote, what you’d have is a government representative of America’s largest cities, and not necessarily the entire country as a whole.”

The consequent campaigning incentive of the Electoral College system is one of the strongest arguments weighing the balance to its side, considering that in many nations that utilize the popular vote as the go-to strategy, politicians are seen to funnel their resources to the largest cities. With the American system, candidates are incentivized to also invest in lowly populated or “less influential” states, further improving national unity and inclusivity.

The youth is also taking a stance regarding this matter, as students near voting age and start voicing their own opinions on this feverish debate. 

“I think that for the system we have, which is a republic, not a direct democracy, that the Electoral College is better because it gives states which don’t necessarily have as much population, the right to great representation,” said senior Deniz Caglayan “If we didn’t have an Electoral College system, you’d only care about the urban population of a lot of areas, and that’s not what America is. It’s easy to think that, as someone living in an urban area, it would be better if we only had popular votes, but I recognize that a lot of Americans live in more of a rural setting, and I think their voices also deserve to be heard.”

With all arguments presented, the Electoral College system has shown itself to be the epitome of what this nation is all about, as with its promotion of inclusivity and states’ rights, this country is remembered to be by its literal meaning the United States of America.

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