Our country is in desperate need of electoral reform — and I’m not even talking about our horribly broken system of campaign financing. I mean the manner in which we elect presidents through the delegate-nominating system and the Electoral College is absolutely insane and makes no sense whatsoever.
So, it being an election year, I would like to examine our election system and make some recommendations on how to fix it. I realize my recommendations will probably be a bit unrealistic because they would require constitutional amendments in some cases, but I think these are things worth considering.
I will be splitting this subject into two parts. In this first installment, I will be examining the absurdity that is the Electoral College. And next week I will discuss the ridiculous process of candidate nomination by delegates of the two political parties.
As we all know, the president and vice-president are not chosen by the popular vote in the general election but by an absolute majority of votes from the Electoral College.
This is how the Electoral College works: As per Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, each state either elects or appoints electors that make up the Electoral College who cast a vote for president and vice president in the general election.
The number of electors must be equal to the total number of Congress members (but electors cannot be a member of Congress).
Ergo, there are currently 538 electors, meaning it takes the votes of at least 270 electors to win the general election.
It is up to each state as to how electors are chosen. For example, in Florida, the governor nominates electors to represent their political party, and the electors swear an oath to vote for the candidates of the party that he or she is nominated to represent (this is pretty close to how most state’s electors work, but some states nominate electors in party conventions).
Generally speaking, the electors act as functionaries of the state and pledge to cast their vote for whomever wins their state’s popular vote in the general election. However, they are not required to do so.
In theory, electors can actually cast their votes for anyone they choose. When electors cast their vote for someone other than who won their state’s popular vote, this process is called “faithless electors.”
Faithless electors are a rare occurrence, but it has happened several times over the years and as recently as 2004 when a Minnesota elector cast his vote for John Edwards for president instead of John Kerry (presumably by accident).
The Electoral College system also allows for the possibility that a candidate can win the presidency without winning the overall national popular vote.
Such an occurrence has happened four times in our nation’s history, most recently in the 2000 election debacle when Gore received 550,000 more votes than George W. Bush.
The Electoral College can also end in a tie. It’s only happened once in the 1800 election when Thomas Jefferson tied Aaron Burr in Electoral College votes. In this absurd scenario, the election gets turned over to be decided by Congress.
And don’t think an Electoral College tie cannot happen again. There are even a couple of completely plausible scenarios that could result in a tie in the upcoming 2012 election (such as this scenario).
If the election goes to Congress to be decided, the president would be chosen in the House of Representatives and the vice president would be chosen in the Senate.
To decide the president in the House, each state delegation gets one vote.
So, while the House currently has 435 members, they would collectively only be casting 50 votes with the representatives from each state voting as a group.
And, no, they are not obligated to cast their vote in line with how the voters in their respective states went. That means a state like Colorado could vote for Obama on Election Day, but since four of the state’s seven representatives are Republican, the state could theoretically end up going for Romney or whoever the Republican nominee is.
Furthermore, this also means that hypothetically Obama could be picked as president by the House and a Republican could be picked as vice president by the Senate or vice versa. This means we could have ended up with Obama and Sarah Palin in 2008 under such a scenario.
So, you may be wondering, then why the hell do we even have an Electoral College if it operates in such a ridiculous manner?
The Founders actually appropriated the system from the Holy Roman Empire, when, starting in the 13th century, elector princes chose the emperor.
The American Electoral College system was chosen, in part, because of the prevalence of slavery in the South and the worry that the infamous Three-Fifths compromise would lead to under-representation of southern states.
Also, there was the completely erroneous hope that such a system would discourage the most populated states from deciding the election at the detriment to the least populated states. However, the Electoral College actually allows just as easily for the opposite to occur.
The United States is currently the only county in the world that allows for an indirect election of an executive president.
Germany and India allow their parliaments to elect the president, but the real executive authority lies with the prime ministers who must win direct elections.
The Electoral College system is an outdated, arbitrary mess that should be completely eradicated.
It would take a constitutional amendment to change the system, but poll after poll has shown that the majority of Americans support such a change, such as a recent Gallop poll that found 62 percent favor nixing the Electoral College.
Our presidents should be chosen by the overall national popular vote, plain and simple — anything else is absurd.