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Running head: THE IMBALANCE IN THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE

The Imbalance in the Electoral College: Creating a Nation Where Some Votes are More Equal than Others Tiffany Couch The 2000 presidential election is one of the most controversial elections in the history of the United States. It was one of the few elections in the countrys history in which one candidate (Al Gore, Jr.) won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College to his opponent (George W. Bush). The entire election came down to the state of Florida, which in recent elections has become a commodity to candidates because of its tendency to swing between a Democratic and Republican majority (TED-Ed, 2012). Al Gore had 266 electoral votes, just four shy of clutching the nomination. Florida had many problems with its voting system, and was not able to come up with a certain winner of their electoral votes. Vote recounts went on for weeks before the Supreme Court decided to close the election and give the votes to Bush, bringing the electoral vote count to 271 to 266, even though Gore won the popular vote by over half a million votes. With the final vote count in Florida, Bush won by a mere 537 individual votes (Woolley & Peters, 2014). That is the catch-22 of the Electoral College- it does not matter how many votes the candidate wins by, no matter how unfair it seems. In 48 states and Washington D.C., if a candidate wins the most votes, they get all of the electoral votes. It does not matter if they win by one vote or a million votes. Rakove (2004) states well how skewed this is: Why should all of Floridas electors go to the candidate who mustered a statistically insignificant plurality of a few hundred or thousand votes in a statewide electorate of six million? (p. 22). The Electoral College in its current form has outlived its usefulness because it creates a country in which some votes have greater value than others, but with a slew of possible solutions to the problem, the imbalance could easily be remedied.

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The Electoral College was created at the founding of the newly independent United States of America. The states were massively different since they were founded on many different beliefs with a wide variety of demographics. This, in turn, spawned many issues not only in the method of election of representatives for the national legislature, but also in the election of the leader to govern the new nation. One of the main concerns was that the larger states would dominate the smaller states, making it difficult for the smaller states to have much of a say in anything. They also worried that a lack of communication about the presidential nominees would produce an uninformed constituency that would not be able to vote in a sufficient majority for one candidate, since they did not foresee the emergence of the partisan system that would take hold of the United States for the next two and a half centuries. This led the founding fathers to again believe that bigger states were more likely to unite in a majority, giving another opportunity for the larger states to overpower the smaller ones (Kimberling, 2008). The compromise for the method of voting for president became known as the Electoral College. The Constitution specified that a certain number of electors would be given to each state. The number of electors each state receives is equal to the total number of representatives each state has plus two (or the number of senators from each state), totaling a minimum of three electors from each state (National Archives and Records Administration [NARA], 2014). Representatives were determined by the population of the state, so electoral votes were based on population. The states would individually hold a popular election for president, and the winner of that election would receive all of the electors from that state. Nebraska and Maine are the only states that award electoral votes by voting district (Clayton, 2007, p. 30). It was decided that the electors chosen to represent each state would be selected by the political parties. The electors

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send in their votes on the Monday following the second Wednesday in December of the election year. Their votes are then read and counted before a joint session of Congress on January 6th in the year following the election year. Most of the time, the electors cast their votes according to how the constituents from their district voted, but they can also vote in opposition, or even abstain from voting (Clayton, 2007, p. 30). In the case of the 2000 presidential election, one of the electors, Barbara Lett-Simmons from Washington, D.C., abstained from casting her vote (National Archives and Records Administration [NARA], 2001). In practice, if the Electoral College was set up in order to function the way that it was intended to, each electoral vote in the U.S. would represent a little bit less than 574,000 people (CGP Grey, 2011). However, since each state is required to have a minimum of three electoral votes (NARA, 2014), states with smaller populations receive more electoral votes than they should. One of the best examples is Wyoming, the least populous state. If Wyoming were really to receive votes proportional to its population, it would receive only one electoral vote (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). Many states are like this. It would make sense to increase the number of electoral votes in order to properly represent the population, but the total number of votes is fixed at 538 due to the Twenty-Third Amendment (Clayton, 2007, p. 30). If the Twenty-Third Amendment was abolished and electoral votes were given with a minimum of three per state or territory, then the state smallest in population, Wyoming, would determine the proportion of votes to electoral votes. According to the 2010 census, Wyomings population was 563,626 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). That would mean with three electoral votes, each electoral vote would represent 187,875 people. With the population of the United States at 308,745,538 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011), the number of electoral votes would need to be set at 1643, or at least until the next census.

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Where do the small states electoral votes come from? The answer: big states like California, Texas, and Florida. According to the 2010 census, California should have received 65 electoral votes (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011), but only received 55. The big states give up electoral votes (involuntarily) in order to give small states their required minimum. This, in turn, means that the proportion of voters to electoral votes is much larger in the small states. One Vermonters vote is worth three Texans votes, while one Wyomingites vote is worth four Californians (CGP Grey, 2011). None of the states electoral votes are exactly proportional to their populations, but some states are more skewed than others. For example, at the time of the 2010 census, Oregon had a population of 3,831,074 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). That means that the total number of electoral votes that Oregon should have received was about 6.67, but that was rounded up so that Oregon received seven electoral votes. This is fair enough, but the extra 0.33 electoral vote is saying that Oregon has 189,420 people more than it does. Those 189,420 people are taken from the bigger states in order to be able to round up to the nearest whole number of electoral votes. It is important to keep in mind, however, that despite receiving fewer electoral votes than they should, big states still receive a massive amount of attention from the candidates because of the sheer number of electoral votes that can be obtained from the states. Of the 18 states visited in the last two months of the 2008 election, only two of them (Maine and New Hampshire) were small states; the top states visited were Ohio and Florida, with 62 and 46 total visits, respectively (CGP Grey, 2011). Ohio and Florida are states with some of the most electoral votes. Even though the Electoral College is meant to give small states more power (and it does very slightly), big states still matter much more than any of the small states. Another example of the unfairness of the Electoral College is the tendency of some votes to be given more power due to political tendencies state to state. A study by Gelman, Silver, and

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Edlin (2012) calculated the chance that a single persons vote would be a deciding factor in an election, depending on the state from which they hailed (given the 2008 election). The states with smaller populations such as New Hampshire and New Mexico were more likely to have an effect on the outcome of the election. The more populous states such as Texas, California, and New York had a much smaller chance of affecting the outcome, with roughly a one in a billion chance of being the deciding vote (Gelman, Silver, & Edlin, 2012, p. 324-25). This study takes into account not only the population of the state, but also its citizens voting tendencies. California and New York are more likely to vote Democratic, while Texas is more likely to vote Republican. There are some states that have a history of voting for a particular political party. These states are called safe states, and because of their predictability, candidates usually spend minimal time campaigning in them. Democratic safe states include Oregon, Maryland, Michigan, and Massachusetts, while Republican safe states include Mississippi, Alabama, Kansas, and Idaho (TED-Ed, 2012). Candidates are much more concerned with the states whose loyalties change election to election, or swing states. Historically famous swing states include Ohio and Florida (TED-Ed, 2012). Swing states and safe states are also a reason that a persons vote might not mean as much. Since it is more likely that a single vote from Oregon would be for a Democrat rather than Republican, it does not really matter who the vote is for, unless a large number of people are voting against the norm. In a state where the results are highly likely to lean one way rather than the other, then an individuals vote does not really matter. Candidates care a lot less about the safe states. The states that received the most visits during the 2008 election were Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, some of the top swing states (CGP Grey, 2011). This tendency for candidates to favor some states over others shows that as the identity of swing states becomes more predictableparties, candidates, and incumbent

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presidents will be all the more tempted to target their messages, policy preferences, and discretionary spending toward swing states (Richie & Levin, 2013, p. 355). This causes the candidates to ignore the unimportant states that are guaranteed to vote for one candidate over the other. There is not really any point for the Republican candidate to campaign in California, or for the Democratic candidate to campaign in Texas; the states that change loyalties are the smart states to focus on, causing a small proportion of the population to receive a disproportionate amount of attention from the candidates. Even some small states (which are historically protected by the Electoral College) see the problems that the Electoral College poses. Ever since the presidential election of 2000, there has been a push to get rid of the Electoral College for good through a Constitutional amendment that would switch the voting method to a national popular vote: Public opinion polls show widespread, bipartisan popular support for moving to the direct popular election of the President...seventy-two percent of Americans favor dispensing with the Electoral College and moving to a direct popular election (Williams, 2012, p.1525-26). However, Constitutional amendments require the approval of at least 75% of the states, or 38 total (NARA, 2014). It seems very probable that the smaller states would reject such an amendment since it would take away the advantages that the Electoral College gives them. Rakove (2004) points out another option: A coalition of states (presumably but not necessarily the most populous) could cumulatively produce the requisite majority of 270 votes [and] enact legislation pledging to cast all of the electoral votes of their individual states for the candidate receiving the plurality of the national popular vote, regardless of the preferences of their own voters. (p. 25) This means that states could pledge to give all of their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the popular vote rather than to the candidate that wins the state. This type of legislation

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(known as the National Popular Vote Bill) would be the dirty and possibly unconstitutional way to go about changing the national election system. It is presumed that if this was successfully passed, it could be struck down because of its unconstitutionality (Williams, 2012, p. 1523). It also violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Gringer, 2008, p. 187) which has worked to avoid discriminatory voting practices against minorities. Taking away the advantages that the Electoral College creates could be said to take away minorities rights. Ten states (totaling 136 electoral votes) have already enacted the National Popular Vote Bill: Rhode Island, Vermont, Maryland, Washington, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, California, and Hawaii
(National Popular Vote, 2012). The initiatives in Rhode Island, Vermont, Hawaii, and

Washington, D.C. show that there might not be as much opposition to the abolishment of the Electoral College in small states as there is believed there could be. While proponents of the bill claim that it will [preserve] the Electoral College, while ensuring that every vote in every state will matter in every presidential election (National Popular Vote, 2012), in all reality, it would only be keeping the Electoral College alive in spirit, since the number of electoral votes per state would not matter anymore, and it would not protect the smaller states. Electoral votes would not be important any more under this bill- only the popular vote would be the determining factor. There are many concerns about switching to a popular vote. First of all, it is widely believed that it would encourage candidates to only campaign in the three biggest cities in the U.S. (New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago) in order to get the votes that they needed. Realistically, this is not possible. Even if a candidate were to win every single vote in the 100 most populous cities in the U.S., they would still only muster 19.4% of the vote (CGP Grey, 2011). It is simply not an option for the candidates. There is also concern about the formation of third parties. Wilson and Dilulio (2006) predicted that if the nation were to switch to a national

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popular vote, then each third party would then be in a position to negotiate with one of the two major partiesabout favors it wanted in return for its support (p. 376). This would encourage bargaining that could lead to shifts and possible subtle party realignment. Special interest groups (i.e. the Tea Party, the Green Party) might finally have the leverage they need in order to get the attention of the party that they stem from. It would also take away the ability to declare a president on election night, since it would take days or even weeks to count all of the votes. States can usually call which candidate wins their electoral votes within a few hours, but in the national popular vote, every single vote counts, so no state can effectively declare who wins, as evidenced by the results of the 2000 election in Florida (Woolley & Peters, 2014). The public would quickly lose interest with weeks of waiting. Additionally, it has been argued that with a system that misfires only once a century, even with some occasional near misses, cannot be bad (Rakove, 2004, p. 24). The Electoral College has only failed three times in the history of the United States (1876, 1888, 2000), equating to a failure rate of five percent (CGP Grey, 2011). It can be argued that this is low enough to be considered acceptable, but is a failure rate that high acceptable in a government institution, an institution that determines how Americans live day-today? Although the national popular vote is arguably the most popular reform measure proposed to date (Clayton, 2007, p. 37), it is not the only solution to the problems that the Electoral College poses. Some suggestions even involve keeping the Electoral College in place, just with some revisions. One of the options to improve upon the Electoral College is to shift to district voting, like Nebraska and Maine currently use: whoever receives the most votes in each voting district receives the electoral votes from that district (Clayton, 2007, p. 36). This would break the nation down into 538 voting districts within the states rather than pooling electoral

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votes within the 50 states and Washington, D.C. Another choice is the National Bonus Plan, which would reduce the total number of electoral votes to 438 (instead of the current 538) and automatically award 100 votes to the candidate that wins the popular vote (Clayton, 2007, p. 36). That way, it would be much more difficult for the candidate who loses the popular vote to win, although technically it would still be possible. Another option is proportional representation, which would require the candidates to win at least 40% of the states, as well as win a majority of the electoral votes. If no candidate meets these requirements, the election would be thrown to a joint session of Congress to decide the nominee (Clayton, 2007, p. 36). The advantage of keeping the Electoral College (with amendments) is that it would help to satisfy both liberals and conservatives with a moderate change. Since a large portion of the electorate is moderate, it would be a great compromise, just as its founding fathers intended it to be. With the perks that the Electoral College gives to the small states as well as swing states, some votes are given more value than others, even though the creators of the voting system claimed equal representation for all. The Electoral College in its current state does not serve its original purpose, since it gives some states a disproportionate amount of power rather than protecting minorities. The Electoral College only protects those in crucial swing states, with minimal protection to states small in population. The Electoral does not need to be abolished for the sake of equalizing votes, even though a radical switch to national popular vote is the most popular option at this time. Although the Electoral College has only failed three times in history, an election as critical as the 2000 election showed that a change might well be worth it.

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References CGP Grey. (2011, Nov. 7). The Trouble with the Electoral College. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wC42HgLA4k&index=31&list=PLqs5ohhass_QZtS kX06DmWOaEaadwmw_D Clayton, D.M. (2007). The Electoral College: An Idea Whose Time Has Come and Gone. Black Scholar, 37(3), 28-41. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/stable/41069888 Gelman, A., Silver, N., & Edlin, A. (2012). What is the probability that your vote will make a difference? Economic Inquiry, 50(2), 321-326. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-7295.2010.00272.x Gringer, D. (2008). Why the National Popular Vote is the Wrong Way to Abolish the Electoral College. Columbia Law Review, 108(1), 182-230. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/stable/40041769 Kimberling, W.C. (2008). The Electoral College. Retrieved from http://uselectionatlas.org/INFORMATION/INFORMATION/electcollege_history.php National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). (2001). 2000 President Election: Electoral College Members. Retrieved from http://www.archives.gov/federalregister/electoral-college/2000/members.html National Archives and Records Administation (NARA). (2014). Constitution of the United States. Retrieved from http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html

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National Popular Vote. (2012). Over 50% of the Way to Activating the National Popular Vote Bill. Retrieved from http://nationalpopularvote.com/ Rakove, J.N. (2004). Presidential Selection: Electoral Fallacies. Political Science Quarterly, 119(1), 21-37. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/stable/20202303 Richie, R., & Levien, A. (2013). The Contemporary Presidency: How the 2012 Presidential Election Has Strengthened the Movement for the National Popular Vote Plan. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 43(2). 353-376. doi: 10.1111/psq.12027 TED-Ed. (2012). Does your vote count? The Electoral College explained- Christina Greer. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://ed.ted.com/lessons/does-your-vote-count-theelectoral-college-explained-christina-greer U.S. Census Bureau. (2011). 2010 Census Interactive Population Search. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/2010census/popmap/ipmtext.php?fl=56 Williams, N.R. (2012). Why the National Popular Vote Compact Is Unconstitutional. Brigham Young University Law Review, 2012(5), 1523-1583. Retrieved from http://www.law2.byu.edu/lawreview/articles/1360684250_3.williams.fin.pdf Wilson, J.Q., & Dilulio, J.J. Jr. (2006). American Government. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company. Woolley, J., & Peters, G. (2014). The American Presidency Project: Election of 2000. Retrieved from http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/showelection.php?year=2000