In the blog Popular Vote 1, three questions were proposed, and the attempt to answer those questions can be found in the following blog.
ONE: Why do we have the Electoral College rather than a popular vote determining the winners of the Presidential elections? The writers of the Constitution struggled with the problem of electing a President and Vice-President. What they ended up with, after many votes on a variety of options, gave four basic notions on what was required: 1. A Presidential/VP election should be held every four years by a small group called Presidential electors. 2. Each state is allowed one presidential elector for each Senator and Representative. 3. A majority of votes from the electors is required for a win; a lack of a majority throws the Presidential selection into the House and the Vice Presidential selection into the Senate. 4, Originally each elector cast two votes with the leading candidate becoming President and the second-place going to the Vice President. The 12th Amendment, ratified in 1804, changed the process so that each elector casts a separate vote for President and Vice President. The original Articles did not give individual voters the right to cast a ballot for either of these important positions in the U.S. government; to put it another way, there was no popular vote. In contrast, today most states use the popular vote to determine the pair of candidates that receives all the state’s electoral votes. The manner in which the electors were chosen was left to each state to determine.
TWO: How do political parties affect the use of the Electoral College? George Washington was not a fan of the notion of political parties. In his Farewell Address to the Nation in 1796, after completing two terms as President, Washington cautions citizens against political parties, stating that “the baneful effects of the spirit of party” might infect citizens “with ill-founded jealousies.” These “jealousies” could be exploited by a candidate “more able or more fortunate than his competitors,” who “turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.” Washington further warns that political parties might open “the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.” Clearly Washington saw a time in the future when political party would come first and country might come second. He may not have been able to see into the future and imagine the way that bias in reporting, fake news, and the loss of fact-based truth might affect elections, but he certainly knew how jealousy and passions could lead the country astray.
Both of Washington’s elections were without the aid of political parties; these were the first and the last two elections to have that characteristic. The election of 2016 involved electors who were bound to their party vote rather than to the notion of casting votes for the most qualified candidate. This is not a new occurrence, for in very few cases have electors voted differently than their parties instruct. And the seven who did veer this year did so for several reasons: fear that the candidate was unfit, a feeling of allegiance to a candidate who lost the elector’s state primary, and other unknown reasons. So it seems that rather than elect the most qualified candidate, party politics and passion determine to a great extent the winner along with the so-called battleground states and their winner-take-all policies.
THREE: Is there any way to change the way we currently elect the President and Vice-President? Assuming the majority wishes a better representation for each vote when these two important elected officials are chosen, there are several ways to gain more equity. One is a proportional method of casting the electoral votes; a second way is to amend the U.S. Constitution; and the third way is the National Popular Vote Compact. In the next blog post, Popular Vote 3, we will look at the pros and cons of each and the process needed to put each method in place.