By Jackson Parker, Chief Photographer, Photo by Kelsey Morgan
British writer G.K. Chesterton said, “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was up.” A reasonable statement that still rings true today and should be applied to modern issues, in particular the Electoral College.
Over the past few election cycles, the Electoral College itself has gained more and more scrutiny from the public eye. A majority of this discontent comes from social media and people who clearly do not understand the workings of the Electoral College.
So let us shed some light on the matter by answering a few questions.
What exactly is the Electoral College and where does it come from?
As established in Article II of the Constitution, the members of the Electoral College are voted for in November, and they vote for the President later that December.
Who’s in it?
The College is made up of 538 electorates from each state. The number of electors is based upon the number of representatives and senators in Congress at that time. This means every state automatically gets two votes plus votes based on population. No matter how small the state, they are guaranteed at least one population vote.
So I don’t vote for the president?
That is right, you do not. The aforementioned people that your state sent to represent you based on how you voted are the people who actually vote for the president.
How is this democracy?
Well, it is not. One of the most common mistakes made about the U.S. government is its status as a democracy, when in fact the government is a republic.
But isn’t that the same thing?!?!
No, and this another common mistake that was even made by Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi in Revenge of the Sith. In a democracy everything is voted on by the people, while in a Democratic Republic we elect representatives to vote on our behalf for what they believe to be the best course of action for the nation.
Why even use the Electoral College? Why not make it a straight popular vote?
Think of it as another check and balance in the government. With a little study of history, it is easy to see that pure democracy will cave in on itself over time. A popular way of explaining it.
Technically, citizens still have a popular vote. However, instead of one giant election, we have 51 based off of each individual state. This is where some of the controversy of the electoral college comes in, because if you count all the votes together it is possible for a candidate to lose the overall popular vote. Yet, in individual states, they won the electoral college votes.
But doesn’t this system put all the power in the “swing states?”
That is avoided if the idea of “swing states” and “safe states” was accurate. These states alternate between safe and swing so much that it is almost inconsequential. Until 1988, California was considered a safe state for the Republican Party, but not today. Texas, on the other hand, used to be primarily controlled by the Democratic Party.
How is the Electoral College better than a straight out vote?
If the Electoral College did not exist, it would be easier for candidates to centralize their vote, focusing their campaigns on largely populated areas instead of small states with a higher count of electoral votes. The candidate can have a central demographic but for a successful campaign they must have support from other groups, even if it is only because they do not like the opposing candidate.
Is this how the Electoral College is supposed to function?
For the most part, yes. Where our use of the Electoral College differs from its original intent falls more on the states instead of the federal government.
In fact, a majority of states have made it illegal for Electoral College members to vote differently than their pledged party. When members do this, they are deemed “faithless electors.” When the electoral college was founded, this act was not frowned upon; it was actually encouraged by founder Alexander Hamilton.
Why would they allow the electors to vote against what the people want?
Throughout the history of the nation, there been those who worried that the people’s voice would not be heard. This is a valid concern, but restricting the electors to only vote one way may not be the best solution to this problem.
So what are we supposed to do with this information?
That is up to the American people, as we as a nation decide if we want to keep the electoral college intact, revise it on a state level to align it closer to the original intent or, even more extreme, get rid of it all together.
It is up to you, America.