I felt flattered that my letter of Nov. 18, 2016 generated some debate on the Electoral College by responses from readers Thomas Herron and Joe Irvin.
While I am a mathematician, I have also studied the history of presidential elections, the Electoral College, and especially the U.S. Constitution. A recent article in the electronic issue of Time Magazine by A. Reed Amar on “The Troubling Reason the Electoral College Exists: Slavery” gives an excellent insight on the history of the Electoral College. It is a must-read.
I am amazed to hear the argument that ours is not a democracy, but a republic. I thought we are the second largest and most influential democracy in the world. We have a democratic republic.
It was a Republican president who said, “… government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this Earth.” The Electoral College does not always allow the people to determine the most powerful and important branch (the executive) of the U.S. government, when the candidate with a majority or plurality of votes does not win.
France is a republic, and not a banana republic. Its president is elected directly by French voters.
The Electoral College was not debated in the Philadelphia convention. From the beginning, it was a political issue between North and South (mostly slave owners), and between coastal states and the interior, though a rationale was that presidential candidates were not well known outside their respective regions. In recent history, the presumptive candidates are known fairly early and are thoroughly vetted by all types of media.
In the current system, the campaign is focused only on battleground states, numbering no more than a dozen in any presidential election. Besides, it is winner take all -- no matter how slim the margin. That is not fair. Because of the Electoral College, it is possible to win a dozen states and lose the remaining 38 and still win the presidency.
Using the popular vote, every voter in every state has equal weight, and the playing field would be level. The population of Texas (with 38 electoral votes) is 25 times that of Rhode Island (with 4 electoral votes). The number of Texas’ electoral votes is less than 10 times that of Rhode Island, thus the weight of each Rhode Island vote is two and a half times that of Texas. That’s unfair.
Irvin, in defense of the Electoral College, wrote: “A presidential candidate must appeal to the people and diverse groups across the nation.”
Looking at the most recent election, the proof of the fallacy of that assertion is in the pudding. Furthermore, electors in some states are allowed to vote for someone other than the winner of that state. There is no consistency. As this article is written, efforts are underway to change the winner take all policy in three states won by Hillary Clinton. The system is not well designed and is inconsistent. Electing a president by using popular votes will not diminish the states’ autonomy.
With the popular vote, there will not be any blue state or red state, just red, white and blue.
The pledge of allegiance says “…one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The time to abolish the archaic Electoral College is long overdue.
The writer is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Coastal Carolina University.