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Why does the Electoral School exist, and the way does it work? 5 important reads


On Dec. 14, the members of the Electoral School will meet in state capitols throughout the nation and forged their ballots for president and vp. The anticipated vote whole: 306 for Democrat Joe Biden and 232 for Republican Donald Trump. It is going to be their votes – not the votes of the almost 160 million People who forged ballots on or earlier than Nov. 3 – that can decide whose presidential time period will start on Jan. 20, 2021.

Over the previous a number of months, The Dialog has requested students of the Electoral School to elucidate how this technique was developed and the way it works and to explain whether or not – and the way – it offers benefits to sure individuals based mostly on the place they stay. We’ve collected highlights from a number of of these articles right here.

These 11 males agreed on a compromise that created the Electoral School.
The Dialog, from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-ND

1. The place did it come from?

Delegates to the Constitutional Conference in 1787 debated three potential methods to choose a president, explains Purdue College civics educator Philip J. VanFossen: “election by Congress, choice by state legislatures and a preferred election – although the best to vote was typically restricted to white, landowning males.”

The thought of a preferred election – the place the candidate who received essentially the most votes gained – was engaging. However the 11 committee members realized the Southern states wouldn’t agree, as a result of they wished to wield extra political energy based mostly on their possession of enslaved individuals.

They in the end settled, VanFossen writes, on “a system of electors, by which each the individuals and the states would assist select the president. [It] was a partly nationwide and partly federal answer, and … mirrored different constructions within the Structure.”

That system assigned two U.S. senators to every state, and numerous U.S. representatives based mostly on states’ relative populations – and numerous electors equal to the sum of the senators and representatives. No state would have fewer than three electors, regardless of how few individuals lived there.

2. Benefiting much less populous states

That system means voters in numerous states are handled in another way, writes LaGrange School political scientist John Tures.

As he explains, “some critics have complained that the Electoral School system encourages candidates to disregard voters in smaller states like Oklahoma and Mississippi, as an alternative specializing in campaigning in large states like California and New York, which have numerous electoral votes.”

However in actuality, the Electoral School offers a bonus to voters in much less populous states, Tures finds: “[V]oters in small states have extra Electoral School votes per capita than bigger, extra various states, utilizing a number of totally different measures – and due to this fact extra energy to decide on a president than they might have in a nationwide widespread election.”

He notes {that a} related system for electing Georgia’s governor was overturned in 1963 in a U.S. Supreme Courtroom “ruling that it violated the basic precept of ‘one particular person, one vote.’”

3. A matter of race

Ignoring that precept has repercussions at this time, studies political scientist William Blake of the College of Maryland, Baltimore County: “The system continues to provide extra energy to states whose populations are whiter and extra racially resentful.”

His evaluation of states’ racial breakdowns and electoral votes finds that “states whose individuals exhibit extra intense anti-Black attitudes, based mostly on their solutions to a sequence of survey questions, are inclined to have extra electoral votes per particular person.” That’s a measure of what number of electoral votes a state has in proportion to the quantity of people that stay there.

Statistically, he discovered that “if two states’ inhabitants numbers point out every would have 10 electoral votes, however one had considerably extra racial resentment, the extra illiberal state would seemingly have 11.”

4. Susceptible to interference

The Electoral School makes American democracy extra susceptible to hackers, fraudsters and others who would possibly search to change the outcomes, explains mathematician Steven Heilman at USC Dornsife.

Noting that “altering simply 269 votes in Florida from George W. Bush to Al Gore would have modified the result of the complete [2000] nationwide election,” Heilman highlights simply how shut so many nationwide elections have been over the course of the nation’s historical past.

As he particulars, “The Electoral School divides one large election into 51 smaller ones – one for every state, plus the District of Columbia. Mathematically talking, this technique is constructed to just about guarantee slim victories, making it very vulnerable to efforts to vary both voters’ minds or the information of their decisions.”

Maine’s electors take their oaths earlier than casting their ballots in December 2016.
Derek Davis/Portland Portland Press Herald by way of Getty Photos

5. Is there a greater approach?

Westminster School political scientist Joshua Holzer describes the assorted ways in which totally different nations choose their presidents, and “discovered higher human rights protections in nations that elect presidents who’re supported by a majority of voters – which is one thing U.S. Electoral School doesn’t assure.”

He explains plurality voting – a way extensively used throughout the U.S., during which the one that will get essentially the most votes wins. He additionally seems to be at runoff voting, with “probably two rounds of voting. If somebody wins greater than half the votes within the first spherical, that candidate is said the winner. If not, the 2 candidates with essentially the most first-round votes face off in a second spherical of voting.”

After laying out different variations, together with contingent voting and ranked-choice voting, that allow voters categorical extra nuanced preferences, Holzer concludes with an outline of an effort that’s underway proper now, to successfully convert the Electoral School system right into a nationwide widespread vote.

However, as he observes, that may include its personal issues – simply totally different ones.

Editor’s word: This story is a roundup of articles from The Dialog’s archives.



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