US elections – is the Electoral College vote still relevant?
THE EDITOR, Sir:
“VOTE, NOUN: “The instrument and symbol of a free man’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country” Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1906
Since last week’s US elections, there have been demonstrations in major cities and universities all over America. One reason for these demonstrations is that the losing candidate – Hillary Clinton – has earned significantly more votes, nationwide, than the winner Donald Trump.
It seems many Americans do not know of the Electoral College, and many who do, do not understand why it exists or how it works.
Way back in the 18th Century, the Founding Fathers could not reach consensus as to a method of selecting a president. Papers reveal that Alexander Hamilton felt it would be too risky to leave it entirely up to ordinary citizens as some charismatic tyrant could manipulate public opinion and get the position. In every case, there were objections as the 13 large and smaller states – suspicious of political parties and any central national government – all wanted to make sure they were not ignored.
Eventually, a group called the Committee of Eleven proposed a compromise of the Electoral College. Each State would have a total number of electors corresponding to its two senators and the number of its members in the House of Representatives. The legislatures would choose the electors who could not be Congressmen or government employees. In this way, educated representatives could vote for a preferred candidate if the voters, who they did not trust, chose someone they considered unsuitable. The winner would then be the person that got the absolute majority of 538 elector’s votes – 270.
Presidential candidates now focus on a few closely divided battleground states – ignoring those States in which they are hopelessly behind or safely ahead. This was not envisaged by the Founders. In fact, it is the exact opposite of what the founders had in mind.
As a result of the state-by-state winner-takeall arrangement, a candidate can win the presidency without winning most votes nationwide, as has happened in four of that nation’s 57 presidential elections. It has happened only once since 1888 when Benjamin Harrison got 233 electoral votes to Grover Cleveland’s 168. But Cleveland got 90,000 more votes than Harrison. In recent times, 537 votes won Florida and the White House for Bush in 2000 despite the fact that his opponent – Gore – polled 537,179 (1000 times more) more votes nationwide. Four years later, had John Kerry received just 30,000 more votes in Ohio, he – and not Bush – would be president. Bush was lucky twice.
Today, the United States has swelled to a population of 320 million with 3,144 counties and 19,354 cities. But technology has shrunken it to a small village where information saturation takes seconds. Is the Electoral College still relevant? Is it reflecting the will of the people? Since 1944, Gallop polls consistently show only 20 per cent of Americans support this antiquated system. There are only three previous occasions in American history where the loser of the popular vote still becomes president. America is the only country where this is possible. Today, there are indications that Hillary Clinton is likely to have secured two million more votes than president elect Donald Trump. Bwoy, dat mus hot enuh? GLENN TUCKER Stony Hill firstname.lastname@example.org