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James Durney

Final Essay

Abolish the Electoral College

When deciding whether or not to go to the polls and vote for the President, it's

logical to ask, "Will my vote make a difference?" The painful truth in our American

political system is no, you aren't even voting for the President. Our Founding Fathers

constructed a plan to protect us from our own ignorance. That may sound offensive to

some, logical to others; there may even be some less humanitarian roots. No-one

believes that the Constitution was made to be concrete and unchangeable; it's been

amended 27 times. The people gained the right to choose electors in the early 1800s,

vote despite land ownership around 1850, elect their U.S. Senators in 1913, vote despite

race in 1915 and despite gender in 1920 (American Roulette). I believe the next logical

step is for all citizens to have a direct vote for our Commander in Chief.

I propose: Amendment 28: The President shall be elected by the people via direct

popular vote with instant-runoff. The idea of direct popular vote is to present the will of

all the people in a non-diluted manner. In our current system it is possible for "a

candidate to win 20 million votes in the general election, but win zero electoral votes"

(Longley). In that circumstance the votes of 20 million are wasted, or worse the electoral

votes go to a candidate despised by those voters. In instant-runoff a voter chooses the

candidate liked the most to the least in order (Constable). If the voter's first choice

obtains the fewest first-place votes, that candidate is removed from possible election and

the voter's second choice is used, and on down the line. In this system if a voter chooses

someone like Ralph Nader as their first choice the vote is not completely worthless,
because their second choice may be used. All votes count.

The Electoral College is, in the opinion of many, an out-dated system.

"Democratic nations that have written their constitutions in the years since 1787 have

generally avoided the Electoral College compromise in favor of either direct popular or a

variation on the English parliamentary system" (American Roulette). The typical

justification for the initiation of the Electoral College is that most people had no idea or

interest in the workings of our government 200 years ago. There may be more to the

issue. According to a constitutional law professor at Yale, "The biggest reason it was set

up was to protect slavery" (Constable). This makes sense considering that at the time of

the Electoral College’s inception the number of slaves contributed to the number of votes

counted but not to the number of votes cast. In the time when the Electoral College was

created, a white slaver owning 300 slaves would have the same voting power as 51

normal men. "The Electoral College allowed the South to swing the numerical weight of

its slaves without granting them suffrage (Roulette). As a remnant of such an old practice

as counting a human as 3/5ths of another, I don't understand how it has survived this


Some say that a direct vote could depress voter turnout, but I think, upon intense

examination we find that our current system is more depressive to turnout than direct

voting could ever be. "The winner-take-all system provides little incentive for Democrats

in Republican Vermont or Republicans in Democratic Georgia to go to the polls" (TIME).

By the time a vote is translated into electors, the votes for the opposition, in effect,

vanish. In Florida, in 2004, "George W. Bush won 48.5% of the popular vote, he

received all 25 of Florida's Electoral Votes" (Bennahum); the other 51.5% of the voters
were silenced. It might be hard to see how much effect your vote has in a direct election,

but in the Electoral College system it's most easy to see your vote disappear. Also if you

know that the vast majority of your state will vote in the same way you will, there is no

need to vote; the "state is entitled to the same number of electoral votes regardless of its

voter turnout" (Kimberling). Basically, if one person went to cast their vote in California,

the state would still have the power of 54 electoral votes (Longley).

In a country based on "We the people," it's hard to understand how something that

ignores the voices of so many can still be justified for choosing their leader. The status

quo is to value some votes far more than those of others; "a voter in Wyoming is worth

2.6 times 'more' than a voter in Pennsylvania" (Bennahum). It's easy to be indifferent to

this if you live in a state with a low population because your vote counts more than other

people in a more populous state. This, however, is certainly not democratic. A direct

popular vote counts every vote with the same weight as every other, and by that process

is inherently more democratic. In the case of a tie votes are even less balanced; the state

of Montana, which only has one representative, would have the same say in electing the

President as the state of New York, which has 33 (Longley). Not only is there no balance

at all between the votes, but the representatives aren't even required to vote consistently

with the votes of their constituents (Longley); how can we call our government a

democracy? The idea of democracy involves one person's vote being equal to another’s;

our system doesn't promote this. There needs to be a democratic process for electing our

president; that process is direct election.

A strong argument for the Electoral College and its imbalanced representation of

votes is that it demands a candidate have support distributed over many states. On the
surface this sounds good; a candidate won't be able to pander to specific regions and

ignore the needs of less populous regions. Unfortunately, that's exactly what happens;

candidates are able to focus on small areas and individual cities with the effect of winning

the whole state's electorate. The Electoral College also puts exaggerated importance on

swing states. In the 2004 election there was more emphasis on the storage of hazardous

waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain than security at New York's ports, an issue for the

state and national security (NY Times). Nevada, a swing state, received increased

attention, while a solidly democratic state was put on the back-burner. No voters should

be ignored, but our current system facilitates this contrary to its intention.

The Electoral College is an aristocratic fossil, based on the ideas of elitist slave-

owners in a different world. Our citizens now are more informed and better connected.

We are individuals who don't always fall into two tightly defined categories, but do

always want to be heard when we speak. We've been fighting for equality for 200 years

and deserve for our votes to be equal. Likewise, every part of the country is important,

equally; every part of the country is equally America. Direct election of the President

provides every voter with an equal voice, and instant run-off insures that no vote is

wasted or unnecessarily distorted. During the Constitutional Convention, George Mason

said, "It would be as unnatural to refer the choice of a proper character for chief

magistrate to the people as it would to refer a trial of colors to a blind man" (Monk). It's

time we demand recognition of our sight.