U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is currently gathering original co-sponsors for her proposed bill to abolish the Electoral College system for the U.S. Presidential Election, and to replace it with a direct vote for the Presidency, according to Feinstein press secretary, Adam Vogt.
The Electoral College has been described by critics as confusing, complicated, alienating, diversionary, unnecessary, undemocratic, and moreover, as hypocritical to the fundamental principles of American governance, which has otherwise been a global leader in democracy.
“A President can be elected without receiving the most popular votes -- this is the fundamental flaw of our electoral system,” Senator Feinstein said during a press statement on January 6, 2005, the day of the Electoral College certification of George W. Bush.
“It has happened four times in our history and there have been close calls in 22 other presidential elections. It will happen again and again unless we change the system,” the Senator continued.
The elections where a President was elected by the Electoral College, but not the majority of the American voters, were John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, and George W. Bush in 2000.
It’s easy to see why Senator Feinstein would champion this issue; just consider the position of her Californian constituents. By the antiquated logic of the Electoral College, each voter in California has a considerably weaker voice towards the Presidential Election outcome, than does each voter in a much smaller state by Rhode Island.
Article II, Section I, of the U.S. Constitution states, “Each state shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the state may be entitled in Congress.”
That is, in the Electoral College, every state gets 2 electors just for being a state, just like in the U.S. Senate. On top of that, each state also receives a number of electors proportional to the size of the population in the state, just like in the U.S. House. Therefore, voters living in small states, like Rhode Island, get significant representation in the College, even though the state isn’t very populous, because they still get the same 2 electors California gets.
By fabricating a representative college on a state-by-state basis, our Constitution takes the imperative decision of who will lead our nation as President, and makes it a game of “which candidate will win what state” in order to win the total election.
Far worse, according to 49 state constitutions, the entire sum of Electoral College votes of a particular state goes to the candidate selected by a majority of citizen votes. That is, all the votes do, not just the majority.
As a result, our political system is manifest with popular alienation because not only is the Electoral College unaccountable to the people, but also not even the wishes of all Electoral College members count—only the wishes of the majority of the College delegation in each state.
Feinstein’s proposal would not be the first time Congress considered replacing the Electoral College with a direct vote for the President. In 1979, Feinstein’s Office reported, the Senate voted 51 to 48 to abolish the Electoral College and replace it with direct popular elections. The legislation fell short of the necessary two-thirds required for a Constitutional amendment, but more than half the body supported the concept.
In the 91st Congress (1969-1970), the House of Representatives voted 338 to 70 for the direct popular election of the President, said Feinstein’s Office, but the effort fell short in the Senate.
Proponents of the Electoral College system generally argue that the system will safeguard the wishes of the states, rather than the wishes of the people.
This is as if the geographical boundaries themselves act, with personal discernable “state wishes.” As if “Georgia” itself has wishes that are more important than, and independent of, the wishes of the citizens of Georgia.
According to Article 1 of the Constitution, smaller states already get overrepresentation in the U.S. Senate, the appropriate place for states to have unique individual representation, wherein each state gets two representatives regardless of the size of the population of the state.
But there is something more fundamental at stake here. The real basis underlying the Electoral College is not a states’ rights argument, or one of protecting the rural states against those with urban centers, but an argument that voters are not smart enough to make choices for themselves regarding something as important as who is their President.
James Madison, if you read Federalist 10 and 51, would have Americans believe that most people are incapable of making informed choices, or perhaps are so irrational that they are too capable of being swayed against protecting minority welfare in order to be trusted with the right of voting for the President directly.
First, the Electoral College makes people feel like their vote won’t count if they live in a big city, or if they live in an area where the majority vote is already decided so winner takes all. And then, politicians wonder why so many Americans are alienated from politics. It’s because it was set up that way by design. The Electoral College is the institutionalization of the distrust of the majority. No wonder the majority of Americans don’t even vote anymore. Is that what Madison wanted? Maybe so.
“Altering the text of the Constitution requires careful thought, study and debate,” Senator Feinstein said. “But the problems posed by the Electoral College are so profound that a serious debate should ensue in this Congress. For me, the issue is simple -- fundamental fairness dictates that we have a single, nationwide count of popular votes. It is my hope that this proposal can serve as a starting point for a national discussion on how best to restructure the way our nation chooses a President and Vice President."
Citizens nationwide who are interested in seeing Congress pursue this issue can call their Senators Offices and ask them to sign on to Feinstein’s forthcoming bill.
Matthew Cardinale is a freelance writer, advocate, and graduate student in Sociology and Democracy Studies, at UC Irvine. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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