Presidential Elections

The Electoral College

What are the criticisms of the electoral college?

Detractors of the electoral college tend to be proponents of the popular vote, and often mention the fact that the electoral college can result in a president being elected, as in the election of 1824, with fewer popular and electoral votes than his opponent. Opponents also point to the risk of faithless electors, although there has never been an instance of a faithless elector changing the outcome of a presidential election. Depressed voter turnout is another result critics cite when mentioning the institution of the electoral college; they maintain, for example, that because each state is entitled to the same number of electoral votes regardless of voter turnout, there is no incentive for states to encourage their citizens to go to the polls at election time. Another argument is that the results of the electoral-college election can fail to accurately reflect the national popular will. This can happen because of the “winner-takes-all” system, whereby the presidential candidate with the most popular votes in the states wins all of that state’s electoral votes (this is true for forty-eight of the fifty states, as well as for Washington, D.C.). Even if a third-party candidate were to win as many as twenty-five percent of the voters nationwide, it is possible that he or she could still end up without any electoral college votes. According to the National Archives and Records Administration, the American Bar Association has criticized the electoral college, calling it “archaic” and “ambiguous,” and its polling showed sixty-nine percent of lawyers favored abolishing it in 1987.


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