Constitutional Conflict?

George Edwards, Ph.D., a political science professor at Texas A&M University, gave a presentation on Nov. 3 discussing how the Electoral College diminishes the voice of the people, violates democratic principles and allows the candidates to appeal to only a few voters.

Edwards shared his views, calling the Electoral College system an “unpredictable” system in which the size of the congressional delegation determines the number of votes apportioned to each state. Edwards said, “The number of electoral votes each state receives depends widely on its size of delegation of the House.”

He also stated that the system could be in flux if Congress decides to change the number of seats in the House. Edwards said, “ The election of the president capriciously depends on the size of the House of Representatives.  We all know we have 435 representatives but that’s an arbitrary number the Congress has decided; it could be 500, it could be 200. It’s not in the Constitution. And in a close election, it matters whether its 434 or 436 or 437 and could change the outcome in some elections. Again, a capricious system that should play no part in the Democratic process.”

 Edwards went on to mention that the consequences of the electoral vote are that every ballot does not carry the same weight. The candidate receiving the most popular votes can lose the election. Edwards gave several examples where the popular vote did not get the president elected. This happened in the 1876 election, when Democrat Samuel J. Tilden won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, 1888 when Democrat Grover Cleveland won against Republican Benjamin Harris but lost the Electoral College, and in 2000 when Republican George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore but won the Electoral College vote, which is what counted. Edwards said, “The Electoral College distorts the preferences of Americans and violates political equality favoring some citizens over another.”

Edwards also challenged some justifications for the Electoral College. One of the justifications that Edwards pointed out is that it balances local and national interests, protecting small states from totalitarian politics, that these interests required protection, interest in small states both require and deserve special protection from federal laws and candidates are attentive to these interests, especially in small states. Edwards claims that states do not embody coherent unified interests and communities.  Even the smallest state has diversity and differences of opinions. He also claims that there is no need for small-state protection given the constitutional constraints on majority rule, which makes it very difficult to do anything too abusive and that the Senate already gives extraordinary representations of small states, giving them a disproportionate number of votes. Another issue he argues is that small states do not have common interests.

Edwards also discussed how candidates only visit limited number of states during the elections season. He said, “During the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama only visited eight states and Mitt Romney only visited 10, which were the battleground states, and completely ignored the rest, not even investing in advertisement in outside battleground states.

Edwards went on to say, “The Electoral College distorts the democratic process by providing the incentive to only visit the competitive states, especially large competitive states.” He said, that the Electoral College does not provide a consensus winner because it doesn’t appeal to all the voters and the winner does not necessarily receive broad geographic support. “Candidates under the Electoral College do not obtain the current majority from all areas of the country.” He went on to say that “the rules of the game encourage candidates to ignore most of the country.”

Edwards claims that with direct voting candidates would be more attentive to a variety of interest groups and the majority of the states.