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Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America

Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America

Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America
    Book Description:

    Americans currently choose their president through the electoral college, an extraordinarily complex mechanism that may elect a candidate who does not receive the most votes. In this provocative book, George Edwards III argues that-contrary to what supporters of the electoral college claim-there is no real justification for a system that might violate majority rule.Drawing on systematic data, Edwards finds that the electoral college does not protect the interests of small states or racial minorities, does not provide presidents with effective coalitions for governing, and does little to protect the American polity from the alleged harms of direct election of the president. In fact, the electoral college distorts the presidential campaign so that candidates ignore most small states and some large ones and pay little attention to minorities, and it encourages third parties to run presidential candidates and discourages party competition in many states.Edwards demonstrates effectively that direct election of the president without a runoff maximizes political equality and eliminates the distortions in the political system caused by the electoral college.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13361-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Neal R. Peirce

    For those of us who’ve been watching the workings of the electoral college over decades, anticipating the moment when the system would back fi re seriously and darken our democracy, the election of November 2000 was both vindication and puzzle.

    Our fears were realized as bitter dispute erupted over the legitimacy of the apparent, razor-thin outcome in a single state whose vote would determine the entire electoral count. Racial and class tensions were exacerbated by questions of fairness in voting procedures. We saw a politically charged decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, in effect guaranteeing electoral college victory to the...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. Chapter 1 How the Electoral College Works
    (pp. 1-30)

    Before we can evaluate the electoral college, we must understand how it works. The popular election every fourth November is only the first step in a complex procedure that should culminate in the formal declaration of a winner two months later. In fact, under the Constitution, the November election is not for the presidential candidates themselves but for the electors who subsequently choose a president. All that the Constitution says of this stage of the election process is that “each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole...

  6. Chapter 2 The Electoral College and Political Equality
    (pp. 31-54)

    The electoral college does not provide a straightforward process for selecting the president. Instead, it can be extraordinarily complex and has the potential to undo the people’s will at many points in the long journey from the selection of electors to counting their votes in Congress. Faithless electors may fail to vote as the people who elected them wish. Congress may find it di ffi cult to choose justly between competing slates of electors. It is even possible, although highly unlikely, that a state legislature could take the choice of the electors away from the people altogether. The electoral college...

  7. Chapter 3 Contingent Elections
    (pp. 55-77)

    If the presidential and vice presidential candidates fail to receive a simple majority of electoral college votes, the Twelfth Amendment provides that the House of Representatives chooses the president and the Senate chooses the vice president in a process known as “contingent” election (contingent upon the absence of a majority in the electoral college). There have been two contingent elections for president in our history, following the elections of 1800 and 1824 . Very minor shifts of popular votes in the nation, however, would have sent a number of other elections to the Congress for decision.

    In the House, a...

  8. Chapter 4 The Origins of the Electoral College
    (pp. 78-91)

    The Constitution’s framers chose a unique and complex method of selecting the president, one that clearly violates fundamental tenets of political equality and majority rule. How did they arrive at this decision? Was it an e ff ort to restrain the democratic mob? Was their decision based on a coherent political theory that made subtle trade-offs between political equality and other important values? Can their intentions justify violating majority rule in the twenty-first century?

    Arriving at the electoral college was no easy matter. As James Wilson declared near the end of the Constitutional Convention on September 4, “This subject ....

  9. Chapter 5 Protecting Interests
    (pp. 92-121)

    One of the core justifications for the electoral college, and its violations of political equality, is that it is necessary to protect important interests that would be overlooked or harmed under a system of direct election of the president. Advocates argue that allocating electoral votes by states and states casting their votes as units ensures that presidential candidates will be attentive to and protective of state-based interests, especially the interests of states with small populations. Some supporters of the electoral college go further and argue that the electoral college forces candidates to pay greater attention to the interests of racial...

  10. Chapter 6 Maintaining Cohesion
    (pp. 122-149)

    The second principal set of justifications for the electoral college focuses on maintaining the harmony and cohesion of the Republic. Here the issue is generally less what the electoral college does for the country than the alleged harm that alternative methods of presidential selection would do to the nation.

    Most objections to direct election focus on one version of it. Many advocates of reforming the electoral college support a runoff between the top two candidates if no candidate receives at least 40 percent of the popular vote on the first ballot. Opponents of direct election argue that such a provision...

  11. Chapter 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 150-158)

    The electoral college is an extraordinarily complex system for electing a president, one that has the potential to undo the people’s will at many points in the long journey from the selection of electors to counting their votes in Congress. Faithless electors may fail to vote as the people who elected them wish. Congress may find it difficult to choose justly between competing slates of electors. What is more significant, the electoral college violates political equality, favoring some citizens over others depending solely on the state in which they live. The unit rule, the allocation of electoral votes among the...

  12. Appendix A U.S. Constitutional Provisions Relating to the Election of the President
    (pp. 159-165)
  13. Appendix B Comparison of State Population and Electoral Votes
    (pp. 166-168)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 169-190)
  15. Index
    (pp. 191-198)