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Electoral College vs. Popular Vote

Grades 9-12 | Historical Analysis | Source-Based

Learning Standards

 

 

 

Prompt: The Constitution of the United States begins with the hallowed phrase, "We the People," and historically, the US government has been, as Abraham Lincoln once said, "of the people, by the people, for the people." In recent years, though, many US citizens have begun to question who those "people" actually are, and whether regular citizens realistically have a say in their government. One way that citizens are asked to participate in their government is through the election of political officials, including mayor, governor, senators, congressmen, and president. While most of these elections follow the popular vote method, the office of president is decided by the Electoral College. The effectiveness of this divide in voting methods has repeatedly been called into question.

 

Read the following sources about the Electoral College versus the popular vote method. After reading and analyzing the sources, write an essay in which you make a claim about whether the Electoral College is actually representative of democracy. Include evidence from multiple sources to effectively support your position. Be sure to address the other side of the issue by including and effectively refuting a counterclaim.

 

 

 

Source 1

What Is a Democracy? (Secondary Source)

 

Nowhere is the word "democracy" mentioned in the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution. How could that be? Our government is a democracy!

 

Well, for one, as we'll discuss later, the Founders actually feared democratic rule. James Madison expressed this attitude in Federalist #10: "...instability, injustice, and confusion ...have in truth been the mortal disease under which popular governments everywhere perished..." In the late 18th-century, rule by the people was thought to lead to disorder and disruption. Yet a democratically-based government was seen as superior to the monarchies of Europe.

 

Democracies did not originate with the founding of the United States. The term "democracy" comes from two Greek words: "demos" (the people) and "kratia" (power or authority). So of course democracy is a form of government that gives power to the people. But how, when, and to which people? The answer to those questions changes through history.

 

Democracies are based on "rule of law." The Ancient Greeks (particularly Aristotle) valued natural law, the notion that human societies should be governed by ethical principles found in nature. The Greeks are famous for practicing direct democracy, a system in which citizens meet to discuss all policy, and then make decisions by majority rule. However, only free males were considered to be citizens. So their democracy was certainly limited. Today direct democracy is practiced in New England town meetings, where all citizens of voting age meet to decide important political decisions.

 

But how could direct democracy work in a large, diverse population spread over a geographical distance? Generally, the answer has been that it can't. In its place, the American founders put "indirect" or "representative" democracy. In this system, representatives are chosen by the people to make decisions for them. The representative body, then, becomes a manageable size for doing the business of government. The Founders preferred the term "republic" to "democracy" because it described a system they generally preferred: the interests of the people were represented by more knowledgeable or wealthier citizens who were responsible to those that elected them. Today we tend to use the terms "republic" and "democracy" interchangeably. A widespread criticism of representative democracy is that the representatives become the "elites" that seldom consult ordinary citizens, so even though they are elected, a truly representative government doesn't really exist.

 

Another modern version of democracy is called "democratic centralism," a term made famous by Vladimir Ulyinov Lenin. As the leader of the Russian Revolution in 1917, he established a communist government that allowed no private property to exist. All members of society were theoretically equal. However, Lenin considered a small "vanguard of the revolution" necessary to guide the people and establish order. So a small group of leaders make decisions in the name of the people, based on their perceptions of what the people want and need.

 

Democracies have come in many shapes and sizes as reflected by the different answers to questions of how, when, and to which people power is given. And although it is not mentioned in the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution, democracy clearly links to "rule of law" to form a basic principle that profoundly shapes American government.

 

http://www.ushistory.org/gov/1c.asp

 

 

 

 

Source 2

Federalist No. 68: The Mode of Electing the President (Primary Source)

by Alexander Hamilton

 

 

The Mode of Electing the President

From the New York Packet

Friday, March 14, 1788.

Author: Alexander Hamilton

 

To the People of the State of New York:

 

The mode of appointment of the Chief Magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure, or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents. The most plausible of these, who has appeared in print, has even deigned to admit that the election of the President is pretty well guarded. I venture somewhat further, and hesitate not to affirm, that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages, the union of which was to be wished for.

 

It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided. This end will be answered by committing the right of making it, not to any pre-established body, but to men chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture.

 

It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.

 

It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.

 

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union? But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention. They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment. And they have excluded from eligibility to this trust, all those who from situation might be suspected of too great devotion to the President in office. No senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States, can be of the numbers of the electors. Thus without corrupting the body of the people, the immediate agents in the election will at least enter upon the task free from any sinister bias. Their transient existence, and their detached situation, already taken notice of, afford a satisfactory prospect of their continuing so, to the conclusion of it. The business of corruption, when it is to embrace so considerable a number of men, requires time as well as means. Nor would it be found easy suddenly to embark them, dispersed as they would be over thirteen States, in any combinations founded upon motives, which though they could not properly be denominated corrupt, might yet be of a nature to mislead them from their duty.

 

Another and no less important desideratum was, that the Executive should be independent for his continuance in office on all but the people themselves. He might otherwise be tempted to sacrifice his duty to his complaisance for those whose favor was necessary to the duration of his official consequence. This advantage will also be secured, by making his re-election to depend on a special body of representatives, deputed by the society for the single purpose of making the important choice.

 

All these advantages will happily combine in the plan devised by the convention; which is, that the people of each State shall choose a number of persons as electors, equal to the number of senators and representatives of such State in the national government, who shall assemble within the State, and vote for some fit person as President. Their votes, thus given, are to be transmitted to the seat of the national government, and the person who may happen to have a majority of the whole number of votes will be the President. But as a majority of the votes might not always happen to centre in one man, and as it might be unsafe to permit less than a majority to be conclusive, it is provided that, in such a contingency, the House of Representatives shall select out of the candidates who shall have the five highest number of votes, the man who in their opinion may be best qualified for the office.

 

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. And this will be thought no inconsiderable recommendation of the Constitution, by those who are able to estimate the share which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration. Though we cannot acquiesce in the political heresy of the poet who says: "For forms of government let fools contest That which is best administered is best," yet we may safely pronounce, that the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.

 

The Vice-President is to be chosen in the same manner with the President; with this difference, that the Senate is to do, in respect to the former, what is to be done by the House of Representatives, in respect to the latter.

 

The appointment of an extraordinary person, as Vice-President, has been objected to as superfluous, if not mischievous. It has been alleged, that it would have been preferable to have authorized the Senate to elect out of their own body an officer answering that description. But two considerations seem to justify the ideas of the convention in this respect. One is, that to secure at all times the possibility of a definite resolution of the body, it is necessary that the President should have only a casting vote. And to take the senator of any State from his seat as senator, to place him in that of President of the Senate, would be to exchange, in regard to the State from which he came, a constant for a contingent vote. The other consideration is, that as the Vice-President may occasionally become a substitute for the President, in the supreme executive magistracy, all the reasons which recommend the mode of election prescribed for the one, apply with great if not with equal force to the manner of appointing the other. It is remarkable that in this, as in most other instances, the objection which is made would lie against the constitution of this State. We have a Lieutenant-Governor, chosen by the people at large, who presides in the Senate, and is the constitutional substitute for the Governor, in casualties similar to those which would authorize the Vice-President to exercise the authorities and discharge the duties of the President.

 

PUBLIUS.

 

https://www.congress.gov/resources/display/content/The+Federalist+Papers#TheFederalistPapers-68

 

 

 

Source 3

Electoral Vote vs. Popular Vote (excerpt) (Secondary Source)

 

In a presidential election, the popular vote simply means an aggregate of all voters from all states in America. The candidate who gets the most votes nationwide is said to have won the popular vote. But the winner of the popular vote may end up losing the election, like Al Gore did in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney won 48% of the popular vote but only 38% of the electoral vote.

 

This is because although Americans vote directly for their chosen candidate in the presidential election every 4 years, the president is elected by the institution called the Electoral College. This article explains the difference between the electoral vote and the popular vote, i.e., how the Electoral College system works.

 

ElectoralCollegevs.PopularVote_Source3_Image1.png

 

 

The Electoral College

 

There are 538 total electors in the Electoral College, who are chosen by each state of the United States and by the District of Columbia (but not by other territories like Puerto Rico). The number of electors for a state is based upon the voting membership of that state in Congress, i.e. the number of representatives in the House plus the number of senators. There are a total of 435 Representatives and 100 Senators in Congress; so along with 3 electors from the District of Columbia that brings the total number of electors to 538. A presidential candidate needs 270 (just over 50%) electoral votes to win.

 

Here is a list of the number of electoral votes for each state:

ElectoralCollegevs.PopularVote_Source3_Image2.png

 

 

How Electoral Votes are Awarded

 

In all states except Nebraska and Maine, electors are awarded on a winner-take-all basis. This means all electors/delegates in a state are awarded to the winner of the popular vote in that state. So in a closely contested election like 2000 (Bush v. Gore), when George Bush won Florida with a roughly 50-50% split of the popular vote in that state, he won all 27 electoral votes for Florida.

Maine and Nebraska use a slightly different method for allocating electoral votes. In the "Congressional District Method", one elector within each congressional district is selected by popular vote in that district. The remaining two electors (representing the 2 U.S. Senate seats) are selected by the statewide popular vote. This method has been used in Nebraska since 1996 and in Maine since 1972.

 

 

Disadvantages of the Electoral College

 

Critics of the system that uses the electoral vote to choose a president argue that the system is unfair. They say that the system is undemocratic because the number of electoral votes is not directly proportional to the population of the state. This gives smaller states a disproportionate influence in presidential elections. For example, Hawaii has a population of only 1.36 million but has 4 electoral votes while Oregon has a population 3 times that size (3.8 million) but only 7 electoral votes. If the power of a single vote were calculated in terms of number of people per electoral vote, states like New York (519,000 people per electoral vote) and California (508,000 people per electoral vote) would lose. The winners would be states like Wyoming (143,000 people per electoral vote) and North Dakota (174,000 people per electoral vote).

 

Another criticism is that the electoral vote system does not penalize a state for low voter turnout or for disenfranchising its citizens (such as convicted felons, or, historically, slaves and women) The state gets the same number of votes regardless of whether voter turnout is 40% or 60%. In a popular vote, states with higher turnout will directly increase their influence in the outcome of the presidential race.

 

Yet another criticism is that it discourages voters in states where one party holds a substantial majority, i.e. Republicans in typically blue states like California or Democrats in red states like Texas. Since electoral votes are awarded on a winner-take-all basis, even a significant minority of contrarian votes will not make any impact on the outcome of the election. On the other hand, if a popular vote were to be used then every single vote has an impact.

 

 

Advantages of the Electoral Vote over a Popular Vote

 

Supporters of using the electoral vote argue that it protects the rights of smaller states and is a cornerstone of American federalism. States can design their own mechanism -- without federal involvement -- for choosing their electors.

 

Another advantage is that the impact of any state-level problems, such as fraud, is localized. No political party can commit large-scale fraud in any one state to dramatically influence an election.

 

It should be noted that the Electoral College merely follows from state influence in Congress, which enacts laws and acts as an inherent checks-and-balances mechanism for the president's administration. That is to say representation for various states in Congress is also not directly proportional to their population.

 

http://www.diffen.com/difference/Electoral_Vote_vs_Popular_Vote

 

 

 

Source 4

The Reason for the Electoral College (Secondary Source)

by Joe Miller

February 11, 2008

 

 

Q: Why does the U.S. have an Electoral College?

A: The framers of the Constitution didn't trust direct democracy.

 

Full Question:

Why does the United States have an Electoral College when it would be so easy to directly elect a president, as we do for all the other political offices?

 

Full Answer:

When U.S. citizens go to the polls to "elect" a president, they are in fact voting for a particular slate of electors. In every state but Maine and Nebraska, the candidate who wins the most votes (that is, a plurality) in the state receives all of the state's electoral votes. The number of electors in each state is the sum of its U.S. senators and its U.S. representatives. (The District of Columbia has three electoral votes, which is the number of senators and representatives it would have if it were permitted representation in Congress.) The electors meet in their respective states 41 days after the popular election. There, they cast a ballot for president and a second for vice president. A candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes to be elected president.

 

The reason that the Constitution calls for this extra layer, rather than just providing for the direct election of the president, is that most of the nation's founders were actually rather afraid of democracy. James Madison worried about what he called "factions," which he defined as groups of citizens who have a common interest in some proposal that would either violate the rights of other citizens or would harm the nation as a whole. Madison's fear – which Alexis de Tocqueville later dubbed "the tyranny of the majority" – was that a faction could grow to encompass more than 50 percent of the population, at which point it could "sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens." Madison had a solution for tyranny of the majority: "A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking."

 

As Alexander Hamilton writes in "The Federalist Papers," the Constitution is designed to ensure "that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications." The point of the Electoral College is to preserve "the sense of the people," while at the same time ensuring that a president is chosen "by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice."

 

In modern practice, the Electoral College is mostly a formality. Most electors are loyal members of the party that has selected them, and in 26 states, plus Washington, D.C., electors are bound by laws or party pledges to vote in accord with the popular vote. Although an elector could, in principle, change his or her vote (and a few actually have over the years), doing so is rare.

As the 2000 election reminded us, the Electoral College does make it possible for a candidate to win the popular vote and still not become president. But that is less a product of the Electoral College and more a product of the way states apportion electors. In every state but Maine and Nebraska, electors are awarded on a winner-take-all basis. So if a candidate wins a state by even a narrow margin, he or she wins all of the state's electoral votes. The winner-take-all system is not federally mandated; states are free to allocate their electoral votes as they wish.

 

The Electoral College was not the only Constitutional limitation on direct democracy, though we have discarded most of those limitations. Senators were initially to be appointed by state legislatures, and states were permitted to ban women from voting entirely. Slaves got an even worse deal, as a slave officially was counted as just three-fifths of a person. The 14th Amendment abolished the three-fifths rule and granted (male) former slaves the right to vote. The 17th Amendment made senators subject to direct election, and the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.

 

http://www.factcheck.org/2008/02/the-reason-for-the-electoral-college/

 

 

 

Rubric:

ElectoralCollegevs.PopularVote_XP_Rubric_image_2017-10-19_Page_1.png

 

 

 

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