problem is not the Electoral College
Meredith Miller Hoar '03
To the Bowdoin Community:
Last week's opinion article by Edward Bair, in addition to
many recent comments around campus and in the media, expressed a desire
to dismantle the time-honored Electoral College. I feel compelled to use
this space to offer a different perspective on the method of electing
the President of the United States.
I believe that the current Electoral College system offers
many advantages over a popular vote. In our republic, a citizen who resides
in a state with low population deserves just as much representation as
a citizen in a city. Though at first glance it may seem that a popular
vote would grant an equal voice to each, in fact, it would eliminate it.
Population centers would grab nearly all the consideration, as the number
of popular votes in the farmlands of the country is measly compared to
someplace like Boston. Why would a candidate bother with states with low
populations? Even if the state were hotly contested, it still wouldn't
really matter tactically. A small number of votes separating the two candidates
in that state, would be virtually erased as the votes were thrown in with
all the rest from all over the country. With candidates unconcerned about
the interests of the sparsely populated areas of the country, national
economic interests would be at risk and the country would splinter.
Without the Electoral College, who would care to campaign
in North Dakota? If this last election had been decided with a popular
vote, Bush would have stayed in areas like Texas and the South, and Gore
in the urban centers of the country. Each would have-as would be the tactically
intelligent thing to do under a popular vote system-simply attempted to
increase voter turnout where they stood to gain many votes and ignore
the areas they wouldn't yield many.
This nation is made up of a group of states with widely dissimilar
interests. Currently, a candidate has to attempt to appeal to as broad
a spectrum of these as he can in order to get elected. With a popular
vote, a candidate could simply create a message that would appeal to his
primary constituency in extremely targeted small areas and try for a large
volume of voters there. The Electoral College does reflect the relative
populations of states via the different number of electors granted each.
It does this in a manner that gives each state a distinct voice, one that
reflects its relative size but also makes sure no state is silenced, as
some would be under a popular vote. The Electoral College ensures that
candidates campaign to the entire country and safeguards the importance
of each state's voice, be it large or small.
Many blame the Electoral College for the current debacle in
Florida. However, a popular vote system would have had the current recounting
and potential legal battles that are isolated to a few areas now being
played out in most every county across the country. With such a tight
race popularly, a potential vote or two different in every county (even
those that went strongly one way or the other) could, together, change
the outcome of the election. Recount after recount of every ballot in
the entire country would have to ensue to ensure an accurate number, making
the process of electing a president too tedious and expensive for even
the most civic-minded among us. Additionally, the potential for fraud
would increase dramatically within such a structure.
I believe that the Electoral College could stand updating
in a few select areas. Regulations against faithless electors, levied
on a state level, could alleviate some reservations about the system,
though the actual occurrence of electors voting contrary to the will of
their state has been historically extremely low. Furthermore, I believe
that states that want to follow the lead of Nebraska and Maine and allow
the potential for splitting their electoral vote should be encouraged
to do so. It is imperative that these types of reforms occur on the state
level, however. Federal imposition of election regulations on states would
further diminish the too often overlooked identity of each state as different
from all other United States.
In the interest of full disclosure, I actually am one of those
curiosities on the Bowdoin campus: a Bush voter. (Thanks so much to last
week's editorial, which so graciously admitted that I am, as a Bush voter,
"not necessarily evil or stupid." I suppose that is about as rational
a message as one can expect on that topic at Bowdoin.) Convenient though
it may seem now, I have been a consistent proponent of the Electoral College,
even prior to November 7 when the conventional wisdom was that Bush would
win the popular vote but that the electoral vote was up for grabs. My
home state of Maryland, true to its consistently Democratic form, went
to Gore. Regardless, I prefer to cast my ballot in a state where I know
I won't end up in the majority, rather in one where I have some allegiance
to myhome, than as just one vote in an entire nation.
The Electoral College safeguards the interests of the country
by ensuring that the interests of all areas of the country are taken into
consideration as legitimate actors by the candidates. It serves the purpose
of fairly electing a President better than a popular vote would. The Electoral
College, save some potential changes on a state-by-state basis, was an
extremely intelligent mode of running elections when the Founding Fathers
established it, and it still is today.
Meredith Miller Hoar '03