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The Electoral College plays a very significant role in the United States’ presidential elections. It is the institution that determines who becomes the next president and vice president of the United States of America after every four years (Lipsitz 186). This implies that the United States’ president and his or her vice president never get directly elected by the voters.
The Electoral College is constituted by individuals who have been popularly elected to represent every state; they are referred to as electors (Burgan 17). The number of electors in each specific state is restricted by the number of Congressional members each specific state is allowed to have.
The Electoral College is an electoral system in the United States that was established through the Constitution of the United States; this was subsequently amended through the establishment of the 12th Amendment of the year 1804. Currently, the Electoral College is constituted by 538 electors each of whom has only one vote (Neale 2).
In order for a presidential candidate to win the elections, he or she must get a minimum of 270 of the votes from the members of the Electoral College (Belenky 100). If a candidate fails to get the 270 votes, the 12th Amendment is invoked so as to allow the House of Representatives to determine who become the president and vice president of the United States of America (Belenky 123). In this case, only a simple majority is required for a presidential candidate to win.
Nonetheless, it is important to note that there have only been two instances in which the House of Representatives has had to decide who becomes the president. The first one was in 1801 when Thomas Jefferson was elected as president by the House of Representatives; the second one was in 1825 when John Quincy Adams was also elected president by the House of Representatives (Belenky 149).
The Problems Facing the Electoral College
The Electoral College has been faulted on various grounds. Many political scholars have extensively researched and written on the challenges faced by the Electoral College. In this regard, this literature review will consider the problems that the Electoral College faces with respect to the elections of presidents and vice presidents in the United States of America.
Therefore, it is worth noting the Constitution of the United States provides for a presidential election to take place among states and not among individual citizens. As explained in the introduction, each state is assured of a number of representatives to vote on behalf of its members.
The Electoral College and Democracy
It is important to note that the United States of America is in the forefront promoting democratic governance not only within its borders, but also across the world.
In this regard, a number of scholars have examined the relevance of the Electoral College in promoting democracy in the elections of United States’ presidents and vice president. One of the scholars have presented two reasons he perceives as fostering the belief that the Electoral College system of presidential elections is undemocratic; the first is that it is fostered by the understanding democracy relates to what most voters need (Glenn 4).
According to the scholar, this contradicts the opinion of the founders of the Electoral College that “democratic” entails as much as conceivable popular consent with justice and the common good (Glenn 4). The second argument is that it is fostered by the belief that one-person-one-vote for presidential voting in every state is undemocratic since democracy means that there should be one-vote-one-value nationally (Glenn 4).
Many researchers contend that the Electoral College is one of the most criticized facets of presidential elections in the United States. In this case, it is argued that the rules used in determining a winner in the electoral college may be detrimental to the process of democracy.
In this respect, the rule requiring that a winner takes it all and the inevitability of winning a majority in the Electoral College perplexes many since it does not make the basis for elections based on popular voters’ decisions (Bugh 65; Oppenheimer and Edwards 231). In this case, the researchers have a common argument that the Electoral College does not allow for every American’s vote to count in determining who becomes the president.
This is because, as shown by Sanders (49), in some instances where a presidential candidate may get the majority of the popular votes but fails to garner the majority of the Electoral votes; conversely, a presidential candidate may fail to garner the majority of the popular votes but ends up becoming president by winning the majority of the Electoral College vote.
Therefore, it is clear that the foregoing researchers are in support of majoritarianism, which demands that the will of the majority prevails. The majoritarian theory is discussed in the next section.
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However, some supporters of the Electoral College system have hailed its existence with respect to the promotion of the popular will of the people. According to them, the Electoral College makes the popular election process fairer to the interests of the small states; the small states are considered as geographical minorities within the United States. In this case, they argue that the Electoral College elects the United States presidents by wider and more diverse interests than would elections done directly by voters nationally.
Some scholars argue that the Electoral College system produces presidents who are more likely govern the country for the general good of the people. With respect to this, they further argue that the Framers of the Constitution provided the Electoral College system with regard to the fact claim that democracy is not based on the sole perception that democracy can only be preserved by the will of the majority. Therefore, it is argued that the Electoral College represents an amalgamation of the will of the majority.
It is also argued that the Electoral College strengthens the popular choice of American presidents. According to the arguments, this happens by encouraging greater voter support to the ultimate presidential winner. Based on this, the implication is that this approach produces a more democratic outcome than the process of choosing presidents through a popular voting system.
The conclusion that can be drawn here is that the Electoral College system produces a stronger democratic system than the popular voting system; this greatly contrasts with the belief of scholars who think the Electoral System is a distortion of democracy.
Therefore, the existence of the differing perspectives of the Electoral College and its relationship with democracy point to the fact that there is still a need for further studies to determine the role the Electoral College in nurturing and promoting democratic presidential elections in the United States. This is because there seems to be a lack of consensus among political scholars as to whether the Electoral College promotes or thwarts democracy within the United States’ presidential election processes.
Political scientists have established many theories to explain the American democracy. One of the theories is the majoritarianism (Lijphart 141). However, the scientists provide a caveat that there no one single theory that can describe the American political aspects in totality. In this case, therefore, each theory can only describe or deal with a portion of American politics (Lijphart 149).
For the purposes of this review, the focus has intentionally been placed on the majoritarianism. Majoritarianism is the notion that collective decisions are made properly when they are a reflection of the will of the majority. Voting theorists argue that voting rules should satisfy the principles of majoritarianism. This is one of the reasons the Electoral College system has been criticized with respect to democratic presidential elections (Janda, Berry, Goldman and Hula 2008).
Even though the majoritarian theory assumes that the government’s responsiveness to popular demands comes through mass participation in a political process, the theory views the participation within a narrow scope. However, the theory favors conventional voting in elections (Janda, Berry, Goldman and Hula 2008).
This is because, according to proponents of the theory, majoritarianism solely rely on vote counting so as to determine the will of the majority with respect to specific issues, especially the presidential elections. This means that its bias towards political equality is strong (Janda, Berry, Goldman and Hula 2008).
However, it is worth noting that the majoritarianism has been faulted on various grounds. It has been criticized due to the fact that it has limited motivation; in this case, it does not allow resourceful individuals to exercise personal or private influence with respect to government actions (Janda, Berry, Goldman and Hula 2008). Besides, it has also been criticized on the grounds that it limits individual freedom since it focuses on voting as the primary means of mass participation.
This subsequently limits the scope of the conservative political behavior by describing the political actions that can be regarded as logical and suitable. This means that even if a decision may be wrong, the mere fact that the majority voted for it necessitates that the decision is adopted or considered the most appropriate. Critics argue that this may not be good for a country (Janda, Berry, Goldman and Hula 2008).
The Electoral College and Political Equality
Political equality is one of the grounds on which the Electoral College has been criticized. In this case, the main focus has been placed on rights and equality to participate in the political process of electing a president of the United States. Many researchers have reported that the main concerns of political campaigns by presidential candidates are the states that are considered as “battlegrounds” which are states in which candidates of the major parties have high chances of winning (Bond and Smith 345).
The distribution of electoral votes has also been seen as a problem with a significant challenge to the credibility of the Electoral College. Pundits argue that the Electoral College tends to favor the small states. It is argued that the total number of electors received by each state is determined by the number of representatives in both the House and Senate. In this regard, it is generally perceived that the small states are favored, to some extent, due to their statuses as states (Bond and Smith 347).
However, another scholar has argued that since the total number of electors for each state is a combination of the Senate and House representation numbers, the imbalance arising between large and small states is not as extensive as as it is in the Senate. In this case, the scholar argues that a small state with a population of about 600000 people has a similar representation as large states with, say, ten to twenty million (Bond and Smith 389).
Based on this argument, other researchers have noted that this kind of perceived favoritism suggests that some voters may be more important than others. It is noted that voters in the so called battle grounds receive more attention from presidential candidates relative to other voters; this scenario contradicts the commitment to political equality as defined by majoritarianism (Bugh 83).
In addition, there is another scholar who has argued that even in the states known as battlegrounds, the winner-take-all vote allocation is biased to those on the losing end. This means that the votes of those on the losing end do not count as far as determining who becomes the president of the United States is concerned; in other words, they can be described as wasted votes. The proponents of this argument suggest that there should be a proportional system of allocating electoral votes (Drachman and Langran 146).
Another study has revealed that the wasted votes have had the effect of low voter turnouts. This situation has been blamed on the Electoral College (Bugh 50). Researchers contend that the voter turnout in the United States has been lower than other Western democracies (Drachman and Langran 146). The argument in this case is that it is obvious that in more than half of the states where candidates are expected to win, voters have limited incentive to turn out and vote in a presidential election.
Another study shows that presidential candidates spend less time campaigning in those regions thereby reinforcing the claim of low voter turnout. Owing to the fact that the democratic theory places high value upon political participations, this scenario is viewed to be a setback brought about the existence of the Electoral College (Drachman and Langran 146).
Moreover, the other problem that faces the Electoral College revolves around the relationship between the Electoral College and the two-party system. In this respect, several researchers have collectively argued that the Electoral College has the propensity to promote the two major parties while attenuating the influence of third parties (Bugh 215).
In this case, the researchers have looked at the elections of 1992 where Ross Perot, a third-party candidate, garnered 19 per cent of the popular vote while not managing to get electoral votes to prove their argument (Bugh 215).
Furthermore, it has been considered that the “winner-takes-it-all” allocation of electoral vote has also had a significant contribution to the controversy affecting the Electoral College. According to a study, if the electoral votes were to be proportionately allocated, third parties would definitely be capable of receiving electoral votes, particularly in larger states where the threshold for securing electoral votes would be low (Bugh 228).
Another researcher has revealed that in the current system, third parties find themselves in a very difficult position (Bennet 27). This is based on other studies that have revealed that citizens worry about wasting their votes on parties and candidates who, for all intents and tenacity, have no chance of winning the elections.
The Risk of Faithless Electors
Sometimes the Electoral College has electors who, for reason or another, may decide to vote against their party designated candidate; these are the electors who are referred to as the “faithless electors.” Available literatures show that there has been 157 faithless electors since the Electoral College was established (Bennet 95).
A researcher has observed that the potential for malice on the basis of an elector’s faithlessness has far reaching implications; according to his argument, this may extend well beyond the possibility that the Electoral College may tie or otherwise fail ensuring the required majority (Bennet 95).
This means that an elector’s faithlessness could result in entirely decisive outcome in the Electoral College. This is because an elector may decide to vote for another candidate or otherwise abstain from casting his or her vote. Political scientists agree that this kind of a scenario makes the Electoral College system to be a complicated election process (Green and Coffey 17).
This is because, according to various researchers, it may lead to the election of a minority president, who might not have garnered the majority of popular votes (Green and Coffey 17). This has been viewed by many commentators as being unfair to the American democracy. Such commentators argue that besides being unfair, the faithlessness of some electors prevents the members of a concerned state from exercising the right to participate in electing the president of their choice (Green and Coffey 48).
The literature review process has pointed out a number of issues with regard to the problems facing the Electoral College. First, with respect to democracy, the outcome of the review process has revealed that there is no consensus among various scholars as regards whether the Electoral College promotes democracy or thwarts it. In this case, there are scholars who have argued that the Electoral College does not represent democracy in the United States.
These scholars have advanced the argument that the Electoral College system does not allow for the popular voting process to determine the president of the United States. In this case, they posit that the privilege has been given to the few who constitute the Electoral College. This has been seen to contradict the principles of majoritarianism, which is one of the prominent theories of democracies.
However, the review process has also revealed that other scholars consider the Electoral College system of election as representative of the will of the majority, which they consider as being in tune with the theory of democracy. This group of scholars argues that the electors are representatives who have been mandated by the people to represent them in the presidential election. This implies that the people exercise their democratic rights through their representatives.
In addition, the review process has also revealed that there are scholars who believe that the Electoral College system of presidential elections does not allow for political equality among the Americans. The review process has also revealed that the main concerns of political campaigns by presidential candidates are the states that are considered as “battlegrounds” which are states in which candidates of the major parties have chances of winning.
It is also clear that some researchers perceive the Electoral College as favoring the small states. There is also the problem of faithless electors who may not vote according to their party commitments; this has been seen as casting aspersion on the integrity of the Electoral College system.
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