Argument For and Against the Electoral College

 
Arguments in Favor of the EC:
 

  • It contributes to the political stability of the nation by encouraging a two-party system and discouraging the proliferation of splinter parties such as those that have plagued many European democracies. The winner-take-all system means that minor parties get few electoral votes, so a president who is the choice of the nation as a whole emerges.
     

 

  • The Electoral College, in recognizing a role for states in the selection of the president, reminds us of their importance in our federal system.
     
  • It enhances the status of minority interests.
     
  • The Electoral College encourages more person-to-person campaigning by candidates, as they spend time in both the big cities and smaller cities in battleground states.
     
  • In close, contested elections, recounts will usually be confined to a state or two, rather than an across-the-country recount that might be required if we had direct election of the president.
     
  • The Electoral College, with its typical winner-take-all allocation of votes, often turns a small percentage margin of victory into one that appears much larger, thus making the victory seem more conclusive and adding to the winner’s perceived legitimacy.
      
  • Finally, the electoral college system has worked. No election in this century has been decided in the House of Representatives. There is uncertainty over whether any other method would be an improvement and that an effort to change the system could lead to the dismantling of the federal system.

Arguments in Opposition to the EC:
 

  • Most Americans believe that the person who receives the most votes should become president. Direct election is seen as more consistent with democratic principles than is the Electoral College system.
     
  • The possibility that a candidate who wins the most popular votes could lose in the electoral college. As is explained above, this can happen primarily because the EC is structured to favor the small states. (See Paradoxical Presidential Election Outcomes for historical examples.)
     

 

  • The risk of “faithless” electors defecting from the candidate to whom they had pledged their vote.
     
  • If presidents were elected by direct popular vote, they would wage a campaign and advertise all across the nation, rather than (as they do in the Electoral College system) concentrating almost all of their time and effort in a handful of battleground states. The Electoral College system encourages candidates to pander to the interests of voters in a few closely contested states.
       
  • The possibility that voter turnout will be depressed (due to perceived concerns regarding the Electoral College itself and/or by the states’ winner-takes-all method).
      
  • Finally, there is the possibility that an election could be thrown into the House of Representatives. In such a case each state has a single vote, which gives the sparsely populated or small states equal weight with more populous states such as California or New York.