By LOUISE RISCALLA
Published September 3rd 2008 in Scarlet Scuttlebutt, NJ
The Electoral College was created at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Direct popular elections were excluded because it was physically difficult to conduct a popular vote in the 18th century. There was no nominating system, and political parties did not exist in 1787. At the time, only adult white male landowners were eligible to vote. There was a fear that direct popular-vote elections would encourage state governments to allow unsuitable voters in order to maximize the states' influence in presidential politics. The Electoral College was first written into federal law in 1845 to designate citizens who were selected to vote for president and vice president.
The Electoral College consists of 538 electors. Each state has a number of electors equal to the number of senators and representatives in Congress. The District of Columbia is given the number of electors equal to that held by the smallest states. According to the U.S. Constitution, each state has the authority to nominate and choose its electors. The popular vote in each state is used to appoint electors. Each elector casts one vote for president and one vote for vice president. A candidate must have a 270-vote majority of the Electoral College in order to be elected; if not, the choice for president is made by the House of Representatives. If a candidate for vice president does not receive a 270-vote majority of the electoral votes, the Senate makes the choice.
The national popular vote is not significant in determining the outcome of an election. It doesn't matter how many people turn out to vote, because the Electoral College eliminates any advantage a political party has in encouraging voter turnout. Under the current system, it seems that candidates campaign to maximize electoral votes rather than the national popular vote. If the presidential election were decided by popular vote, there would be a strong incentive to work at increasing voter turnout.
An individual under the present system can be elected president based on the Electoral College even though the opponent receives the majority of popular votes. For instance, George W. Bush was elected president in 2000 due to the electoral votes, yet Al Gore received the majority of popular votes.
Harry Siegel, on Politico.com, speculated on June 18 that in the 2008 election, the candidate who receives the most nationwide popular votes might not become president.
The concept of electing a president directly by the popular vote has been the basis of a desire to reform the system. For instance, the "Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote," also known as the Amar Plan, is an interstate compact whereby individual states agree to give their electors to the winner of the national popular vote. New Jersey joined the compact on Jan. 13. According to the 1968 Electoral College results, the closest the United States has ever come to abolishing the Electoral College happened during the 91st Congress.
Rep. Emanuel Celler, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, introduced House Joint Resolution 681, which was an amendment to the Constitution that would have abolished the Electoral College. After much debate, the amendment died when the 91st Congress ended on Jan. 3, 1971.
The Electoral College system of electing a president and vice president is rooted in a history of prejudice, is obsolete, undemocratic, and should be abolished.
Times have changed since the origin of the Electoral College. Today there are political parties. Civil rights movements have largely contributed to making all citizens eligible to vote. Every citizen is entitled to vote. The majority of votes should determine the president and vice president of the United States. Each citizen's vote would really be counted, which is the fair and democratic way.
"Be Counted" columnist Louise Riscalla is a resident of Edison. "Be Counted" columnists are members of the public. Their opinions are not those of the Home News Tribune.