CVD homepage
What's new?
Online library
Order materials
Get involved!
About CVD

Concerns With The Electoral College

Many observers believe the Electoral College introduces complications and potential problems into our political system. Several of these concerns are:

Disproportionate Voting Power Given to Different States

The Winner-Take-All Method of Distributing Electoral Votes

Unbound Electors

House of Representatives Can Choose the President

Enforcement of a Two Party System

Presidency Can Be Won Without a Majority of the Popular Vote

Disproportionate Voting Power Given to the States

The Electoral College gives disproportionate voting power to the states, favoring the smaller states with more Electoral votes per person.

For instance, each individual vote in Wyoming counts nearly four times as much in the Electoral College as each individual vote in Texas. This is because Wyoming has 3 Electoral votes for a population of 493,782 and Texas has 32 Electoral votes for a population of over 20 million people. By dividing the population by Electoral votes, we can see that Wyoming has an "Elector" for every 165,000 people and Texas has an "Elector" for every 652,000 people.

The small states were given additional power to prevent politicians from only focusing on issues which affect the larger states. The fear was that without this power, politicians would only focus on the big states and major cities.

Ironically enough though, there is a study that concludes that larger states are actually at an advantage in the Electoral College.  Larger states are said to be at an advantage themselves because of a greater voting potential.  To explain voting potential, imagine a hypothetical situation in which to candidates are exactly tied in a state and there is a single voter left.  When that last voter casts his/her vote, it has the potential to decide the winner in his/her state and the allocation of a huge mass of electoral votes.

For a history of the development of the Electoral College, see William C. Kimberling's essay, A Brief History of the Electoral College . Kimberling is the Deputy Director of the FEC's Office of Election Administration. This document provides a historical interpretation of the Electoral College.

Back To Top

The Winner-Take-All Method of Distributing Electoral Votes

The Electoral College favors the smaller states with disproportionate voting power. Advocates of the system say that this uneven power forces politicians to pay attention to smaller states, which would otherwise be ignored.

Despite its intentions, the Electoral College does not encourage politicians to campaign in every state.

Some states are still excluded from the campaign; these are not necessarily the small states, but rather they are the states that are not viewed as competitive.

Since the Electoral College allocates each state�s votes (except Maine and Nebraska) in a winner-take-all method, there is no reason for a candidate to campaign in a state that already favors them or their opponent.

As an example, Democratic candidates have little incentive to spend time in solidly Republican states, like Texas, even if many Democrats live there. Conversely, Republican candidates have little incentive to campaign in solidly Democratic states, like Massachusetts, especially when they know that states like Florida and Michigan are toss-ups.

The winner-take-all rule also leads to lower voter turnout in states where one party is dominant, because each individual vote will be overwhelmed by the majority and will not, in effect, "count" if the winner takes all the electoral votes.

Back To Top

Unbound Electors

In 21 states, electors are not obligated by law to vote for the candidate for whom they were selected.

In the 29 states where electors are obligated by law or pledge, they can often still vote against their party without being replaced. Some states issue only minimal fines as punishment. Other states instigate criminal charges varying from a simple misdemeanor to a 4th degree felony.

This inconsistency allows for discrepancies in our electoral system. The Electors from nearly half the states can vote however they wish, regardless of the popular will of the state.

In the founding of our nation, the Electoral College was established to prevent the people from making "uneducated" decisions. The founders feared the easily-swayed opinions of the public and designed the Electoral College as a protection from the easily-swayed public.

There is no reason, in this modern day, to assign this responsibility to a set of individual Electors. Thousands of votes can and have been violated by an individual Elector, choosing to act on his or her own behalf instead of on the behalf of the people.

Since the founding of the Electoral College, 156 Electors have not cast their votes for the candidates they were designated to represent.

Back To Top

House of Representatives Can Choose the President

It could happen that a third party or independent candidate receives the Electoral votes for an entire state or two candidates tie with 269 votes each. In these situations, the people of the United States lose the ability to select their president.

If no candidate receives a majority of the Electoral votes, the Presidential vote is deferred to the House of Representatives and the Vice Presidential vote is deferred to the Senate. This could easily lead to a purely partisan battle, instead of an attempt to discover which candidate the citizens really preferred.

If the Senate and the House of Representative reflect different majorities, meaning that they select members of opposing parties, the offices of President and Vice President could be greatly damaged. This potential opposition in the Presidential office would not be good for the stability of the country or the government.

In fact, our nation used to award the Vice Presidency to the Presidential candidate with the 2nd most votes. This practice was discontinued in 1804 when the government realized that having a President and Vice President with different political opinions created governance problems and could serve as a possible reason for toppling a President, thus giving another party control of the White House.

Back To Top

Enforcement of a Two Party System

Because of our two-party system, voters often find themselves voting for the "lesser of two evils," rather than a candidate they really feel would do the best job.  The Electoral College inadvertently reinforces this two party system, where third parties cannot enter the race without being tagged as �spoilers.�

Since most states distribute their Electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis, a smaller party has no chance to gain support without seeming to take this support from one of the major parties.

Few people will support a party that never wins, especially when they are supporting that party at the possible expense of their least favorite candidate taking power (as happened to Nader/Gore supporters in 2000 and Perot/Bush supporters in 1992).

Back To Top

Presidency Can Be Won Without a Majority of the Popular Vote

Since the Electoral College excludes candidates who do not win pluralities in any individual states from its total, a candidate can win the Electoral College without winning a majority of the popular vote of the nation.

This has happened 16 times since the founding of the Electoral College, most recently in 2000. In every one of these elections, more than half of the voters voted against the candidate who was elected.

With such a winner-take-all system, it is impossible to tell which candidate the people really prefer, especially in a close race.


Electoral College Table of Contents

top of page

Copyright � 2002 The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Ave. Suite 610 Takoma Park, MD 20912
(301) 270-4616 ____ [email protected]