The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a majority opinion regarding "faithless electors" - or, in other words, electors who do not vote along the party lines in which they have pledged to vote. And in the presidential race of 2016, there was an unprecedented number of faithless electors who cast ballots. Five electors were faithless to the Democratic nominee, while only two were faithless to the Republican nominee.
Elector David Mulinix marked his ballot for Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016, and even said the Electoral College is "outdated," yet Mulinix's electoral vote still counted, while the state of Hawaii had never established a punishment for faithless electors. On July 6, 2020, a SCOTUS majority opinion written by Associate Justice Elena Kagan will now allow states to curb faithless electors.
Some Americans see the Electoral College as an archaic system that is no longer necessary in a 21st century America where the voting populace can instantly click a mouse and be piped in to the latest news feeds. After all, the framers chose an indirect method of electors to guard against the uninformed or uneducated voters. Alexander Hamilton said of the Electoral College that "it is not perfect, it is at least excellent," because it ensured "that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications." Ultimately, though, like the very recognizable slogan from Virginia Slims, "We've come a long way, baby!"
Some Americans would like to see our nation adopt plurality voting, but if the president-elect has won on a plurality basis, that candidate lacks a clear mandate of the people. A plurality is not equivalent to a majority of the vote, and a large mandate certainly lends more credibility to the presidency. In 2012, President Obama received 51.3 percent of the popular vote, but 61.7 percent of the electoral votes.
One argument I see as valid is the fact that the Electoral College gives too much power to the "swing states," and it is theoretically possible for a presidential candidate to become president by only winning the 11 swing states of California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, Georgia, and North Carolina. A president-elect emerging victoriously on Super Tuesday in November by only winning 22 percent of the vote does not sound like a very large mandate. This has never happened, and the chance of one candidate running away with all 11 swing states is highly unlikely due to the differences in regional voting trends.
Some have argued the Electoral College actually dilutes the will of the people, and when you consider that only 538 electors ballot for a candidate in a nation of over 300 million people, that argument sounds extremely valid. And there have been only five elections in over 200 years where the president-elect did not win enough popular votes, yet triumphed within the Electoral College.
In the final analysis, the Electoral College should be retained, as it is the guarantor that all areas of the country are involved in the selection of the president. Let us not ignore the concerns of the ranchers in rural North Dakota while the candidates pander to those who dwell in the Eastern megalopolis from Boston, Massachusetts, to Richmond, Virginia. And the Electoral College provides for a degree of certainty that precludes demands for run-off elections and recounts. Remember, Super Tuesday in 2000 was the exception, and not the norm.
Brent Been is a Tahlequah educator with an emphasis on civics and history.