The Electoral College needs to go, because it’s made our society less and less democratic.”

Pete Buttigieg, Politician

Pros and Cons of the Electoral College

advantages and disadvantages of electoral college vs. popular vote

The Electoral College is an organ that elects the president of the United States. When people vote, they don’t directly vote for the presidential candidate but rather vote for an elector in the respective state. In the next step, the electors who won the different states determine the next president of the United States.

Even though the concept of Electoral College has some advantages, it also implies serious problems. In this article, the pros and cons of the Electoral College are examined in detail.

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Advantages of the Electoral College

  1. Electoral College can be regarded as historical tradition
  2. President can be determined in the first ballot
  3. Election outcome will be known after just one day
  4. Also areas with low population density still have a certain influence
  5. Candidates don’t have to make efforts in states that are already lost
  6. Can avoid the fragmentation of the political system
  7. Preferences of smaller states are taken seriously
  8. Necessity for recounts would be more likely in a popular vote system
  9. Makes it harder for populists to enter the political landscape
  10. May reduce the overall costs of an election
  11. Bigger influence of minorities
  12. The concept of Electoral College may lead to social tensions
  13. General public is used to this concept
  14. Established processes around the Electoral College

Electoral College can be regarded as historical tradition

One important argument for the Electoral College is that it has a quite long tradition. In fact, the concept of Electoral College has already been introduced when the United States had been founded. Therefore, it was the will of the founding fathers that the election processes in this country should be done in that manner.

Hence, in respect for the founding fathers of the United States, proponents of the Electoral College often claim that this political construct should be maintained.

President can be determined in the first ballot

Another benefit of the Electoral College is that the president can usually be determined in the first ballot of an election. If there were many different parties, chances are that there would be no party that reaches over 50% of all votes and therefore, second ballots would become necessary. Those second ballots can lead to serious additional costs and are also quite time-consuming.

Therefore, the concept of Electoral College can help to avoid those second ballots and can also avoid the significant costs related to those second ballots. In turn, the money that can be saved in elections can be spent on other important projects which could benefit the general public.

Election outcome will be known after just one day

Since the concept of Electoral College is rather straightforward, it will also not take too long to determine the election outcome. Quite often, the election outcome will be known the day after the election has taken place and the general public will know who will be the next president quite soon.

In contrast, with a popular vote scheme instead of the Electoral College, it could take much longer and second ballots will also become much more likely, which in turn will also imply longer election processes and it will also take longer on average to determine who will become president.

Therefore, the political concept of Electoral College also keeps elections as short and efficient as possible.

Also areas with low population density still have a certain influence

In countries where the concept of popular votes is in place, every vote has an equal weight regarding the election outcome. However, this also means that regions with a quite low population density will almost have no influence on the election outcome at all since they only have far too few votes to make a real difference.

In contrast, with the Electoral College system, also people in regions with a quite low population density will have some influence since their votes will have a higher relative impact compared to states with high population density.

In turn, this also means that people who live in regions with a low population density can still make a significant difference for the outcome of elections, which can be considered to be a good thing since those people would be quite helpless and powerless otherwise.

Candidates don’t have to make efforts in states that are already lost

In the United States, there are many states which are strongly in the hand of either Democrats or Republicans. In those states, it doesn’t make too much sense for a candidate to try to convince the general public to change their minds since this will most likely never happen. Hence, candidates don’t have to waste their time in those states and could rather focus on swing states that they could actually win instead.

Thus, with the Electoral College system, political candidates can also use their time and their money much more efficiently since they do not have to try to convince people in states which are already lost.

Can avoid the fragmentation of the political system

With the electoral college system, it will also be almost impossible for other parties apart from Democrats and Republicans to enter the political landscape. This barrier to entry can be quite helpful since it can prevent the fragmentation of the political system. For instance, with a popular voting scheme instead of Electoral College, there might be many minor parties that get a low fraction of the votes.

In turn, the formation of the government would become much more complicated. Consequently, the concept of Electoral College is also designed to keep the political system as simple as possible.

Preferences of smaller states are taken seriously

Another upside of the Electoral College is that also the preferences of smaller states are taken quite seriously by candidates since the people in those states can often make a significant difference for the overall election outcome.

In contrast, with popular voting schemes instead of Electoral college, this would not be the case since regions with a low population density would have far less power and therefore, the preferences of those people would often be neglected by candidates.

Hence, the Electoral College is also especially important for people in regions with low population density since their wishes and preferences will be taken much more seriously compared to a state where the popular vote concept was in place.

Necessity for recounts would be more likely in a popular vote system

Due to the overall structure of the Electoral College voting system, the chances that recounts in elections become necessary is quite low. In contrast, if popular vote schemes were in place, the chances for recounts would increase.

These recounts are often quite expensive and time-consuming and therefore, they should be avoided whenever possible. Hence, in order to save time and money, the Electoral College system may also be preferred in terms of possible necessary recounts.

Makes it harder for populists to enter the political landscape

Since the Electoral College implies a significant barrier to entry for other parties to enter the political landscape, it can also be a valid tool to prevent populist and extremist parties to get political power.

History has shown that extremism and populism in politics have never been a good thing and that those concepts can lead to serious adverse political outcomes.

Thus, in order to avoid the rise of those radical movements, the Electoral College may also be preferred over the popular voting scheme.

May reduce the overall costs of an election

The Electoral College can also be considered to be more cost-efficient compared to the popular vote concept. In countries where the popular vote concept is in place, there is often the need for second ballots. However, those second ballots imply significant costs since the votes have to be counted a second time.

Moreover, also people have to spend time voting a second time, which can also be considered to be a significant social cost for our society. Hence, also in terms of an overall costs perspective, the concept of Electoral College can make quite a lot of sense.

Bigger influence of minorities

Another benefit of Electoral College is that it gives minorities a bigger influence regarding the outcomes of elections. While those minorities would have little to no voting power in popular vote systems, those minorities will have a much bigger power with the system of Electoral College, especially if many people of these minorities live in the same state.

Therefore, also the position of minorities may be strengthened with Electoral College to a certain extent, which can be crucial in order to give those minorities the feeling that they can actually make a difference in the political landscape.

General public is used to this concept

Since it has been in place for a long time, the general public is also quite used to the political concept of Electoral College. Many people simply don’t want to have any change to this system since they think that it worked properly until now. Therefore, Electoral College can also help to maintain traditions and not to change things that are already working.

Established processes around the Electoral College

Also the processes around the concept of Electoral College have been optimized over time. Politicians are used to focusing their campaigns around this concept and also the employees at polling stations are quite used to this concept.

Moreover, also the general public in the United States considers this kind of voting scheme as normal and many people may get confused if we switched from Electoral College to the popular vote system.

Hence, Electoral College can also be considered to be an efficient and established system that the general public is quite used to.

Disadvantages of the Electoral College

  1. Presidents don’t need the majority of votes to win an election
  2. Historical construct that may no longer be suitable today
  3. Too much focus on swing states
  4. Concept of Electoral College can be considered to be unfair
  5. Some voters have greater weight than others
  6. Flawed promises for voters in swing states
  7. Ongoing discussion regarding how many electors each state should have
  8. Preferences of the majority of the general public may not be represented
  9. People in some territories are not allowed to vote
  10. Low voter turnout
  11. People may get the feeling that their votes don’t matter
  12. Electors could possibly vote for the wrong party
  13. Huge barrier to entry for other political parties
  14. The concept of Electoral College may lead to social tensions

Presidents don’t need the majority of votes to win an election

Apart from the numerous crucial advantages of the Electoral College, there are also many problems related to it. One disadvantage of the Electoral College is that a candidate can become president without getting the majority of all votes. This is the case if a candidate wins many states in a rather close manner since if they win a state, they win all the electors in the respective state.

However, if a candidate becomes president without getting the majority of votes, this can be considered to be quite problematic and may not be accepted by the general public.

Historical construct that may no longer be suitable today

The Electoral College system can also be considered as a historical construct that initially made sense when it was introduced. However, in our nowadays society, it may not make too much sense anymore and sustaining systems solely due to their historical value may not be justifiable at all.

Therefore, opponents of the Electoral College scheme often claim that this concept is obsolete and that the US should switch to a popular vote scheme instead.

Too much focus on swing states

Another problem of Electoral College is that candidates may excessively focus on swing states in order to win elections. Quite often, large amounts of money are spent in these swing states in order to win important votes in those regions while other stares which cannot be won are neglected quite a lot.

Even though this may make sense for political candidates, it is not beneficial for the general public since many people will get a rather biased view on the political landscape and many people will also not get informed properly if the focus of political candidates lies too much on swing states.

Concept of Electoral College can be considered to be unfair

Opponents of the Electoral College system also often claim that this system is quite unfair. In fact, if a candidate can become president without getting the majority of all votes, this can be indeed be considered to be rather dodgy since the will of the general public will be neglected.

In turn, many people may not accept their president at all and may even start protests in order to show that they do not have respect for the political system anymore.

Some voters have greater weight than others

The concept of Electoral College also implies that the votes of some people will have a bigger influence on election outcomes than the votes of others. For instance, in the current Electoral College system, people in rural areas with low population density will have a higher impact on the outcome of elections compared to people who live in densely populated regions.

This is due to the fact that the ratio between electors and the number of people in the general public is higher in regions with low population density and therefore, the influence of every single individual on election outcomes is higher on average.

Flawed promises for voters in swing states

The current Electoral College scheme also gives politicians the incentive to make flawed promises to the general public in swing states. Quite often, candidates promise those people in swing states quite a lot and pretend that they will greatly improve the living conditions of the general public in those regions. However, after the elections, candidates will forget about those promises quite soon.

Hence, the general public in swing states will often get manipulated by promises of candidates which they will often not keep after they finally got elected.

Ongoing discussion regarding how many electors each state should have

Not only the system of Electoral College is rather questionable, also the question of how many electors each state should have is a quite controversial one.

Opponents of the Electoral College often claim that the current distribution of electors does not make too much sense and that the whole concept is subject to huge levels of discretion.

Hence, also the distribution of electors across states can be considered to be questionable in the current Electoral College scheme.

Preferences of the majority of the general public may not be represented

Another downside of the Electoral College is that the preferences of the general public may be neglected quite a lot. If candidates become president without getting the majority of votes, chances are that those presidents will do everything to keep their power and to benefit the people who elected them instead of making decisions that would benefit the general public.

Thus, this scheme may also lead to flawed incentives to benefit certain groups while neglecting the wishes of the general public at the same time.

People in some territories are not allowed to vote

The current Electoral College system is also rather questionable in the sense that some territories are not even able to vote at all. For instance, people in Guam are not allowed to take part in presidential elections.

This can be considered to be quite unfair and may also not be in line with the concept that everyone should be able to vote and have influence in the political system.

Low voter turnout

Electoral College may also lead to a state where people become increasingly frustrated and may therefore no longer want to participate in elections at all. In turn, the overall voter turnout may also be lower compared to a state with popular vote systems.

People may get the feeling that their votes don’t matter

People may also think that it does not make any sense to vote. In fact, in many states, it is quite clear from a historical perspective that a certain party will dominate in those states and therefore, people may no longer participate in elections since they think that their vote will not make any difference anyway.

In turn, also the political interest of people in those states may suffer quite a lot, which can be harmful in the long run.

Electors could possibly vote for the wrong party

In many states, electors are not even obliged to vote for a certain party. For instance, say that the state was won by an elector which is meant to vote for the Democrat party. This doesn’t mean that he or she has to vote for the Democrat party from a legal perspective. Hence, the elector could also decide to vote for the Republican presidential candidate instead.

Although this is quite rare, it could happen in theory and therefore, the whole system can be considered to be rather questionable.

Huge barrier to entry for other political parties

The Electoral College system also makes it quite hard for other parties to enter the pollical landscape. While this can help to protect the political system against radical movements, it also makes the whole system less democratic since smaller parties will never have a chance to make any political difference at all.

The concept of Electoral College may lead to social tensions

Many people may also simply not accept presidents that haven’t got the majority of the votes from the general public and may therefore protest against their president. In turn, this may lead to serious social conflicts.

Top 10 Electoral College Pros & Cons – Summary List

Electoral College ProsElectoral College Cons
Electoral College has a historic traditionElectoral College can be considered to be unfair
Can help minorities to get bigger influenceCandidates don’t need the majority of votes
President can be determined in the first ballotInterests of majority may not be represented
Election outcome can be disclosed soonIncentive to make flawed promises
Helps to prevent fragmentation of the systemLower voter turnout through Electoral College
Chances for necessary recounts will be lowerFeeling that the single vote doesn’t matter
Electoral College can reduce election costsBarrier to entry for other political parties
People are used to this conceptElectoral College may lead to social tensions
Established processes around electoral collegeMay no longer suitable in our nowadays age
Preferences of smaller states remain importantSome votes have greater weight than others

Does Electoral College Make Sense?

As we have seen from the previous discussion, there are many important advantages and disadvantages of the Electoral College. In my opinion, the concept of Electoral College is no longer suitable since it leads to flawed incentives for politicians and in my opinion, the candidate with the majority of votes should also always win an election.

Hence, switching from Electoral College to a popular vote scheme would be a good idea in my opinion.

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Electoral_College

https://www.archives.gov/electoral-college/about

https://history.house.gov/Institution/Electoral-College/Electoral-College/

About the author

My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.

As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.

After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.

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