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Electoral College system gives small states a voice in U.S. presidential elections

But would it be better for states to go away from a winner-take-all system
Courtesy of MGN
Courtesy of MGN(WOWT)
Published: Nov. 4, 2020 at 11:45 AM MST
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) -The Electoral College was established in Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution. Each state has the same amount of “electors” in the Electoral College as it has representatives and senators in the United States Congress. Washington D.C. has three electors, so when voters go to the polls to vote they are actually casting ballots for their party’s slate of electors, rather than a presidential candidate.

“The electors for President (Donald) Trump and Vice President (Mike) Pence are chosen by the Idaho Republican Party," said Perri Gardner, who is an assistant professor of political science at the College of Southern Idaho. “The ones for (Joe) Biden and (Kamala) Harris are chosen by the Idaho Democratic Party.”

She also said electors are probably people in the community or at least people voters may know, such as important political figures in the parties or the state.

Gardner said one of the reasons the Electoral College was created was because under the Articles of Confederation, the Nation’s first Constitution, there was no executive branch to enforce the law or carry out the law, so when the framers wrote the Constitution, in Article II, they created the executive branch (presidential office), and they created the Electoral College to choose the head of that branch.

She said one of the advantages of the Electoral College compared to a national popular vote is that it gives small states like Idaho a voice during presidential election years.

“It allows small states with small populations to have a lot of power in the system,” Gardner said.

Idaho has four electoral votes and is a “winner-take-all” state, which means whoever gets the popular vote in the state gets all the electoral votes, but states like Maine and Nebraska are proportional.

“For example, say a state has 10 electors and one candidate got 40 percent of the vote, and the other candidate got 60 percent of the vote, then four electors would go to candidate A and six to candidate B,” Gardner said.

Idaho is traditionally a Republican “red state,” and Gardener said it might be beneficial for the Gem State to go to a proportional system because it would give a voice to voters who are not Republican.

“What we (Idaho) have is a lack of competitiveness, and when elections are competitive voter turnout is higher. People want to participate,” Gardner said. “It also means we are ignored by the presidential campaign. They don’t bother to campaign because they assume our votes are locked in from the get-go."

She also said one of the reasons some of the traditionally “red” and “blue” states don’t want to go to a proportional system is because the “winner-take-all” system to the advantage of the party in power.

“In California, instead of having 55 locked in votes for a Democrat, you probably have half and half, or close to that. It is not that polarized of a state honestly,” Gardner said. “It would be disadvantageous to the Democratic Party because they would lose that locked in 55 votes."

The college professor said another reason the framers went to an Electoral College system is because they had a mistrust for democracy, and they were worried voters would not be able to educate themselves about the candidates in a national election. However, those same principles could still hold true today with social media and misinformation.

Breahna Weibert, who is a high school student in Twin Falls but also takes courses at CSI, said she notices that a lot of the people she knows get a lot of incorrect information about politics off the internet and social media.

“I feel like nowadays most of it is from social media ... it’s all kind of backwoods knowledge, and they are not looking into it themselves,” Weibert said.

Gardner said throughout history there have been “faithless electors.” They are electors who voted against the wishes of the voters, but it is pretty rare today. However, there were a total of seven faithless electors in the 2016 Presidential Election. The professor said she does not see any electors being flipped on Election Day this time.

“The people who are chosen as electors are generally the most faithful people to the party in that state, and they are being rewarded with this special position of being an elector,” Gardner said.

She also said the idea of the Electoral College going away anytime soon for a popular vote system is unlikely.

“The boring answer is, the best answer I think is it’s a Constitutional Law. The Constitution is very hard to change,” Gardner said. “We haven’t had a constitutional amendment in this country since 1992, so they are rare. There have only been 27 total. Ten of them happened all at once in the Bill of Rights.”

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