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Is the Electoral College Good or Bad for Democracy?

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There have been five times in U.S. history where the person who became president lost the popular vote, but won the electoral vote. And two of those times were just in the last 20 years.  This past electoral season, there has been a lot of chatter about the value of the Electoral College with critics asking: is it time to get rid of the this institution?

TEACHERS: Guide your students to practice civil discourse about current topics and get practice writing CER (claim, evidence, reasoning) responses. Explore lesson supports.

What is the Electoral College?
The Electoral College is the process we use to vote for our president here in America. When you go and cast your vote, you’re not really voting for the president, you’re actually voting for electors, who then go and vote for the president. There are a total of 538 electors. Each state (and the District of Columbia) gets at least three, and then the rest are based on the state’s population size, which is determined every 10 years by the U.S. census. In most states, it’s winner takes all. This means that the party that wins the state’s popular vote sends all of their electors to cast votes to elect the president. But there are two states, Nebraska and Maine, that divide up their electoral votes based on who won the popular vote in each congressional district.

Why does the U.S. have an Electoral College?
Back in 1787, the founding fathers met in Philadelphia at the constitutional convention to figure out the major laws for how the U.S. government was going to run. Out of that came the U.S. Constitution. One of the most hotly contested topics was how we elect our president. On the one hand you had the Federalists, who thought Congress should elect the president, and on the other you had those who thought the president should be elected by popular vote. But both were a little problematic. If Congress elected the president then Congress would have way too much power and be vulnerable to corruption. But if it was left up to purely the popular vote, there were fears about what would happen, considering there were a lot of people who couldn’t read or write and were uneducated. Their big compromise? The Electoral College.

Arguments for getting rid of the Electoral College
Many critics argue that the electoral college is outdated and doesn’t accurately represent the voice of the people. It’s the reason why people say votes in more populated states count less. People also argue that the Electoral College gives way too much power to people who live in swing states, and that the Electoral College makes it harder for third party candidates to win a presidential election.

Arguments for keeping the Electoral College
Supporters of this institution say that it is a fundamental part of America’s checks and balances on government power. They often say that the Electoral College is key to federalist philosophy — which divides power between the federal and state governments and helps avoid an overly strong central government. They also argue that this is the best way to ensure that politicians pay attention to the needs of people living in smaller, more rural states instead of only the most populated cities.


What is the electoral college? (National Archives and Records Administration)

Why was the electoral college created? (History.com)

The Electoral College Top 3 Pro and Cons (ProCon.org)

Opinion: Getting Rid of the Electoral College Isn’t Just About Trump (New York Times) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/21/opinion/electoral-college-warren-trump.html?module=inline

Opinion: A Case for the Electoral College (New York Times)

America Isn’t Really Set Up For Third-Party Presidential Bids (FiveThirtyEight) https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/america-isnt-really-set-up-for-third-party-presidential-bids/

If Electoral Votes Were Weighted by State Population Alone: Trump 303, Clinton 235 (270towin)

Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote (National Popular Vote)

Fuzzy Math: Wrong Way Reforms for Allocating Electoral Votes (FairVote) https://www.fairvote.org/fuzzy-math

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