Changing the Electoral College

by Marc Schulman

Over the years there have been many attempts to either change or eliminate the Electoral College. Over 700 proposals have been proposed in Congress to make a change. In 1987 a survey of lawyers showed that 67% of them supported the elimination of the college, while public opinions surveys have shown that the majority of American also support such a move. Despite this it seems that the majority of political scientists support the continuation of the system.

There are two ways of changing the system. The first a constitutional amendment, the second action at a state level. A constitutional amendment is seen as impossible to achieve. It would require 3/4 of the states to approve it and seems unlikely in these highly partisan times to expect the needed number of states to approve any change. The alternative change could take place at a state level. That change could be done in two different ways. The first would be to stop selecting the electors on a winner take all basis. That is the main distortion of the current system. Two states-Maine and Oklahoma have a modified system in which part of their electors are decided by congressional districts. To do this nationwide, would require all of the states to agree to make the change at the same time. Any partial action would help one side or another in an election and would be very hard to achieve. There does seem to be one viable proposal, and that is to get states to agree to direct their electors to vote for whoever wins the popular vote. The plan is called the Electoral College Pact. Already ten states plus the District of Columbia have enacted legislation to accomplish this. The plan automatically takes effect when states that together represent 270 electoral votes sign on. At the moment the states that have signed on represent 165 electoral votes. Until now, only blue states have signed on and it may take an election where a Republican wins the popular vote and not the electoral vote to happen to gain enough support for the plan, but this plan seems viable.

Recounts in Federal Elections