Arguments for and against current Electoral College system
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Arguments against the current system
Unequal weight of voters
Supporters of direct election argue that it would give everyone an equally weighted vote, regardless of what state he or she lives in, and oppose giving disproportionately amplified voting power to voters in states with small populations. Under the current system, the vote of an individual living in a state with three electoral votes is proportionally more influential than the vote of an individual living in a state with a large number of electoral votes.
Essentially, the Electoral College ensures that candidates, particularly in recent elections, pay attention to key 'swing-states' (those states that are not firmly rooted in either the Republican or Democratic party). It equally assures that voters in states that are not believed to be competitive will be disregarded.
Losing the popular vote
In the presidential elections of 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000, the candidate who received a plurality of the popular vote did not become president. The 1824 election was eventually decided by Congress and thus distinct from the last three which were decided without. It has also been argued that the 1960 presidential election was lost by the candidate receiving the most popular votes.
Proponents of the system counter that the Electoral College requires candidates to garner more widespread support throughout the Union; a popular vote system could elect a person who wins by a large margin in a few states over another person who wins by small margins in most states. The latter candidate, the argument goes, appeals to a broader array of interests than the former and is less likely to be a demagogue or extremist. However, the Electoral College is not guaranteed to favor the latter candidate in that scenario. In fact, given the 2000 allocation of electors, a candidate could win with the support of just the 11 largest states.
Given the electoral college, there is no legal significance to the national popular vote. Because combining the different statewide popular votes into a single national vote has no legal or statistical significance, both voters and campaigns may base their strategies around the existence of the Electoral College. Claims of the electoral college denying the popular will are, therefore, debatable. For example, voters in Massachusetts or Texas in 2004, as their respective states were sure to vote Democrat or Republican for President, were more likely to vote for a third party candidate, or not vote at all, since their vote for their preferred Democratic or Republican candidate was extremely unlikely to change the result. Conversely, a voter in Florida was more likely to vote Democrat or Republican, even if they favored a third-party candidate, because their vote was much more likely to make a difference. Similarly, in any close race, candidates campaign to maximize electoral votes, not to maximize national popular vote totals.
The effects of this phenomenon are somewhat known, but impossible to quantify in any close election, such as in 2000, when Al Gore had more of the cast votes than George W. Bush.
Focus on large swing states
Most states use a winner-take-all system, in which the candidate with the most votes in that state receives all of the state's electoral votes. This gives candidates an incentive to pay the most attention to states without a clear favorite, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. For example, California, Texas, and New York, in spite of having the largest populations, have in recent elections been considered safe for a particular party (Democratic for California & New York; Republican for Texas), and therefore candidates typically devote relatively few resources, in both time and money, to such states.
It is also theoretically possible to win the election by winning all of eleven states and disregarding the rest of the country. If one ticket were to take California (55 votes), Texas (34), New York (31), Florida (27) Illinois (21), Pennsylvania (21), Ohio (20), Michigan (17), Georgia (15), New Jersey (15), and North Carolina (15), that ticket would have 271 votes, which would be enough to win. (In theory, if a minimum number of voters were to vote in those eleven states, the other major ticket could have a landslide victory in the popular vote and still lose the election.) But such exercises are just that - exercises. There is no election in American history in which such an event has occurred or come close to occurring. In the close elections of 2000 and 2004, these eleven states gave 111 votes to Republican candidate George W. Bush and 160 votes to Democratic candidates Al Gore and John Kerry.
Proponents claim, however, that adoption of the popular vote would simply shift the disproportionate focus to large cities at the expense of rural areas. Candidates might also be inclined to campaign hardest in their base areas to maximize turnout among core supporters, and ignore more closely divided parts of the country. Whether such developments would be good or bad is a matter of normative political theory and political interests of the voters in question.
Favors less populous states
As well as to give more voting power to citizens of less populated states, the electoral college gives disproportionate power to those state interests as well. This can further correspond with national political control, since most states tend to go either Republican or Democrat, and the less populous states tending toward the former. Democrats often complain for this reason that the electoral college favors the Republican party, by boosting the electoral weight of Republican states.
Attempts have been made to prove the converse with a game theory analysis, using the Banzhaf Power Index (BPI) according to which, individual voters in California (highest electoral vote count) have approximately 3.3 times the individual power to choose a president as voters of Montana (Highest population with the minimum 3 electors).  However, Banzhaf's analysis has been critiqued as treating votes like coin-flips, and an empirical model of voting rather than a random voting model as used by Banzhaf brings results which do not favor larger states.
Disadvantage for third parties
Some proponents of proportional representation claim that, because third parties generally start as regional phenomena and because the Electoral College is a form of regional allocation, the Electoral College would enhance the power of third parties if electoral votes were allocated by proportional representation. Generally, the winner-take-all manner of allocating a state's delegates, coupled with the winner-take-all approach of the college itself, decreases the importance of minor parties. Of course, some winner-take-all approach is ultimately unavoidable in an election for an office to be filled by a single person. The states do not have to allocate votes on a winner-take-all approach, however. Therefore a winner-take-all approach is avoidable in an election for an office to be filled by a single person.
Arguments for the current system
Requires a distribution of popular support to win the Presidency
Proponents of the Electoral College argue that organizing votes by regions forces a candidate to seek popular support over a majority of the country. Since a candidate cannot count on winning the election based solely on a heavy concentration of votes in a few areas, the Electoral College avoids much of the sectionalism that has plagued other geographically large nations, such as China, India, the Soviet Union, and the Roman Empire. Electoral College opponents, however, argue that this regional system can dilute the overall will of the people in close elections by thwarting the candidate with the popular majority.
There are some examples of candidates winning elections without broad national support. For example, Lincoln won in 1860 without contesting a single southern state. On the other hand, in the elections of 1876 and 1888 Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison, respectively, both lost the popular vote but won in the electoral college. In each case, the victorious candidate demonstrated broader national support, losing the popular vote only because his opponent rolled up very large margins in a small number of southern states. Given that violence and fraud prevented many blacks and white Republicans from voting in Southern states in these elections, each could legitimately claim a broader popular mandate than their respective opponents. 
Maintains the federal character of the nation
The United States of America is a federal coalition; it consists of component states, each of which are joined in an alliance with what has, traditionally, been a small, state-controlled central government. Proponents of the current system argue that the collective opinion of even a small state merits attention not to be entirely overshadowed simply by a small portion of a very populous state. For many years early in the nation's history, up until the Jacksonian Era, most states appointed their electors by a vote of the state legislature, and proponents argue that, in the end, the election of the President must still come down to the decisions of each state, or the federal nature of the United States will give way to a single massive, centralized government.
Enhances status of minority groups
Far from decreasing the power of minority groups by depressing voter turnout, proponents argue that, by making the votes of a given state an all-or-nothing affair, minority groups can provide the critical edge that allows a candidate to win. This encourages candidates to court a wide variety of such minorities and special interests.
However, this does not apply to states like Maine and Nebraska that do not employ an all-or-nothing system for selecting their electors, though it does apply to individual electors.
Encourages stability through the two-party system
Many proponents of the electoral college see its negative effect on third parties as a good thing. They believe it protects the most powerful office in the country from control by what these proponents view as regional minorities until they can moderate their views to win broad, long-term support from across the entire nation. Critics of this argument disagree with the statement that emerging third parties are a bad thing.
Isolation of election problems
Some supporters of the Electoral College note that it isolates the impact of potential election fraud or other problems to the state where such occurs. The College prevents instances where a party dominant in one state may dishonestly inflate the votes for a candidate and thereby affect the election outcome. Recounts, for instance, occur only on a state-by-state basis, not nationwide. Similarly, the College acts to isolate less malicious election problems to the state in which they occur.
Maintains separation of powers
The Constitution separated government into three branches that check each other to minimize threats to liberty and encourage deliberation of governmental acts. Under the original framework, only members of the House of Representatives were directly elected by the people, with members of the Senate chosen by state legislatures, the President by the Electoral College, and the judiciary by the President and the Senate. The President was not directly elected in part due to fears that he could assert a national popular mandate that would undermine the legitimacy of the other branches, and potentially result in tyranny.
Death or unsuitability of a candidate
While it is common to think of the electoral votes as numbers, the college is in fact made up of real people (usually party regulars of the party whose candidate wins each state). If a candidate were to die or become in some other way unsuitable to serve as President or Vice President, these electors can choose a suitable replacement who would most likely come from the same party of the candidate who won the election. The time period of such a death or unsuitability that is covered extends from before election day (many states cannot change ballots at a late stage) until the day the electors vote, the first Monday after the second Wednesday of December.
In the presidential election of 1872, Democratic candidate Horace Greeley did in fact die before the meeting of the electoral college, resulting in Democratic disarray; the electors who were to have voted for Greeley split their votes across several candidates, including three votes cast for the deceased Greeley. However, President Ulysses S. Grant, the Republican incumbent, had already won an absolute majority of electors. Because it was the death of a losing candidate, there was therefore no pressure to agree on a replacement candidate. There has never been a case of a candidate of the winning party dying.
In the presidential election of 1912, after the Republicans had renominated President Taft and Vice-President Sherman, Sherman died shortly before the election, too late to change the names on the ballot, thus causing Sherman to be listed posthumously. That ticket finished third behind the Democrats (Woodrow Wilson) and the Progressives (Theodore Roosevelt), and the 8 electoral votes that Sherman would have received were cast for Nicholas M. Butler.
- ↑ A Minority President
- ↑ Hands Off the Electoral College by Rep. Ron Paul, MD, December 28, 2004
- ↑ Banzhaf Power Index by Mark Livingston, Department of Computer Science, University of North Carolina
- ↑ How Stuff Works: The Electoral College
- ↑ Enlightened Democracy
- ↑ The Electoral College: Bulwark Against Fraud