Jason Vines: Cut out Electoral College

I believe a new presidential electoral system is in order. We need something that rewards candidates who have bold ideas, while drawing more voters into the process as well.

Therefore, I recommend we emulate the French.

Hear me out! The French have an excellent method by which to elect their president. It is a two-stage electoral process. In the first part, candidates from all the country’s parties can run. Candidates who mobilize partisans with daring policy agendas will perform best here. Afterwards, during the second stage runoff, the first- and second-place finishers of the first round compete. Whoever achieves a majority vote wins. This requires the candidates to make themselves as palatable toward the center as possible.

Consider the presidential election system we have today: Every state has a number of electors, equal to their amount of representatives and senators, who vote for the president of the United States. In most states, every elector goes to the candidate who achieves the most popular votes, regardless of his margin of victory. This means that presidential candidates have little reason to campaign to the whole country. If partisan or personal loyalty makes victory certain in a state, a candidate can safely ignore it in favor of other states. Conversely, if a candidate will definitely lose in a state, then he won’t waste his time there. Only competitive “battleground states” see much activity.

It also means that we have a smaller national voter turnout. If a state will assuredly support one candidate, why bother voting? Also, lack of vigorous campaigning in a state might contribute to voter apathy during an election.

With the winner-take-all plurality system, candidates try to attract moderate voters, so to avoid turning people off, they emphasize their personalities more than their policies. This results in bland, visionless candidates who take those traits into the White House.

Eliminating the Electoral College and implementing two-round, direct popular vote elections here would deliver many benefits. It would reward courageous candidates with striking ideas in the first stage, but it would weed out dangerous fanatics in the second stage. It would allow smaller parties to achieve greater prominence than they could achieve in a winner-take-all elector paradigm. It would give candidates reason to campaign to every American. And it would give each voter a larger role in determining the outcome of the election.

As a German friend also pointed out to me, “I don’t quite get it that in the U.S., votes for the Greens … are all lost, even help a candidate from the right to get into office (see 2000) – a second turn of the elections would allow Green supporters to vote for the Democrat.” This is an important point. The major parties would have to give smaller parties reasons to side with them. This would force the Democrats and Republicans to take other parties, such as Greens and Libertarians, seriously. This would make more Americans feel as if they play an important role in the republican process.

Many conservatives would object to the national scope of my reform plan. They’d correctly point out it would erode federalism. Because population centers – cities – would yield greater power, our executive branch might also shift to the left. Given the power of the presidency, this might produce a government similarly inclined to governments in Europe. That would be an anathema to conservatives.

To counteract the leftward effect, thereby placating conservatives, I suggest we repeal the 17th Amendment. Let the state legislatures elect senators again. Senators who don’t rely upon the people as an electoral base would be a lot more willing to challenge the president. Not only might the Senate be more conservative than the president, but they’d feel safer defying him since the people who put him in office wouldn’t be the same ones who put them in office. They wouldn’t have to worry as much about the president’s popularity.

In addition, with the people electing both the House of Representatives and the president under my plan, we’d need more checks against the tyranny of the majority. Election of federal senators by state legislatures would constitute such a check.

Though radical, this overhaul seems necessary.

-The writer is a senior majoring in political science.

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