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Do Now #38: Should We Change the Way We Elect Our President?

| September 14, 2012 | 53 Comments
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photo by kristin_a/flickr


To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDEdspace and end it with #KQEDDoNow

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.


Do Now

When we vote for president in the U.S., we’re not actually voting directly for the candidate we select on the ballot. Instead, we’re voting for a group of “electors” who are part of something called the Electoral College, and they are the one’s who actually cast the final votes that decide who the next president and vice president will be. So, in the presidential election it’s not a one-person-one-vote system. Should we change that system so it’s more direct democracy, or should we leave it the way it is? Is there a better system, perhaps?


Introduction

Here’s a little factoid that I’m sure we’ve probably all learned at some point, but that never fails to confuse the crap out of a lot voters. As Americans, we actually DO NOT directly elect our presidents and vice presidents. I repeat, the U.S. president is not chosen through a one-person-one-vote system!

So, then how does a presidential candidate win a state’s electoral votes?

The presidential election is decided state by state. And for each state, it’s a winner-take-all system. So … that means that the candidate who receives the most popular (aka direct) votes in each state gets all of the electors from his/her party. The other candidates in the race, even if they lose the popular vote by a single vote, get no electors from that state at all. Nada. Squat.

Simply put, whichever presidential ticket gets the most popular votes in a state, wins all the electors in that state.

Why did our founders come up with this system (it’s in the Constitution, after all)? 

Two reasons:

a) They wanted to steer clear of the British parliamentary model, where the chief executive (prime minister) is chosen by the majority party of elected representatives.  The founders thought that it seemed a whole lot more democratic to appoint electors from each state than to have a system in which the president was elected by Congress.

b) It was as issue of old-school logistical problems: back in the day (like way, way back, before phones and trains and wheels – ok, they had wheels), long distance communication and travel was challenging to say the least. Voting for delegates at a local level was just easier and less vulnerable to corruption than was counting every person’s vote throughout the whole nation.

A candidate can win the presidency without winning the popular vote and it has happened three times in American history. The most recent occurrence was in the 2000 election, in which Al Gore won more popular votes but still lost the election to George W. Bush.

A more complete overview of the Electoral College can be viewed on KQED’s The Lowdown.

Resource

CGP Grey presents How the Electoral College Works – Nov. 11, 2012
How the Electoral College works in the modern world.
 


To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with@KQEDedspace and end it with #KQEDDoNow

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to tweet their personal opinions as well as support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets like memes or more extensive blog posts to represent their ideas. Of course, do as you can…and any contribution is most welcomed.


More Resources

Current segment AL Gore Calls for Popular Vote – Aug. 30, 2012
Former Vice President Al Gore and Current TV hosts Eliot Spitzer, Cenk Uygur, Jennifer Granholm and John Fugelsang talk about the disenfranchisement of American voters and the pros and cons of going to a popular vote as part of Current TV’s coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention.

RT America segment Electoral College Dropout – Nov. 3, 2011
Is the Electoral College still relevant? As a recent poll shows 62% of Americans think it’s not, RT Producer Adriana Usero hits the streets of DC to see what exactly people have to say.


Do Now

When we vote for president in the U.S., we’re not actually voting directly for the candidate we select on the ballot. Instead, we’re voting for a group of “electors” who are part of something called the Electoral College, and they are the one’s who actually cast the final votes that decide who the next president and vice president will be. So, in the presidential election it’s not a one-person-one-vote system. Should we change that system so it’s more direct democracy, or should we leave it the way it is? Is there a better system, perhaps?


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Category: Do Now

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About the Author ()

Matthew Green runs KQED’s News Education Project, a new online resource for educators and the general public to help explain the news. The project lives at kqed.org/lowdown.
  • Sariah mastromarino

    Yes. The way we vote for our presidents seems wrong and unfair to me.

  • Sariah mastromarino

    Yes. The way we vote for our presidents seems wrong and unfair to me.

  • hayley

    we probably should change the way we vote. If those who have been elected to make the decision for us have chosen against the people’s wishes 87 times then something definitely should be changed. That’s not representing the people.

  • hayley

    we probably should change the way we vote. If those who have been elected to make the decision for us have chosen against the people’s wishes 87 times then something definitely should be changed. That’s not representing the people.

  • Nicole Maureen Espina

    I believe we should change the way we vote because it basically means the people don’t really have a say, it’s just up to the 538 “important” people.

  • Nicole Maureen Espina

    I believe we should change the way we vote because it basically means the people don’t really have a say, it’s just up to the 538 “important” people.

  • Dayna

    I think we should change the way we vote for president.

  • Dayna

    I think we should change the way we vote for president.

  • Brooke

    Yes I think the way the president is not fair to Americans and should be changed.

    • http://education.kqed.org/edspace/ Matthew Williams

      How would you change the current voting system?

  • Brooke

    Yes I think the way the president is not fair to Americans and should be changed.

    • http://education.kqed.org/edspace/ Matthew Williams

      How would you change the current voting system?

  • Kyra Werstler

    I think we should change the way we vote for our presidents because it seems like not every single vote actually counts.

  • Kyra Werstler

    I think we should change the way we vote for our presidents because it seems like not every single vote actually counts.

  • Nadia Moneishedi

    I think we should change the way we vote for our president because it doesn’t seem fair the way it is now.

  • Nadia Moneishedi

    I think we should change the way we vote for our president because it doesn’t seem fair the way it is now.

  • Ingrid Souza

    We shoul change the way we vote for president. The electoral college dosent allow citizens to really choose for who they are voting for. So in truth when people are voting it dosent mean a thing. It’s up to the 538 people who really get a vote :(

  • Ingrid Souza

    We shoul change the way we vote for president. The electoral college dosent allow citizens to really choose for who they are voting for. So in truth when people are voting it dosent mean a thing. It’s up to the 538 people who really get a vote :(

  • Michael

    We count the votes anyway to get the percentage sent to electors so why not just let the peoples vote be the votes that are counted. Let the people make the choices not a bunch of people who only care about money.

  • Michael

    We count the votes anyway to get the percentage sent to electors so why not just let the peoples vote be the votes that are counted. Let the people make the choices not a bunch of people who only care about money.

  • Leah

    I think we should change the way we vote cause our vote doesn’t really matter if the
    electors will probably choose someone else

  • Leah

    I think we should change the way we vote cause our vote doesn’t really matter if the
    electors will probably choose someone else

  • Angel Alvarado-Dadin

    The way we elect are president is good as it is so far since we’ve been doing it like that for years and I don’t think it’s right to change the way we elect presidents because we got so used to doing it for the past few years. I think it’s fine the way it is and should not change it.

  • Angel Alvarado-Dadin

    The way we elect are president is good as it is so far since we’ve been doing it like that for years and I don’t think it’s right to change the way we elect presidents because we got so used to doing it for the past few years. I think it’s fine the way it is and should not change it.

  • Izzie

    We should change the way we vote for president to make it a more direct democracy rather than having electoral colleges. If the electoral colleges can vote for whoever they want then it isn’t really the whole country choosing the president. Each persons vote should go directly towards the president they want rather than voting for someone to vote for the president they want.

  • Izzie

    We should change the way we vote for president to make it a more direct democracy rather than having electoral colleges. If the electoral colleges can vote for whoever they want then it isn’t really the whole country choosing the president. Each persons vote should go directly towards the president they want rather than voting for someone to vote for the president they want.

  • Katie W.

    Personally, I think that we should abolish the electoral college system, or at least make drastic modifications. Tiny states are getting disproportionate representation as compared to the larger states. However, the tiny states will never give up the electoral college because then the candidates won’t focus on winning in the battleground and other small states because winning 1% of California, say, would be far greater an impact than three or four smaller states combined. The big states will get more attention and the smaller states will be partially ignored. As a political minority in California (republican) it’s frustrating to futilely vote and know it doesn’t matter all that much because the state will go blue anyway. Without the fickle electoral college, every vote will count equally.

  • Katie W.

    Personally, I think that we should abolish the electoral college system, or at least make drastic modifications. Tiny states are getting disproportionate representation as compared to the larger states. However, the tiny states will never give up the electoral college because then the candidates won’t focus on winning in the battleground and other small states because winning 1% of California, say, would be far greater an impact than three or four smaller states combined. The big states will get more attention and the smaller states will be partially ignored. As a political minority in California (republican) it’s frustrating to futilely vote and know it doesn’t matter all that much because the state will go blue anyway. Without the fickle electoral college, every vote will count equally.

  • Alice I

    I think the way the United States vote today should be changed. I think this because it only takes 537 people’s opinion and the last time I checked there were
    More people in the U.S.

  • Alice I

    I think the way the United States vote today should be changed. I think this because it only takes 537 people’s opinion and the last time I checked there were
    More people in the U.S.

  • Jefferson Valladares

    We should definitely change the way we vote for the president because hypothetically the people can vote got candidate A but the electors can vote for candidate B which isn’t fair because it is the people ego get to vote for president and not just 538 people. As well the territories should become a state because they ate technically property of the US and therefore are Americans and should vote for the president.

  • Jefferson Valladares

    We should definitely change the way we vote for the president because hypothetically the people can vote got candidate A but the electors can vote for candidate B which isn’t fair because it is the people ego get to vote for president and not just 538 people. As well the territories should become a state because they ate technically property of the US and therefore are Americans and should vote for the president.

  • Cameron langnefeld

    I think that the electors have a little too much power and say on who to vote for. This country was made and founded by the people. The people should be the ones to elect a leader. I think that the electors should only have to be used to break a tie in votes and to announce who the state that they are representing votes for. It needs to change a little.

  • Cameron langnefeld

    I think that the electors have a little too much power and say on who to vote for. This country was made and founded by the people. The people should be the ones to elect a leader. I think that the electors should only have to be used to break a tie in votes and to announce who the state that they are representing votes for. It needs to change a little.

  • Ross

    We should change the way we vote because the founders themselves knew that the thier work would not hold the test of time without changeing. Because of the new changes in technology it should change and that of a direct vote or something similar to that.

  • Ross

    We should change the way we vote because the founders themselves knew that the thier work would not hold the test of time without changeing. Because of the new changes in technology it should change and that of a direct vote or something similar to that.

  • Tia cummins

    I think this is quite fair but I feel like anyone should be able to vote other come out f the country. And I think it’s weird that the electors get to choose with a stronger vote than the actual people.

  • Tia cummins

    I think this is quite fair but I feel like anyone should be able to vote other come out f the country. And I think it’s weird that the electors get to choose with a stronger vote than the actual people.

  • jim

    We must remember that we are the United STATES of America. The electoral system is fair because it prevents one sector of the country from controling all the rest. That is why Wyoming, with our smallest population, has the same number of senators as California, our largest state. The house then gives the larger states a bigger share, so that the two offset each other. If we didn’t have the electoral system, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and the other large metropolitan areas would ALWAYS determine who the winners were. And what’s right for them is not always right for other parts of the country.

  • jim

    We must remember that we are the United STATES of America. The electoral system is fair because it prevents one sector of the country from controling all the rest. That is why Wyoming, with our smallest population, has the same number of senators as California, our largest state. The house then gives the larger states a bigger share, so that the two offset each other. If we didn’t have the electoral system, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and the other large metropolitan areas would ALWAYS determine who the winners were. And what’s right for them is not always right for other parts of the country.

  • Sara Schall

    The only thing that needs to be changed about the election process is the electoral college. Instead of trusting electors to vote for the majority, we should completely get rid of the electoral college and just have the majority vote count.

  • Sara Schall

    The only thing that needs to be changed about the election process is the electoral college. Instead of trusting electors to vote for the majority, we should completely get rid of the electoral college and just have the majority vote count.

  • Talesa

    @kqededspace yes we should change the voting system because half of the people’s votes does not coun.t So its like we as the people are voting for no reason when only a couple hundred votes really matter, and makes the decisions i dont think the way our presidental voting is fair.

    • Talesa

      #kqeddonow

  • Talesa

    @kqededspace yes we should change the voting system because half of the people’s votes does not coun.t So its like we as the people are voting for no reason when only a couple hundred votes really matter, and makes the decisions i dont think the way our presidental voting is fair.

    • Talesa

      #kqeddonow

  • Talesa

    @kqededspace yes we should change the voting system because half of the people’s votes does not coun.t So its like we as the people are voting for no reason when only a couple hundred votes really matter, and makes the decisions i dont think the way our presidental voting is fair. #kqeddonow #Mssully3

  • Talesa

    @kqededspace yes we should change the voting system because half of the people’s votes does not coun.t So its like we as the people are voting for no reason when only a couple hundred votes really matter, and makes the decisions i dont think the way our presidental voting is fair. #kqeddonow #Mssully3

  • Jamie

    We need to change the way we vote!!!! They say we have “freedom” but, at the end of the day, people don’t have a say! How do we change how we vote? What do we need to put together to get the job done?? I’m sure there are plenty of people that agree WE NEED CHANGE with the way we vote… our county is falling apart!

  • Jamie

    We need to change the way we vote!!!! They say we have “freedom” but, at the end of the day, people don’t have a say! How do we change how we vote? What do we need to put together to get the job done?? I’m sure there are plenty of people that agree WE NEED CHANGE with the way we vote… our county is falling apart!

  • Valerie Garton

    Since we’ve been doing it that way for so long, I don’t think it will be changed.

  • Valerie Garton

    Since we’ve been doing it that way for so long, I don’t think it will be changed.

  • Chiamaka O

    Chiamaka O.

    I believe that we should, in no way alter the working system of the electoral college. Similar to James Madison and the rest of the “Founding Fathers”, I too fear direct democracy. Direct democracy will disquiet the voice of the minority, which discourages the minority from participating in most, if not all, political events–such as voting. With this in mind, I do not propose a change in the functioning voting system that we already have. I find no fault in the electoral college, therefore I deem it unnecessary and inconvenient if any should consider changing it.