Monday, November 23, 2020
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A Better Way to Elect the President

President Gore. President Romney. Both sound weird to hear, do they not? These two lost in their bids to become the leader of the free world. However, either one of these scenarios could have been a reality under different electoral methods in the United States.

Currently, presidential elections are decided by the “electors” of the Electoral College, a system established by the Constitution.

Every four years, the Electoral College comes under heavy scrutiny with calls for its abolition to be widespread. Abolition of the system would mean elections decided by national popular vote, which would have changed the outcomes of two elections this century. Al Gore would have been elected in 2000, and Hillary Clinton would have become the nation’s first female president in 2016.

This leads to another argument: the Electoral College prevents the most populous states from determining an election. My belief in this, however, does not mean I support completely abolishing the Electoral College.

What if I were to tell you that there was another method to determine who became president? Better yet, what if there were two alternative methods, none of which involve the abolition of the Electoral College? Other than our current method and the popular vote method, there are two other methods that can be implemented by making simple changes to the Electoral College: parliamentary elections and proportional popular vote.

Let’s start with parliamentary elections, which is essentially equivalent to how elections work in places like the United Kingdom, where the party that has a majority in parliament votes for their leader. Adjusting the Electoral College to be like the parliamentary system would require changing the amount of electoral votes to match the amount of seats in the House of Representatives, which is 435. 

Basically, whichever party wins the House of Representatives would also win the presidency. Implementing this system would not have changed much, as every election since 2000 would have turned out the same, with the exception of 2012, where Mitt Romney would have been elected over incumbent Barack Obama, with the GOP winning 226 seats to the Democrat’s 209.

Obviously, this system is not entirely feasible. It is indeed possible, as a version of it is used in Maine and Nebraska, but applying this system nationwide would completely shake up American politics. The main difference is that the reason parliament picks the leader in the parliamentary system is because the leader is a member of parliament themself. Going back to the previous example, Romney was the governor of Massachusetts, giving him more power over Obama. It would inevitably go against the idea of separation of power, with no one putting the president’s policies in check since they would always hold the majority in the legislature. 

This leads to the last option, and the best in my view: the proportional popular vote method. It is actually pretty simple: whatever percentage of votes a candidate gets in a state is the amount of whole number electoral votes they get. This method, however, would have led to two contingent elections this decade alone. The elections of 2000 and 2016 would have both been thrown to the House of Representatives, with George Bush and Donald Trump both still being elected, as their party won control of the House and controlled a majority of state delegations: 28-18 and 32-17 respectively.

So, why is the proportional method better? It more accurately represents the views of the country. A state like California has all of its electoral votes go to the Democratic Party since it is a Democratic stronghold. However, under proportional popular vote, 32% of those votes, or 21 electoral votes would have gone to Trump, meaning Republicans in California would have actually had their vote matter in the election. 

Despite the fact that the proportional method would have enabled Congress, not the Electoral College, to decide the election twice in the last 20 years, it is the only method that accurately highlights the political divisions and views in the United States. Trump would not have been able to claim he won in a landslide even though he did not. It also proves the tremendous impact that third party candidates can have, with the electoral votes won by them preventing any major candidate from reaching 270.

There is no doubt that our electoral system needs fixing. The fact that two presidents this century have been elected without winning the popular vote is absurd, but abolishing the Electoral College is not the answer. Especially given the political division in this country, getting rid of it would be extremely difficult. The proportional popular vote method is our best bet for giving the American people the voice they so badly deserve when it comes to electing their president.

Moh Samhouri is an Opinion Intern for the 2020 fall quarter. He can be reached at samhourm@uci.edu