‘Case of the Week’ 1 (NCFCA): Electoral College

Important Disclaimer: We pretty much just throw these together over the weekend, and don’t put a lot of work into them. Case of the Week cases are not subject to the same editorial process and stringent quality standards as the COG 2013 sourcebook, and are frequently contributed by non-COG authors. You may find material and sources in these cases that would not appear in the sourcebook. That said, we hope these cases will be useful to you; enjoy!

About the Author: Will King is a high school senior in NCFCA Region 9. He broke to outrounds in Team Policy at the 2013 NCFCA National Championship. Will is a COG author.

1AC: Abolish the Electoral College

By Will King

As far back as 1969, the American Bar Association acknowledged the broken system that is the Electoral College when it reported that “The electoral college method of electing a President of the United States is archaic, undemocratic, complex, ambiguous, indirect, and dangerous.” (http://books.google.com/books/about/Electing_the_President.html?id=vYhCAAAAIAAJ) We agree with the ABA that the electoral college is an anachronism that should no longer be used, which is why we stand Resolved: That Federal Election Law should be significantly reformed in the United States.

The first thing we’ll address is some important background information about the electoral college, in:

Part 1: Definitions

The electoral college described itself as:

National Archives and Records Administration, static information page, “What is the Electoral College?”, http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/about.html

a process, not a place. The founding fathers established it in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens.

The Electoral College process consists of the selection of the electors, the meeting of the electors where they vote for President and Vice President, and the counting of the electoral votes by Congress.

The Electoral College consists of 538 electors. A majority of 270 electoral votes is required to elect the President. Your state’s entitled allotment of electors equals the number of members in its Congressional delegation: one for each member in the House of Representatives plus two for your Senators. Read more about the allocation of electoral votes.

[later, in the same context:]

The presidential election is held every four years on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. You help choose your state’s electors when you vote for President because when you vote for your candidate you are actually voting for your candidate’s electors.

Most states have a “winner-take-all” system that awards all electors to the winning presidential candidate.”

Now that we’ve seen what the Electoral College is, I’d like to establish a goal for today’s round, in:

Part 2: Goal and Criteria

All policies should aim for a goal, and so in this policy debate it makes sense to have a goal that both teams should try to uphold. The goal that we propose is that of democracy. America is a representative democracy, which means that our country was founded on the principle that we should elect our leaders through a democratic process. Now, of course, nothing is perfect, and democracy is no exception, but we agree with Winston Churchill’s remark that: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

Because democracy is ultimately the best way to select our representatives, we urge you to evaluate this round’s arguments in light of this goal and vote for the team that best upholds it.

Establishing a goal begs the question of how to achieve it, which is what we’ll look at next in the two criteria.

The first criterion is that of equal representation.

In his book, published in 2005, Distinguished Professor of Political Science George C. Edwards observed that:

Prof. George C. Edwards (PhD, distinguished professor of political science at Texas A&M University), 2005, “Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America”, Yale University Press, http://books.google.com/books?id=NyegUKwXX4EC

“Political equality lies at the core of democratic theory. Robert Dahl, the leading democratic theorist, includes equality in voting as a central standard for a democratic process: ‘every member must have an equal and effective opportunity to vote, and all votes must be counted as equal.’ A constitution for democratic government, he adds, ‘must be in conformity with one elementary principle: that all members are to be treated (under the constitution) as if they were equally qualified to participate in the process of making decisions about the policies the association will pursue. Whatever may be the case on other matters, then, in governing this association all members are to be considered politically equal.'”

In order to have democracy, one person’s vote cannot count more than another’s. We may be unequal in many regards, but the Constitution established the democratic principle that we are all equal under the law.

The second criterion is that of majority rule.

The concept of majority rule is simple enough, but in practice it is fraught with difficulties. Many of the founding fathers expressed a distrust of the majority and feared that majority rule would quickly become majority tyranny. In order to prevent this, they established numerous safeguards, including the Bill of Rights, that would prevent a majority from destroying the rights of a minority.

However, at times this sentiment can seem at odds with the principles of majority rule that the founders set up. They called for a majority in the Electoral College and a majority when electing other federal officials. This apparent contradiction formed the heart of what we now know as a representative democracy. The founders knew that policies should never be decided by a pure majority, for that would lead to the degradation of the rights of the minority. However, in selecting leaders, it clearly makes no sense to elect the candidate who receives less votes than his or her opponent! It is only common sense that the candidate who has the approval of the majority of the nation deserves to win the presidency. In this way, democracy requires a majority rule where elections are concerned.

Unfortunately, the current system violates both of these criteria. We can see this in the two harms.

Part 3: Harms

Harm one is inequality.

Juris Doctor and Professor of Law Norman Williams explained in 2011 that:

Prof. Norman Williams (JD, professor of law and director of the Center for Law and Government at Willamette University), 2011, “Reforming the Electoral College: Federalism, Majoritarianism, and the Perils of Subconstitutional Change”, Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 100, http://georgetownlawjournal.org/files/2011/11/Williams.pdf

“Second, because each state receives two senatorial electors regardless of its population, less populous states receive more electors than a strict, population-based allocation would produce. Wyoming, for example, has three electors for its 563,626 residents (or one for every 187,900 residents in the state), while California has fifty-five electors for its over 37 million residents (or one for every 677,000 residents).

In essence, each elector has the same amount of voting power, but electors from different states represent different amounts of people. This means that if you live in Wyoming, your vote counts over 3 times as much as it would if you lived in California!

Harm two is minority rule.

Because 48 of the 50 states use a winner-take-all system, where the winner of the state’s vote gets all of that state’s electoral votes, the current system makes it possible for someone to win the presidency but not the majority of the popular vote. In fact, it is theoretically possible to become president with a scant 22% of the popular vote. (Do the math – or let CGPGrey do it for you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wC42HgLA4k; skip to 4:19.) This is obviously an extreme hypothetical, but in 57 presidential elections, there have been four instances where the minority of voters won the election.

The National Popular Vote organization published a report in 2008 that noted that:

National Popular Vote Press, 2008, “EVERY VOTE EQUAL: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote”, http://www.every-vote-equal.com/pdf/EveryVoteEqual_web.pdf

“Of the 55 presidential elections between 1789 and 2004, there have been four elections—approximately once every five decades—in which the candidate with the most popular votes nationwide did not win the Presidency (table 1.5).”

To solve these harms, we propose the following:

Part 4: Plan

…to be enacted and enforced immediately by any necessary bodies.

The mandate is simple: Abolish the Electoral College. The Constitution will be amended to allow for the direct popular vote of the US President.

This plan requires no additional funding beyond normal means, and we reserve the right to clarify it as needed.

Logically, abolishing the electoral college will put an end to the madness in the SQ, as we see in:

Part 5: Solvency & Advantages

Writes Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins in the National Civic Review in 2001,

Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins (president of the League of Women Voters), Summer 2001, “Who Should Elect the President?”, National Civic Review, volume 90, issue 2, page 173, http://www.uvm.edu/~dguber/POLS21/articles/jefferson.htm

“The president should be directly elected by the people he or she will represent, just as other federally elected officials are in this country. Direct election is the most representative system. It is the only system that guarantees the president will have received the most popular votes.”

In addition to the significant benefit of restoring democracy, abolishing the electoral college will result in a separate advantage, which is increased participation.

Because of the winner-take-all system, voters in states that are heavily biased towards one candidate are often discouraged from voting altogether, since they know that no matter how they vote, the leading candidate in their state will garner all the electoral votes. Abolishing the electoral college changes this and restores worth to millions of otherwise meaningless votes, thus encouraging participation in our electoral process.

In 1980, Richard Cebula, Professor of Finance, wrote with Dennis Murphy that:

Prof. Richard Cebula (professor of finance) and Dennis Murphy, 1980, “The Electoral College and voter participation rates: An exploratory note”, Public Choice, Vol. 35, No. 2, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30023793

“This brief exploratory Note argues that, in years of Presidential elections, these two phenomena are in fact highly related. In particular, it is argued that the existence of the Electoral College is a significant contributing force to voter apathy and hence to low voter participation rates during Presidential election years. [Later on, they conclude that:] Abolition of the present Electoral College system may not only lead to more voting, but, in particular, to more voting for alternative parties, and hence to more voting for alternative national policies, than presently takes place.

In 2007, PhD and JD Sanford Levinson asked this question:

Prof. Sanford Levinson (PhD from Harvard, JD from Stanford, professor of government at the University of Texas), 2007, “HOW THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION CONTRIBUTES TO THE DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT IN AMERICA”, Drake Law Review, 55 Drake L. Rev. 859

Are you comfortable with an Electoral College that, among other things, has regularly placed candidates in the White House who did not get a majority of the popular vote and, in two cases over the past fifty years (Kennedy and George W. Bush), who did not even come in first in that vote?

Our answer to this question is a strong no, and we hope that you are not comfortable with the current situation either. A vote for the affirmative team is a vote to repair this outdated system, a vote for democracy, and a vote that I strongly urge you to cast. Thank you.


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