Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Electoral College Discussed

In a nationally televised panel discussion from McNeir Auditorium Wednesday, political science experts debated the merits of the Electoral College and disagreed about what its future should be.

Following Georgetown government professor James Lengle’s opening remarks, each panelist was allowed to briefly state their position on the viability of the Electoral College. A debate ensued based on questions posed by moderator Lengle on a variety of issues surrounding the current electoral system.

Panelists responded both to the moderator’s questions and to each other’s arguments. Some of the issues discussed included the advantages and disadvantages of the Electoral College, the historical context of the debate, possible alterations of the existing procedures, the viability of nationwide direct election and the likelihood that the current system will be changed. Afterward, the panelists took questions from the audience.

Walter Berns, a Georgetown government professor and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, praised the current electoral system.

“Thank God for the Electoral College,” Berns said. “Or to be more specific, thanks to James Madison, Gouverneur orris and the other delegates at the convention of 1787 for the Electoral College.”

Berns warned that, if not for the Electoral College, the repeated recounts that have occurred in Florida would occur in every state in each presidential election. The only alternative, according to Berns, would be to hold a direct nationwide election.

“Under such a system every vote everywhere counts and we would be counting them, this year, all over the place,” Gans said.

Curtis B. Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, also disapproved of holding a direct popular election. That system, he suggested, would eliminate the incentive for grassroots activity, diminish the value of the individual vote and open the door for national recounts, which he deemed disastrous.

“If we moved to direct elections,” Gans said, “what we would have is one great, big, giant national media campaign in which none of the interests of our society and none of the pluralism of our society would be taken into account.”

Instead, Gans suggested that the current electoral system could be improved if each state apportioned its electoral votes like in aine and Nebraska, as opposed to the winner-take-all policy adopted by most states. This procedure, he said, would encourage wider campaigning among the candidates, give more value to the individual votes, and would represent a closer approximation of the national popular vote.

Louis Michael Seidman, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University Law Center, argued in favor of abolishing the Electoral College. Seidman accused the Electoral College of being antiquated and said that it no longer serves the function for which it was intended.

According to Seidman, “if a plurality of the people voting in the United States want someone to be president, that person must be president.” He conceded, however, that an abolition of the system is unlikely to happen in his lifetime.

Nancy E. Tate, executive director of the League of Women Voters also advocated doing away with the current system in favor of a direct popular election. She called the Electoral College a “vestige of a bygone era” and suggested that the process no longer makes sense in the modern age. Tate endorsed what she called the one-person-one vote principle.

“There is really no reason,” she said, “why they [citizens] can’t vote for candidates directly, with each vote counting exactly one person, one vote, each vote counting the same.”

As Lengle explained in the beginning of the proceedings, each state, as well as the District of Columbia, carries as many electoral votes as it has congressional representatives and senators for a total of 538. Each political party in each state is responsible for choosing a panel of electors who will cast ballots in the Electoral College for the president, should their party’s candidate win the popular vote in that state. In 48 of the 50 states in the union, the candidate who wins a plurality of the popular vote receives all of the state’s electoral votes in a winner-take-all system.

Two states, Maine and Nebraska, do not use the winner-take-all system, according to Lengle, but rather apportion electoral votes both by district and at large. On Dec. 18 of each election year, the electors gather to cast their votes. These votes are then opened and counted in Congress on Jan. 5 and the president is inaugurated on Jan. 20. A majority of the electoral votes, 270, wins the election.

The discussion panel, entitled “The Electoral College: Is it Time for Reform?” was sponsored by the Georgetown University Lecture Fund.

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