What are Some Criticisms of the Electoral College?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The Electoral College is the number of votes, simplified, that determines the outcome of a US presidential race. Essentially it equals the number of senators in the state and the number of house representatives. The more districts and house representatives a state has, the more “votes” it represents in the Electoral College. Large states have huge numbers of votes to cast. California has 55 for instance, and Texas 34. Once the popular vote has been cast, the candidate who receives the majority of votes in a state receives all electoral votes for that state. States with Electoral College votes numbering over 20 are usually called swing states.

The White House, home of the president of the United States, who is chosen by the Electoral College.
The White House, home of the president of the United States, who is chosen by the Electoral College.

There are a number of criticisms of this election process. The main one is that disbursement of votes may not always accurately represent the popular vote. Several presidential elections, notably the 2000 Bush versus Gore, have resulted in a candidate not winning the election but winning the popular vote. Gore was voted president by the people, but because of the Electoral College, Bush won in key states and received a greater number of electoral votes.

The Electoral College is the number of votes which determines the outcomes of a US presidential race.
The Electoral College is the number of votes which determines the outcomes of a US presidential race.

Some also feel that states with more electoral votes have greater power, reducing the influence of the individual voter. If you live in Montana, the president you vote for only gets three votes from the College. It is argued that voters in states with a larger number of Electoral College representatives get paid more attention by candidates and have a disproportionate influence on the presidential election.

Conversely some argue that candidates only pay attention to a state if they don’t feel secure in carrying the state. California, for instance, often thought of as a blue or Democratic state, may be ignored except in urban areas by Democratic candidates since they’re pretty sure they’ll win the state. This gives voters fewer opportunities to hear the thoughts of the various politicians on how they might run for office.

There are basically 11 states that can secure a victory for a president, which means that candidates may essentially ignore the other 39. If a candidate is able to win the electoral votes of these 11 states, he or she doesn’t need to win the popular vote elsewhere. It is argued these states have much greater power, and that voting is thus unequal.

A few theories exist as to how these problems can be addressed. The first one is to completely abolish the Electoral College in favor of electing presidents by direct voting. Let people vote, count the totals and see who won. Some believe this would unfairly represent urban areas since they have more residents, than rural areas. This argument seems specious. Each person would have the full weight of his/her vote counted in such an election.

Another possibility would be to give Electoral College votes in a state proportionately and based on percentage. If a candidate won 45% of the votes in a state, he’d receive 45% of the Electoral College votes. There might be some difficulties about splitting electoral votes in a state with an uneven number if candidates both won 50% of the vote. It’s hard to know if a candidate could win half an electoral vote.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@KoiwiGal-- But don't you think that this is unfair? Votes in some states are more valuable than votes in other states because of the electoral college. If everyone is equal, everyone's vote should be equally valuable.


@ddljohn-- The founding fathers set up the presidential electoral college because they felt that the population is easily manipulated. They wanted a group of people who could represent the population without any manipulation by a political candidate. They felt that this would be safer.

I personally think that the founding fathers did not feel that the population is capable of selecting a president. I'm not sure why they felt that way about the population in those days, but I don't think this is an issue anymore. I think it would be better to take that risk rather then causing some states to be completely ineffective in the system, which is what we have now.


The electoral college has pros and cons. I agree that sometimes, it simply feels like the wrong person won the election. But I'm sure that the founding fathers had their reasons for selecting this type of system.

Does anyone know why the founding fathers chose this system of election rather than direct voting?


@KoiwiGal - True, but it would be better balanced because there would actually be a chance for people in other states to have their vote count toward something. At the moment, I know a lot of people who simply will not vote at all because they are in a republican or a democrat majority state and they don't see the point.

Actually, though, I'd prefer it if we completely scrapped this system and moved to something else altogether. A system like some of the ones in Europe where there are more than just two parties and the voting works on percentages rather than just a majority rules kind of situation.

But I really doubt that the USA is ready for that kind of change anytime soon.


@MrsPramm - The electoral college system has pros and cons but I don't know if it would actually take power away from the states that have it now if they changed it to one person, one vote the way people suggest. Those states have a lot of electoral votes because they have a big population. The potential candidates would still spend more time courting those big populations in order to get the most out of their schedules.


I have always thought it was unreasonable to have the electoral college process in place. It might have worked well historically, particularly when we didn't have the technology that we have now, but really with the current ability to reach people and get every vote, I don't see the point in dividing the country up like this and basically giving all the power to only a few states.

It almost seems like you'd be able to game the system as well, by moving supporters into a particular state in time for an election. That seems almost like it would be cheaper than the amount of money people spend on elections at the moment!

And I have heard people suggest it before, but I don't know if anyone has actually gone through with it.

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