Is the Electoral College outdated? A Conference on World Affairs panel at CU Boulder brought together John Nichols, a contributor for The Nation; James Etienne Viator, a professor at the Loyola College of Law; and Timothy Wirth, a former congressman who served in both houses, to answer that question.
Viator was the first to answer in the talk, which was called “Is it Time to Dump the Electoral College?” Viator perspective as to how the Electoral College was decided on when the country was first founded. It was supposed to be a compromise between the issues of smaller states versus larger states, he said. The Electoral College in the form it is now did not come around until the 12th Amendment.
Nichols started his remarks by having everyone in the room stand. He then had women, people of color and people who were not Protestants sit down. He concluded by having everyone that wasn’t a “rich, white man” sit down. There was one person left standing, whom everyone applauded. This was who the founders wanted when figuring out who should decide presidential elections. Some note that the Electoral College gave the slave-holding South a population advantage.
Nichols continued to voice his displeasure with the Electoral College and asked for it to be abolished.
“If we are a country with faith in democracy … this country wasn’t founded on that idea,” Nichols said.
In modern times, the system’s tilting of scales that gives rural states more influence, proportionally, than they would have without an electoral votes system, disadvantages populations common in urban areas, like racial minorities.
Werth offered a balance between the two other speakers. He brought up the question of what could the country do to replace the Electoral College. The system offers easy resolution the easiest, with votes able to be counted on election night and finalized when the electoral votes are officially cast in December. A national vote could lead to a lot more vote recounts.
The panel then went on to answer questions from the audience. Answers reflected their views from their opening statements, for the most part. During one question, Viator inserted a bit of humor.
An audience member asked how presidential campaigns would be different if a national vote were used. The disparity between campaigning in Iowa City and Los Angeles was brought up as a point, a reference to the focus the Electoral College puts on rural states — without the electoral vote system, densely populated areas would see more attention in campaigns. While talking, the group mixed up Ames, Iowa, with Iowa City, which began a recurring joke for the rest of the panel.
In a later question, Viator was advocating for being a good person and “treating your neighbor right.”
“Don’t bad-mouth Ames, Iowa, and I won’t bad mouth this pot-polluted city of yours,” Viator said. He laughed after making the remark.
The closing remarks saw the panels advocate for reform at the local levels if they wanted to see real change. Nichols said that advocating for small and large-scale reform aren’t mutually exclusive, and the panelists encouraged people to get involved.
Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Jake Mauff at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jake_mauff.