11/08/2012 12:13 pm ET Updated Jan 07, 2013

Can and Should the Electoral College Be Abolished?

This question originally appeared on Quora.
By Eddie Xue, student at MIT

Should? Yes, and most voters seem to agree. The are historical reasons why it exists, and the fact that the US is a federal government with states unlike other systems means we're different, but today, being fair and ensuring one person gets one vote is more important to me than letting someone in small state or especially a swing state at the 50-50 mark get 5-10x the power as a voter in Los Angeles, California.

Can? It's very hard. To change the U.S. constitution directly requires 38 of 50 states to approve it, and only 13 small or swing states to block it - and the 13 smallest states are only 4.39% of the U.S. population.

The only practical way is via the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which amends state constitutions to give a state's electoral votes to the popular vote winner across the country, not the state. This requires only the states making up 270 electoral votes to approve it - it's far easier to find these states (we're halfway there right now with 132 electoral votes in) than to make a constitutional amendment. Once these states make up a majority of the electoral college, they will always cast their votes for the popular vote winner, so it doesn't matter if the remaining states have not passed the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This however keeps the mechanics of the electoral college - which still leaves the danger of faithless electors.

Why is there opposition? Fundamentally, if your state is over-represented for historical reasons, you probably want to keep that advantage. It's in your self interest to have regional issues take more power. The most powerful states are the really the swing states - and the average Ohioan would rather see the debate on the automobile industry take center stage than a California-centric issue like Startup visas. Additionally, small states are fundamentally overrepresented to give an advantage still: Wyoming for example has 164,594 residents per elector, while California has 615,848. Any state that signs the NPVIC inherently gives up part of their power.

The diagram shows how often Bush or Kerry either visited (left) or spent $1 million (right) in a given state during the last four weeks of the 2004 campaign:

Secondly, there are the philosophical justifications: It would keep the federal nature of the US and not bind them to the national entity during voting - allowing states to choose how to run their elections and submit votes. The United States is a huge and diverse land, and population is not always the best reason for representation in a system - land area can matter too. By encouraging presidents to campaign in divided areas and not just rally the base and turnout in solid areas, it can theoretically reduce extremism and shift discourse to the "median voter" that exists in the swing states.

Polling shows 71% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans in favor of using the popular vote:

Other reasons people oppose abolishing the electoral college:

It makes it more reliable to count votes, especially in a close election. If a president's win hinges on a 0.1% national popular vote advantage, that is an entire country to recount, whereas if the win is by 0.1% in Florida, the recount need only be isolated to that particular state. Similarly, it preserves representation "by state" - if one state has low turnout, it is averaged out by the electoral college.

Finally, it can be fun to watch. See Nate Silver's blog at (, which has tracked the electoral college since 2008 and been a source of very interesting statistical models that exist only because of the anomalies of America's voting system.

What to do if you want to see the electoral college abolished or changed to a majority-vote system? Campaign for your state to pass the National Popular Vote compact! States listed in green have passed the law, states in yellow have considered it, and states in gray do not yet have a movement.

Green = passed

yellow = under consideration

Bottom map is a cartogram scaled to # of electoral votes.

More questions on U.S. Presidential Elections:

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