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The Electoral College: How It Got That Way and Why We're Stuck With It
It was never designed to actually elect a President, it’s awkward, cumbersome, and confusing, and almost no one likes it. Americans have been trying to get rid of it for more than two centuries. Yet it’s still here. Now we are seeing renewed efforts to reform or eliminate the Electoral College. Will they succeed? Don’t bet on it.
February/March 2001 | Volume 52, Issue 1
In the end, Americans are likely to do what they have always done about the Electoral College: nothing. Every reform or abolition scheme works to the disadvantage (or possible disadvantage) of some special interest, and when a good-government issue collides with special interests, you know who’s going to win. Outside of academia and government, there is no obvious constituency for reform; since most people don’t understand how the Electoral College works, most of them don’t understand the case for changing it. The lack of exact numerical equality and other supposed biases have always bothered political scientists much more than the average citizen, who may endorse reform when questioned by a pollster but will hardly ever feel strongly about the issue.
So we’re probably stuck with the Electoral College until the next close election, when reformers and abolitionists of various stripes will once again surge forth, only to end up annihilating each other. To break this pattern, someone will have to either find a novel and compelling set of arguments for reform and waste enormous amounts of political capital to pass a measure that arouses no public passion and has no clear-cut beneficiary, or else devise a new scheme that is simple enough to be grasped by the average citizen yet has never been advanced before. Good luck.