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Political science faculty debates Electoral College

Brian McKenzie | Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Five political science faculty members weighed the pros and cons of the Electoral College and discussed how the current system is practical but not democratic at the LaFortune Student Center Monday.

Professor Peri Arnold criticized the Electoral College, saying that it encourage Democrats and Republicans to simply ignore some states.

“What it also does is suppress the vote by excluding Republicans in Oregon and New York and Democrats in Idaho and Utah,” he said.

Professor Joshua Kaplan said the current electoral system shifts power toward the South, encouraging candidates to conceive more conservative platforms.

“It bothers me the most is that the Electoral College has given the South influence disproportionate to its numbers,” he said. “The Electoral College has been the vehicle through which the South has exerted its influence.”

However, Kaplan said finding a replacement for the College would not be simple, and there was no guarantee that it would fix the current system’s problems.

“Procedures aren’t neutral,” he said. “The Electoral College has built-in biases and any potential replacement will have biases.”

Arnold said the elimination of the Electoral College would lead to disorganized elections.

“In this messy political system, there’s no other way to produce a real winner,” he said. “Instead of just Florida [in the 2000 election], we would have been fighting in half the states if there was no Electoral College.”

Professor Louis Ayala made the dire prediction that if the Electoral College was eliminated, the cost of campaigning would drastically increase.

“The cost of campaigning would increase significantly,” he said. “[Eliminating the College would] lead candidates to campaign in previously uncontested states.”

Senior analyst for Notre Dame Institutional Research John Mueller said while there are problems with the Electoral College, the American public’s apathy is one of the greatest obstacles to reform.

“It’s something we’ve lived with for 200 years,” he said. “There isn’t a political will to eliminate it.”

Mueller said one major problem with the Electoral College was that it “creates a sense of false mandate for radical policy change.” He cited the examples of President Clinton, who failed to win an outright majority in either of his elections, and President Bush, who failed to win even a plurality in 2000, both claiming they had received mandates.

However, instead of abolishing the College, Mueller said it could be reformed to reflect the popular vote. He said some states like Nebraska and Maine already award some electoral votes to the runner-up based on the outcomes of individual congressional districts.

Doctoral candidate in political science Patrick Kaplan said eliminating the Electoral College might have unintended, harmful consequences such as increased voter fraud.

“As opposed to competing for swing-states, eliminating it would create an incentive to run up the vote in states that are deeply Republican or Democratic,” he said. “There’s less oversight in those states, so you’re bound to see more unsavory practices.”