After a divisive presidential election, the United States’ electoral voting system has been under siege by those who say Donald Trump is unfit to be president.
The topic was considered at length by more than 50 students, educators, and community leaders during a discussion about the electoral vote hosted by UTSA Public Policy students Thursday at UTSA’s main campus.
While Trump won the election by the electoral vote on Nov. 8, it won’t actually be made official until Dec. 19, when the 538 members of the Electoral College cast their votes. In 48 states, the candidate who wins the majority of a state’s votes in the election wins that state’s electoral vote.
Depending on how the chosen electors – who are typically state-elected officials or those with strong ties to a political party – vote, Trumps future as president could either be confirmed or denied.
The question of whether to do away with or amend the electoral voting system, which was implemented in Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, is not necessarily a new one. But many today contend that in light of the stark disparity between Hillary Clinton’s and Trump’s popular vote counts – Clinton won by more than two million votes in the popular vote than Trump – it’s time to reconsider the outdated system.
“We feel like it was set up based on a system where information spread very slowly, and today that doesn’t happen,” UTSA College of Public Policy Project Coordinator Forrest Wilson said on behalf of his group Thursday. “People (today) are more able to make an informed decision.”
Proponents of the electoral voting system believe that it forces candidates to campaign across the entire country instead of focusing on large states such as California and Texas. And while there was one small group of individuals Thursday who believed that the electoral college is still relevant for this reason and could help prevent corruption, the majority found it unnecessary and limiting.
The electoral college was originally established for two reasons: to ensure a tyrant would not take office, and to give more power to smaller states. The Founding Fathers feared that those in more isolated areas would not have as much access to information to make a knowledgable decision when electing a president, making it possible for a dictator to manipulate the population and rise to power.
But modern times, many argued, have allowed for much easier access to information and communication, as well as the ability for individual votes to be accurately counted.
This is why many, including the majority of the students, educators, and civic leaders at Thursday’s forum, believe lawmakers should amend the Constitution to replace the electoral college with a direct voting system.
Electors in 21 states, including Texas, are able to cast a vote for the candidate not elected by the majority. These so-called faithless voters also can choose to forgo their vote altogether. Art Sisneros, an elector from Dayton, Texas, recently resigned from his spot on the electorate, citing his faith as the reason he could not cast a vote for Trump, who he said is “not biblically qualified to serve in the office of the Presidency,” according to the San Antonio Express-News.
Some, such as UTSA political science student Daisy Lopez, believe that while doing away with the electoral college altogether is a viable option for more accurate representation of the U.S. population’s consensus, the Constitution also could be amended to require electors in each state to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote in their respective state.
“I think that would be the easiest way without having to make so many changes,” she said.
This year’s election strayed from the norm where the candidate who wins the popular vote typically wins the electoral vote. Trump’s win was only the fourth time in U.S. history that a candidate won in state-by-state tallies instead of popular votes, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Democrats across the country are planning to lobby Republican electors in the 29 states that require them to vote for their party’s candidate if that person received the majority vote in the general election. Since those laws have never been challenged, it will be interesting to see how those electors react and if they choose to oppose Trump.
One of the main arguments Thursday was that the electoral system often deters voters from participating.
“I think there’s this (notion) of ‘My vote has to go through a filter,’” said Drew Galloway, executive director of innovative democracy organization MOVE San Antonio, “and because of that there’s this feeling that maybe it doesn’t matter because there’s going to be this barrier that’s going to stop my voice from being heard.”
Thursday’s discussion was one that has been ongoing across the nation since the election. Brandon J. Johnson, a UTSA student who recently lost the race for Precinct 3 Bexar County Commissioner against incumbent Kevin Wolff, said that finding a sustainable solution will take time.
“We’re not going to solve any problems overnight and we’re not going to be perfect overnight,” he said, “but its starts with conversation.”