The Electoral College in U.S. Presidential Elections: Logical Foundations, Mathematics and Politics

author: Alexander S. Belenky, Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
published: Feb. 22, 2014,   recorded: April 2007,   views: 2439

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To the expanding list of presidential election discontents add Alexander Belenky. Unlike other critics, though, Belenky is not driven by politics but by logic and math. His close analysis of the Constitution and such federal statutes as the Presidential Succession Act suggests that there may be no safeguard, in extreme cases, against a stalemate in a presidential election.

Belenky sees ways to improve the current system. In a talk peppered with election history and rule-making, he settles on a key issue: the increasing difficulty (and possible danger) of relying on the Electoral College to determine the outcome of elections. Bush v. Gore and the 2000 election might seem a cakewalk compared to future crises.

“How come 538 people can represent or be authorized to vote for president instead of 200 million voters? That’s the question,” says Belenky. The current system, dependent as it is on Electoral College balloting, promotes “winner take all” politics, and appears to Belenky to violate the “one state, one vote” principle, which is basic to the Constitution. Based on the most recent U.S. Census, just 11 states control the 270 electoral votes required to win the presidency, and the rest of the country seems irrelevant to the process. Belenky describes a not-so-outlandish scenario, in which the population surges in California, giving the state all 270 electoral votes (268 plus the two senators).

Belenky acknowledges those who would throw out the Electoral College altogether in favor of the popular vote, but prefers his own middle road of modification. The winner of the popular vote both nationwide and in at least 26 states would be considered the winner. If no candidate wins in this manner, then let the Electoral College decide, says Belenky. This system forces campaign visits to all the states, and tries “to build on the existing system rather than reject it.”

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