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May 13, 2017

University Union hosts debate on Electoral College

Collegian file photo

Sterling professor of law and political science at Yale University Akhil Amar, and associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Amel Ahmed participated in a debate Thursday night at UMass on whether the United States should continue to have the Electoral College.

The event, titled “Opposing Views on the Electoral College,” was hosted by University Union and co-sponsored by the departments of history, communications, legal studies and political science.

The University Union started in 2015 with the mission to bring light to a diversity of opinions through the organization of debates. This event marked their third debate of the spring semester.

Mostapha Massaee, a sophomore biology major and member of University Union, kicked off the event by stressing the importance of this debate in terms of the recent controversy over the election of President Trump, who won the Electoral College, but not the popular vote.

“Everyone questioned the validity of the election,” Massaee said.

Katherine Newman, UMass provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, moderated the debate. Before introducing the speakers, Newman emphasized the importance of hearing different opinions, rather than just listening to one side.

“We don’t hear enough give and take about the point of views of our time,” Newman said.

Amar, who spoke first, stood in opposition of the Electoral College, expressing his support for a direct popular vote. Within this system, all voters would be treated equally, with a one person, one vote policy where votes would carry the same weight.

According to Amar, the Electoral College discourages people to vote and has historically made it easier to suppress the votes of women and people of color.

“The electoral college is sub-optimal,” Amar said. “[We] could do better.”

Amar defended his position by pointing out that no states within the U.S adopt the Electoral College system when choosing their state representatives, but rather decide through popular vote. Additionally, no other country has chosen to establish an electoral college.

Amar also criticized the electors themselves.

“They are not wise people,” Amar said.

Professor Ahmed then introduced her position defending the Electoral College, acknowledging the controversy around the existence of this system, especially among Democrats.

“We are much better off with this mechanism than a direct popular vote,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed went on to describe three main points to support her position, beginning with the way the Electoral College helps serve minorities by giving them a seat at the table. Ahmed said that not only is the Electoral College better than adopting a direct popular vote, but it would be nearly impossible to abolish it. Rather than focusing energy on establishing a completely new system, time should be spent on more urgent matters, such as state legislative elections and the issues surrounding redistricting.

Ahmed challenged Amar’s argument of U.S states not adopting the Electoral College system by claiming that local and national level units are completely different, where the responsibilities of governors greatly differ from the responsibilities of the president.

Stephanie Chan, a senior political science major, attended the event with an interest in hearing about the Electoral College. She mentioned the importance of looking at institutions within the U.S and understanding how they work.

Similarly, Adnan Mohammed, a sophomore accounting major, came to the event hoping to hear different viewpoints about the Electoral College. Mohammed expressed his interest in becoming a member of University Union and emphasized the importance of organizing more debates at UMass.

Professor Ahmed and Professor Amar went on to answer questions asked by Newman, University Union, and the audience.

Ahmed and Amar expressed their disdain with the way the recent presidential election turned out and admitted the election would be different if candidates ran campaigns based solely on popular or majority vote, rather than vote of the Electoral College. Even so, both Ahmed and Amar agreed that time and energy might be better spent focusing on other issues rather than attempting to abolish the Electoral College.

“I believe in democracy, but that requires us to do some work,” Amar said.

Carly Burgess can be reached at cburgess@umass.edu.

Comments
6 Responses to “University Union hosts debate on Electoral College”
  1. mvymvy says:

    In the current system, battleground states are the only states that matter in presidential elections. Campaigns are tailored to address the issues that matter to voters in these states.

    Safe red-winning and blue-winning states are considered a waste of time, money and energy to candidates. These “spectator” states receive no campaign attention, polling, organizing, visits, or ads. Their concerns are utterly ignored.

    The influence of ethnic minority voters has decreased tremendously as the number of battleground states dwindles. For example, in 1976, 73% of blacks lived in battleground states. In 2004, that proportion fell to a mere 17%. Just 21% of African Americans and 18% of Latinos lived in the 12 closest battleground states. So, roughly 80% of non-white voters might as well have not existed when there were 12 battleground states..

    The bill has been endorsed by organizations such as the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, FairVote, Sierra Club, NAACP, National Black Caucus of State Legislators, ACLU, the National Latino Congreso, Asian American Action Fund, DEMOS, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Public Citizen, U.S. PIRG, and the Brennan Center for Justice.

  2. mvymvy says:

    In Gallup polls since they started asking in 1944 until this election, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states) (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided).

    Support for a national popular vote for President has been strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in every state surveyed. In the 41 red, blue, and purple states surveyed, overall support has been in the 67-81% range – in rural states, in small states, in Southern and border states, in big states, and in other states polled.

    Most Americans don’t ultimately care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state or district . . . they care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that no matter where they live, even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was equally counted and mattered to their candidate. Most Americans think it is wrong that the candidate with the most popular votes can lose. We don’t allow this in any other election in our representative republic.

    NationalPopularVote

  3. mvymvy says:

    Pragmatically, the National Popular Vote bill is 61% of the way to guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes.

    Massachusetts has enacted the National Popular Vote bill.

    All voters would be valued equally in presidential elections, no matter where they live.
    Candidates, as in other elections, would allocate their time, money, polling, organizing, and ad buys roughly in proportion to the population

    Every vote, everywhere, for every candidate, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election.
    No more distorting, crude, and divisive and red and blue state maps of predictable outcomes, that don’t represent any minority party voters within each state.
    No more handful of ‘battleground’ states (where the two major political parties happen to have similar levels of support) where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 38+ predictable states, like Massachusetts, that have just been ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.

    The bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538.
    All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.

    In 2017, the bill has passed the New Mexico Senate.
    The bill was approved in 2016 by a unanimous bipartisan House committee vote in both Georgia (16 electoral votes) and Missouri (10).
    Since 2006, the bill has passed 35 state legislative chambers in 23 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 261 electoral votes.
    The bill has been enacted by 11 small, medium, and large jurisdictions, including Massachusetts, with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the way to guaranteeing the presidency to the candidate with the most popular votes in the country

    NationalPopularVote

  4. elizabeth says:

    Clearly the faculty speaking at the event do not seen to understand or respect the constitution; the first step is to understanding the reasoning behind the electoral college and the history of it which can be found in the federalist papers.

    Second it’s not possible to change the electoral college through state laws or even a law passed by congress; the only way to do that would be through a constitutional amendment which would require 2/3rds of states to agree.

    Also I think the real reason that liberals want to change the electoral college is because they attribute it to losing; they could argue this is the case for the presidency in 2016 but in total it is not why democrats and liberal policies and arguments and positions have been rejected. Since 2010 1,000 seats have been lost in the democratic party; the house,the senate, the presidency, 2/3rds of state legislatures and over 25 governors are all republican. The democratic party and implicitly the liberal/progressive world view has been rejected and is it it’s weakest point in a century.

    America stands on the verge of a conservative revolution. Perhaps when democracy is understood and the power of the american people respected. That it is the job of representatives who are elected and those who are in government is to follow the will of the people who elected them, not impose their own; then maybe they will understand and regain some of their losses.

  5. David Hunt 1990 says:

    A “better” solution would be to apportion the electoral votes from the HOUSE count per population vote, with the SENATORIAL (+2) vote to the winner.

    The whole point behind the EC is to protect the interests of smaller states. A pure national popular vote means cities totally dominate. Which, I know, is a plus for liberals.

  6. David Hunt 1990 says:

    What this REALLY boils down to is: “Our HOLY HILLIARY didn’t win; let’s change the rules to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

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