Fair Harbor is a small ficticious nation divided into seven states, A-G.
Total voting age population is 59 people.

In their recent presidential election,  Candidate Green received 42 votes as shown at left.  Candidate Red received 17  of the total 59 votes cast.  Candidate Green appears to be the winner by a landslide of 71%.

Candidate Green will not be celebrating a victory because Fair Harbor has a presidential election plan modeled after the US Electoral College System.

The rules are simple.  Instead of one large election, each state holds a separate election.  In Fair Harbor, a state gets an amount of electoral votes equal to its population.  (In the US, states gets an amount of electoral votes equal to the number of members of Congress they have. Representation in Congress is mostly based on population.)

In both the US and Fair Harbor, a state's  election is a winner take all election.  In Fair Harbor,  Green won State A (11 electoral votes), State D (11 electoral votes) and State F (7 electoral votes).  Green's total popular vote was 42 and the candidate accumulated 29 electoral votes.

Candidate Red won in states B, C, E and G for a popular vote toal of 17.  Candidate Red earned 30 electoral votes and was declared the winner even though the candidate had less than 30% of the vote.

This is, of course, an extreme example.  However, the winner of the US election in 1876,  Rutherford Hayes, had 252,000 fewer votes than the losing candidate, Samuel Tilden.  In 1888, Benjamin Harrison was elected even though Grover Cleveland had 98,000 more popular votes.  In 2000, George W. Bush was elected despite the fact Albert Gore had 543,000 more popular votes. (See Below)

Elections with more than two candidates can cause real problems.  Cheating is rewarded more in an Electoral College system.  Theoretically, you need not cheat (or buy) millions of votes to affect an election.  You need only cheat enough to win in key states.  Some political scientists feel the election of 1960 may have been decided by alleged cheating in Texas and Illinois.  John Kennedy  won the electoral vote over Richard Nixon 303-219.  Texas had 24 electoral votes and Illinois had 27.  Had Nixon won these, he would have won the Electoral College vote 270-252.  Kennedy won Texas by about 46,000 popular votes and about 8,800 popular votes in Illinois.

Please note the Fair Harbor results.  If Green's backers could somehow bribe or coerce one Red backer in State B to vote for Green, the whole election result would be altered.  Green would have 36 electoral votes to Red's 23.  Of course, if Red can retaliate in State C and coerce or bribe one Green voter to switch to Red's side, the results would be altered again.  The point it simple.  In an electoral college type system, it takes far fewer acts of election fraud to change election results.  If Fair Harbor elected its president by popular vote,  the chances of altering the outcome (especially in a "landslide" election) would be very difficult.

Of course, cheating of another kind could occur with a strict popular election.  A state could  falsify its vote totals.  Partisan election officials could lie and cheat just as they could under the Electoral College system.

The 2000 election is the modern day standard for examining the workings and criticisms of the Electoral College system.  In the popular vote, Al Gore defeated George W. Bush by 543,895 votes.  Bush defeated Gore, 271-266, in the electoral vote.  There were disputed state vote total results in this election.  Florida (with 25 Electoral College votes) continues to be in (unofficial) dispute.  Officially, the state was won by George W. Bush by 288 popular votes out of about 6.000.000 votes cast.  Originally, Bush led Gore by 1,784 popular votes.  Recounts lowered this total to 288 votes.  The Supreme Court (Bush v Gore) brought further recounts to a halt by overturning a Florida State Supreme Court decision.  Some critics have accused the Supreme Court of partisan activity because the decision followed alleged "party lines" in a vote of 5-4. 

It takes 270 electoral votes to win.  Remember, what you are voting for on election day is a list of electors who are pledged to a certain candidate.  If that candidate died before the actual meeting of the Electoral College, these electors could vote for another candidate.  Until the election is official, the vice president does not take over for a deceased president.  In the 2000 election, one elector refused to cast her vote.  As a result, Gore received 266 votes instead of the 267 he earned.  The minimum number of electors assigned to a state is 3.  Had Gore won any other state other than those he carried, he would have earned the needed 270 votes.  However, had he gotten exactly 270 votes and the same (or any) elector went back on his or her word, the Electoral College would have been split 269-269.  Such an election would be decided by the House Of Representatives.

Some political scientists feel this electoral college system protects small  states.  The winner take all aspect tends to increase the reward for winning a state.  They feel the system is beneficial because it causes a candidate to seek a broader base of support.

Others feel the system is potentially undemocratic and invites cheating.

Amendment XII of the US Constitution describes the system.

Copyright © 2008
Bill Stockland