Electoral College Alternatives Discussed at MIT

About 20 speakers suggested modifications and alternatives to the existing presidential voting system at a recent event.

by / October 25, 2012
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The upcoming presidential election is expected to be close, and it's possible that the winner of the popular vote will lose the electoral vote and therefore the election.

It's for this reason that not everyone likes the Electoral College system, and some of these folks spoke at an event at MIT on Oct. 19. About 20 speakers shared ideas for alternative voting systems at the event, called “Does the Current Presidential Election System Serve America Well?”

A win by popular vote is the system many would like for the presidential election, including John Koza, a Stanford University computer scientist who also is a leader of the National Popular Vote group. “One person, one vote should be the norm of a modern democracy,” Koza said. “... We have a system that’s ignoring four out of five voters in the country.” Many historians believe the Electoral College was instated as a safeguard to shield the ruling class against the true will of the masses, and the system has increasingly been called into question in recent years, especially during election season.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is an agreement between eight states -- California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont and Washington -- and the District of Columbia to award all of their Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote. While some dispute the legality of such a pact, its existence is proof of the dissatisfaction many have with the Electoral College system.

Another speaker at the event talked about a candidate ranking system wherein voters do not chose a single person to vote for, but rather rank each candidate. Eric Maskin, a Nobel Prize-winning economist from Harvard, discussed the idea, which goes back to French Enlightenment thinker Condorcet. Such a system would reveal a winner based on which candidate was ranked highest compared to all the others by a plurality. “Voters under the current system are really not providing enough information about what they really want,” Maskin said.

Another speaker suggested an adjustment of the Electoral College system that would award votes by multiplying each state's popular vote percentage by its number of electoral votes. Such a system, said Arnold Barnett, the George Eastman Professor of Management Science at the MIT Sloan School of Management, would give candidates an incentive to campaign nationally, rather than just in key locations.

For the full story, visit web.MIT.edu.