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Friday, Nov. 21, 2014

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Panel: Electoral College likely to remain

When weeks of turmoil over the presidential election end, a longer debate over the Electoral College may begin. A panel of scholars at Princeton this week acknowledged shortcomings of the Electoral College system, but most favored amending the system rather than abolishing it.

However, panelist Joan Tronto - a visiting research fellow at the University Center for Human Values - favored more extreme measures.

"The biggest problem with the Electoral College system is that it violates the fundamental principle of American government that every vote should count the same," Tronto said. She noted that the Constitution has been amended several times concerning electoral issues, and that disbanding the Electoral College system would be another democratizing step.

Other panelists were Christopher Eisgruber, fellow in the Program in Law and Public Affairs; Jonathan Riley, visiting research fellow at the University Center for Human Values; Keith Whittington, assistant professor of politics; and Melissa Williams, visiting professor at the University Center for Human Values.

The fact that a candidate can win the presidency without winning the popular vote has changed public opinion concerning the legitimacy of the Electoral College, the experts noted. However, Eisgruber stressed that the Electoral College system should not be abolished for this reason alone.

He acknowledged three general concerns about the Electoral College system: that it renders some voters irrelevant, gives too much power to local constituencies, and favors regional third parties over national third parties. "In the end," he said, "maybe the best thing that can be said about the Electoral College is that it hasn't worked so badly over the course of our history."

Whittington pointed out that the Electoral College serves several positive functions such as containing disputes over voting irregularities, as seen in the current dispute in Florida. Although the College has been challenged before, he said, it "is not going to change, not only because it is difficult to change, but because states and political parties have a vested interest in keeping it how it is."

Panelists suggested consideration of other alternatives, such as "instant runoff" direct voting, encouraging states to amend the Electoral College independently, and simply upgrading and standardizing voting procedures.

Contact: Justin Harmon (609) 258-3601

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