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More critics call for the Electoral College to be abolished, analysts say it’s unlikely

2016 Electoral College map of America's 50 states + DC, scaled by number of Electors per state. (Credit: Madshurtie Creative Commons)

SALT LAKE CITY – With less than six weeks to go until Election Day, some political analysts are stepping up their criticisms of the Electoral College, with several calling for it to be abolished.  There have been hundreds of attempts to do away with it, and all of them have failed. 

Even though the Electoral College became law in 1788, the way it works still seems to confuse many people.  For example, it only applies to presidential and vice-presidential race.

Utah Elections Director Justin Lee says “The thought that we’re casting a vote not for a candidate, but for a slate of electors just doesn’t match up with how we do it for every other candidate.”

Lee says the Electoral College was made to balance power between larger and smaller states in picking a president.  The American Bar Association says there have been over 700 proposals to either abolish the Electoral College, or reform it, and none of them have succeeded.  However, Lee says some states have started to modify how they use it to give the popular vote more teeth

“[In those states], whichever candidate wins the national vote, that party’s electors will get to cast electoral votes instead of the person who wins in a given state.”  Lee says.

Lee says other people have tried to allow for faithless electors in Utah, which would let them vote their conscience instead of their party. 

When the electors actually cast their ballots, it usually goes unnoticed.

“In 2012, I think there was one class of students that showed up to watch the actual electoral process.  It usually doesn’t get lot of attention,” according to Lee.

It was fairly unnoticed, right up until 2016.  When Utah’s electors met at the Utah State Capitol to cast their ballots that year, dozens of protesters gathered in the committee hearing room, hoping to convince them to change their votes away from Donald Trump.  State law doesn’t allow electors to do that, and if one decides to change their vote, their ballot is thrown out, and another elector is called in to replace the one whose ballot was tossed.

That year, Utah was considered much more of a “battleground state” than it is, now.  Former DNC Chair Donna Brazille even made a campaign stop for Hillary Clinton.  Political Science professor Tim Chambless says third-party candidate Evan McMullin made analysts think the state wouldn’t select Donald Trump.

“[McMullin] had very little money.  He had no name recognition, but, he came in and actually earned 21.5 percent of the popular vote,” he says.

Chambless says a state can be perceived as a battleground state for many reasons.  For instance, how close are the candidates in the polls?  How many people have recently moved into that state?  Chambless believes states like Arizona and Texas are being considered as battleground states, and the two main parties will spend a lot of time and money campaigning there.

Also, these states have voters that pay more attention to issues over parties.  One issue this election cycle… the recent death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Chambless believes that could bring out a wave of voters.

“All this is impacting our national election and it’s impacting the way we’re thinking.  It’s impacting our behavior as we try to make our ongoing experiment in democracy successful,” Chambless says.