When you cast your ballot, you're not actually voting directly for your favored presidential candidate. Instead of a direct popular election, the United States has the Electoral College, a group of electors who represent each state's votes. The Electoral College was established in the Constitution to protect minority interests and mitigate the possibility of a regional candidate. However, some critics argue that the advantages of a direct popular election -- such as its reflection of democratic principles -- outweigh its disadvantages.
Advantage: Aligns with Democratic Principles
The United States has a representative democracy rather than a direct democracy: Citizens elect representatives rather than voting on each bill. However, many people believe that a direct popular election is more democratic and fair than the Electoral College. After all, the Electoral College makes it possible that a candidate who wins the majority of the votes could still lose the election -- a situation that has caused controversy in the elections of 1800, 1876, 1888 and 2000, writes Doug Linder, a professor of law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School.
Advantage: Represents Citizens Equally
A direct popular election also ensures that citizens' votes have equal weight. The electoral college leads to a heavy emphasis on swing states and also typically over-represents citizens in rural states. In 2004, for example, candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry campaigned heavily in states such as Nevada while ignoring political issues in New York, a state that Kerry was sure to win, according to the University of the Pacific.
Advantage: Encourages Voter Turnout
Some critics argue that more people would vote in a direct popular election, according to the University of the Pacific. Under the Electoral College system, voters in states that are overwhelmingly in support of one candidate might feel like their vote is unimportant. In contrast, in a direct popular election, each vote matters equally.
Disadvantage: Allows Regional Candidates
In a direct popular election, a candidate could theoretically win without having broad support throughout the country. For example, if a candidate was very popular in New York City, Los Angeles and other large cities, she might not need to earn votes from other areas of the country. Electing a president who did not have broad regional support could lead to a fractured and less cohesive country, according to the Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections.
Disadvantage: Creates Logistical Challenges
According to the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School, some proponents of the Electoral College argue that it isolates election problems, such as illegally extended voting hours or irregularly high voter turnout. In a closely contested direct popular election, every precinct across the country might require close examination, rather than a handful of states or precincts.
Disadvantage: Polarizes the Political System
The electoral college encourages a two-party system and rewards candidates who have broad appeal. A direct popular election would make it more possible for third-party candidates to succeed and would also encourage political parties to become more radical and extreme. Although many supporters of the electoral college argue that a two-party political system is more stable, some critics counter that having more than two parties would give Americans more choice.
- Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images