On Friday, Sept. 9, Robert Alexander, a professor of political science at Ohio Northern University, held a lecture covering the controversies presented by the Electoral College.
The lecture began with an introduction held by Gary Uzonyi, an associate professor for international relations and global security at the University of Tennessee.
“I am excited to introduce professor Robert Alexander, who has a research focus on the electoral college and presidential electors. His book, ‘Representation and the Electoral College’ as well as numerous articles, have been published by The University of Oxford Press,” Uzonyi said.
Alexander received both his master's degree and his doctorate in philosophy degrees from UT. He is the founding director of the Institute for Civics and Public Policy at Ohio Northern University. He has published four books and many different pieces of his work have been featured in academic journals and media outlets such as USA Today and CNN. He is frequently called on for his work and his analysis, which has appeared in various television programs.
Alexander began the lecture by explaining his history with UT and how coming for the lecture was a “full circle” moment for him.
While Alexander was in graduate school, he was asked by a professor to study and research electors and the electoral college as a side project. He returned to the issue while working toward his doctorate degree, when he had an opportunity to work with undergraduate students in order to receive a research grant.
Alexander decided to focus on the electoral college so that he could continue his research from where he left off.
“Instead of looking for newspaper articles on electors ... I decided to survey the electors within the Electoral College … I had a 63% response rate from the population of electors and they wanted to tell me more information. The Electoral College is setting down a path that I have studied for almost 2 decades now .… the electors have become extraordinarily important and the electoral college has become incredibly important to the presidential election ... The more I get into it, the more I understand that this determines everything,” Alexander said.
He then began to explain the history of the Electoral College and its controversial history, which spans the entirety of United States history. There have been nearly 800 attempts to amend or abolish the system throughout the years, however, it continues to be a crucial element of the election process.
The Electoral College consists of state electors that are determined by the combined number of House and Senate seats of each state. According to Alexander, the system has recently begun to show an emergence of political parties, winner-takes-all and obedient electors.
He spoke on the College’s apparent norms and values that it works to represent. These principles include simplicity, equality, participation, legitimacy, governance, inclusiveness and feasibility.
After this explanation, Alexander went into the details of faithless electors, who do not vote for the president and vice president that they had previously pledged to vote for in the interest of their state.
“Even though they had a case on it, the possibility of faithless electors still exists. It is still a reality,” Alexander said.
According to Alexander, there have been several instances of this throughout the years. He spoke of the 1960 campaigns, where electors seemed to pressure other electors into promoting different opinions and were not coordinating with the campaign.
Alexander spoke on how these “dirty politics” and behind-the-scenes actions can change the complete trajectory of a presidential election because of the value of each electoral vote.
“If we talk about how 0.0028% of a change of the votes in 2016, then Hillary Clinton would have won the presidential contest by a few million votes. So then everyone is like, ‘Oh so then the polls were close.’ I think we lose track of how the electoral college and the counting mechanism within it in accordance to popular vote,” Alexander said.