Electoral College: Should we ditch it for a popular vote?

Pa. Republican primary
Lilyan Maitan stands in a voting booth during the Republican primary election April 24, 2012 at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Philadelphia, Pa.
Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

It's a debate we seem to have each presidential election year: Should we ditch the Electoral College in favor of a straight popular vote? The possibility that there could be a split between the popular vote and Electoral College this year has ratcheted up the discussion for 2012.

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 56 percent of all likely voters would prefer the president to be selected by popular vote while 37 percent prefer that electoral votes decide the race. But since the Electoral College is part of the Constitution, it wouldn't be easy to get rid of it. Is it worth the effort, or does the current system better serve the whole electorate?

Alexander Keyssar, professor of history and social policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and author of "The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States," will join The Daily Circuit Monday.

"The concerns that prompted the Founding Fathers to adopt this system -- a distrust of popular elections, worry that the people would be unfamiliar with national candidates, a desire to reinforce the great constitutional compromises between large states and small states, slave states and free states -- have lost much of their salience since 1787,"Keyssar wrote in The New York Times. "Moreover, we have learned a lot in the last 225 years about shortcomings in the framers' design: the person who wins the most votes doesn't necessarily become president; the adoption of 'winner take all' rules (permitted but not mandated by the Constitution) produces election campaigns that ignore most of the country and contribute to low turnout."

• POLL: Should we scrap the Electoral College?

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David Lanoue, dean of the College of Letters and Sciences and professor of political science at Columbus State University, will also join the discussion.

"The Electoral College requires the president and candidates to show support in a diverse country," he said. "You have to win state by state and have to win states in each region. It's important in country as diverse as ours... Because the Electoral College amplifies outcomes, it creates legitimacy for the winner. In 2008, Obama had 53 percent of the vote but got 320 electoral votes, thus, creating greater legitimacy. You want the president coming in with wind at their back."

Lanoue said the system also helps contain conflict and corruption.

"What happens in one state doesn't spillover into the next," he said. "Think of Bush v Gore in 2000. If you had national popular vote, you'd have the chaos that happened in Florida in all 50 states. As bad as Florida was, it is a once in a lifetime things, but it was contained to only that state."

VIDEO: Electoral College, explained