Let’s talk about the Electoral College.
I need to preface this by making a few points. First, I find it curious that almost everyone bemoaning the electoral college seems to be Clinton-leaning while those proclaiming the importance of the Electoral College seem to be almost exclusively Trump-leaning. It makes me wonder perhaps if their opinions are influenced more from how they wanted this election to end up vs. the merits of each viewpoint. For instance if the results had been opposite (Clinton winning the electoral and Trump winning the popular) I would bet heavily the above trend would be reversed. [EDIT: this thought is perhaps best supported by the fact that Donald Trump himself said we should abolish the electoral college when he falsely believed President Obama lost the 2012 popular vote, but now he claims it is crucial to our democracy.]
Which is a perfect segue into my next point; as a lifelong Independent not only am I used to seeing my preferred candidate lose (usually in a devastating manner), I am also in a unique position to help some who may have their judgement clouded take a step back and examine the arguments on their merits.
Now, to quickly summarize for anyone not in the loop on the U.S presidential voting system, under Article II, Section I, Clause II of the U.S. Constitution each state has a dedicated number of “electoral votes” based on the total number of members in the House of Representatives and the Senate. While each state gets 2 Senators (Article I, Section III), the total number of seats available in the House is 435 (“Reapportionment of Representatives” ch. 28, 46 Stat. 21, 2 U.S.C. § 2a). The exact allocation of seats in the House is determined by the results of a decennial census which gives most states approximately proportional representation. Each state is guaranteed at least one seat in the House. There are a total of 538 electoral votes and a candidate must achieve 270 in order to win a majority along with the presidency.
If all that wasn’t enough, these electoral votes are cast by the designated electors each state selects. This means that on election day voters are not actually voting for candidates themselves, rather the designated party electors. Whichever party wins sends their dedicated electors to meet and cast the “official” state vote on a different day. This further complicates the process and opens the door for something referred to as a “faithless elector” which is a separate conversation for another time.
Those wanting to have the presidential election based on the popular vote say that it should be 1 person, 1 vote. Whoever gets the most votes becomes our next President. That certainly seems simple, but those who believe the system should remain as-is have given many of their reasons why a simple majority may not truly be the best way to determine the Presidency. Below are the most common reasons along with the counterpoints. I invite everyone to free their minds and consider the below.
- Geographical region.
This is the most common one I have seen. It’s typically illustrated by a picture of the U.S. that is primarily red with only a few small blue areas with text stating “This is why we have an electoral college”. It illustrates that people living in a very tiny minority of the country can simply overrule the will of those living in the entire rest of the country. The electoral college helps to balance that out.
A long time ago this made sense, as different areas of the country could not directly communicate and had completely different news sources meaning it’s possible they were operating under a certain set of facts without ever hearing other points of view. In today’s world, we all have access to the same news sources and can communicate instantly with those from other parts of the country. Tracts of land can’t vote so, it’s argued, the electoral college essentially ignores a portion of votes based on arbitrary lines on a map.
Furthermore, because the Reapportionment of Representatives act referenced earlier capped the number of seats in the house in 1929 (previously the total number was increased with the growth of the country in each census), many of the rural states are over represented in the house, and subsequently have a disproportionately heavy weight in the electoral college well beyond what was originally intended.
To illustrate this, a quick comparison can be done of California and Wyoming. California has 2 state senators with a total population of 39,250,017. This means the state has one vote in the senate for every 19,625,008 residents. Wyoming has population of 585,501 and also has two senator which calculates to one vote for every 292,751 people. Put another way, a citizen in Wyoming has a voice in the Senate that is 67 times as loud as a citizen in California.
- This will change the way Presidents campaign/govern.
The argument here is that presidential candidates could focus the majority of their efforts on just a handful of large cities while ignoring all other parts of the country. They would also tailor their platform and give support for legislation that benefits those living in large cities and completely blow off rural areas.
Presidents already focus primarily on the “swing states” and put little effort into very large portions of the country so this wouldn’t change things, but rather shift their focus. Furthermore, there is little proof this would actually happen. Since every vote matters, presidential hopefuls would still want to capture every undecided vote and focus on areas with many people on the fence. Also the House of Representatives provides a perfect balance since it allows for more localized portions of a state to have their voice heard on the national level. Additionally, they are the ones who control the budget. As the leader of their party, a President who blows off everyone except the major cities will guarantee their party loses power in Congress.
- We don’t live under “mob rule”.
This points out the dangers of mob rule and outlines why the US is not (and should not) be a pure democracy, but rather a Republic. We don’t want the majority of the country imposing their whims on the minority. History tells us this rarely works out well for the minority. Along these same lines, it is claimed that New York and California have such large populations they could dictate the winner and loser in every election.
It must be pointed out that using this argument in regard to electing a representative doesn’t make sense. We aren’t using a national popular vote to pass legislation. We aren’t electing a dictator. The people are electing someone to lead and represent our country which is exactly how a Republic is supposed to work. Nobody believes a governor or senate race is “mob rule” for this exact reason. The president has to work with the legislative branch where we have checks and balances such as two State Senators (regardless of population) and House of Representatives which does account for population and (as stated earlier) allows for more localized portions of a state to have their voice heard on the national level. If they are ignoring voter’s interests those areas will overwhelmingly support candidates who will actually represent them in Congress (likely a different party since presidents often become the figureheads of their party) to ensure their voices and interests are protected.
- New York
- The sports analogy.
This one points out that wanting to base the Presidential race on a simple majority is similar to basing the world series off total points scored in all the games, rather than who won the most games. It goes on to argue that a team may have some blowout games IE 12-0, but then lose subsequent games by smaller margins and still try to declare themselves the winners. Nobody would take them seriously for suggesting such a thing, just as nobody should take those wanting to end the electoral college seriously.
Since we are talking about a single national election, it would be more accurate to compare it to a single game. Sticking with the baseball analogy, the electoral college would be like giving a team “X” points for winning an inning (regardless of the amount they actually scored) and declaring whoever wins the adjusted score the “real winner”. Nobody would be in favor of that, and nobody should be in favor of the electoral college. It doesn’t matter if 12 points come from 1 inning if you outscore your opponent, you earned the victory.
- The electoral college limits voter fraud.
Without it, people would have a stronger incentive to commit voter fraud. A democrat living in Alabama with the opportunity to cast a dozen fraudulent votes knows that in the end that won’t make much difference since republicans dominant the state, however if we abandon the electoral college those 12 votes will have an impact.
There is already an incentive to commit voter fraud, especially in swing states (the few places where every vote does matter). Those who are prone to do it likely already are. It could also be argued that a democrat living in Alabama has more incentive, since they know the only way their candidate could possibly win would be to cheat. Abolishing the electoral college would also encourage more people to vote. Since the republican living in California knows with our winner take all system, their vote won’t actually count under our current system, it leaves little incentive to take time off work to go vote. Getting a higher turnout could also help bring in strong 3rd (and 4th) parties, especially if we combine that with a shift toward a proportional representation model in other branches, but that gets into a completely different conversation.
I hope this has been informative, feel free to give me your feedback!