Restoring the Electoral College

Recently, the Electoral College has weathered numerous assaults by people who desire to either modify or completely abolish it via a constitutional amendment, but the founders instituted it as a vital check and balance to our governmental system. Although, the Electoral College is not perfect, it is better than any other electoral alternative, because it is the only system that can preserve the republican form of government guaranteed in Article IV Section 4 of the US Constitution. It also preserves federalism in the election of America’s highest office, amplifies the voice of minorities, limits the opportunity for voter fraud, incentivizes candidates to mobilize national constituencies, encourages people to organize around their specific interests, and induces candidates to devote resources to voter registration and education.

Each of these benefits become clear when compared with the complaints against the Electoral College. The most common complaints are that it allows a President to be elected without winning the popular vote, it over represents voters in less populace voting districts, it prohibits third party candidates from gaining the national office, and it provides the potential for bad-faith electors to “steal” the will of the people. These complaints, however, are either based on a false understanding of our uniquely American system or they are a misapplication of blame.

The Electoral College does give more voting power to people in less populated voting districts, but this is beneficial, because it protects local and regional interests in the voting process and preserves America’s republican form of government. American Presidential elections were always intended to unify the nation around one candidate by addressing everyone’s interests, which is a republican governmental concept. The complaint against it is based on the misguided principle of, “one person one vote of equal weight,” a concept completely alien to our founders and the people they represented.

Our nation was founded by thirteen independent and individually sovereign States who jealously guarded both. The Electoral College was designed to preserve the independence and sovereignty of each State by requiring presidential candidates to build a national consensus among the States instead of enabling them to pander to regional interests with high populations. If a President were elected by the voters of only one or two States, the majority of voters in the other 48 or 49 States would rightfully worry their interests would not be properly represented and they would most likely not feel the President was the President of all fifty States.

If Presidents were elected exclusively via a national popular vote, candidates would concentrate on the most densely populated areas of the nation where they could maximize their time and resources, thereby completely ignoring the less populated ones. For example, candidates would skip over rural areas of the country while they focused their time, money and resources on winning the votes from people in cities.  In such an election process, what good is the voice of the majority when the voice of the minority is completely ignored?

A national popular vote would similarly ignore minorities and people with minority opinions. For example, presidential candidates working to capture a national majority in a popular election would by-pass voting blocs like African-Americans, who comprise significantly less than 20% of the national population, to focus on larger ones. The Electoral College, on the other hand, gives minorities and people with minority opinions more voting power than their national population percentage would otherwise provide. This is because in trying to capture the most electoral votes, candidates will listen to different voting blocs within each State and in this way minorities in each State have their voices heard in a manner that exceeds their total population percentage.

Another fatal flaw with a national popular vote is that the federalist system, in which States preserve their identity and independence through voting privileges in the national election, would be completely erased. This is because in a national popular vote only the will of the majority in the entire nation would count and not regional issues or interests. Under the Electoral College, Presidents are elected in 51 separate elections,[1] which preserve the regional interests of each State and the District of Colombia in an election. For this reason, the Electoral College preserves the republican form of government guaranteed in the Constitution by giving a voice to each State separate from the national popular will.

The Electoral College also reduces the impact of voter fraud in any one State by compensating for it via the fifty other elections around the nation.  Voter fraud occurring in any one State would be limited in its impact, because the other fifty elections would outweigh its significance and it is more difficult to coordinate voter fraud in fifty-one separate elections.

Contrary to modern propaganda, the Electoral College, as it was originally designed, does not prevent third party candidates from obtaining the national office. Our founders designed the system with multiple candidates in mind in which the winner would be the candidate who won a simple majority of the total number of electoral votes.[2] When developing the Electoral College, our founders had not envisioned the two-party system that would soon come to dominate American society. This, in itself, was not an issue until a majority of the States instituted the winner-take-all “general ticket” during the 1824 election. The general ticket requires all electoral votes from a State go to the candidate with the majority popular vote in the State, which effectively prevents a third party candidate from winning the White House.

Third party candidates rarely obtain the majority of popular votes in any State to win all the electors from that State and in this way the general ticket prevents third party candidates from accumulating the required number of electoral votes to win the national office. Additionally, similar to ignoring regional interests via a national popular vote, the general ticket ignores regional interests within the 48 States that have instituted it[3] by completely overpowering voters in rural districts with the greater number of voters in urban ones. For example, in the 2008 Presidential election, all the electoral votes in Pennsylvania went to the party represented by blue, even though a breakdown of the State electoral map indicated the majority of congressional districts voted for the party represented by red.

The general ticket has also made a mockery of our republican form of government by moving the nation one step closer to a total democracy. Our founders established our nation as a republic not a democracy, monarchy, or an aristocracy, because they knew each of these other forms of government would lead to tyranny in one form or another. Fortunately, the general ticket was self-imposed by the States that endorsed it and can easily be rectified. The US Constitution does not have any jurisdiction over how electors are selected, so if a State chose to institute a system in which each congressional district voted for the elector of their choice with the two other electoral votes[4] going to the candidate who wins the majority of districts in the State, they could do so by voting it in via their legislature.  If all the States adopted this alternative system, it would provide opportunity for third party candidates to win the Presidency by requiring each candidate to individually compete for every congressional district in the nation, and this would also restore the electoral voice to people living in rural districts of each State.

The final most common complaint against the Electoral College is that it potentially allows a bad-faith elector to “steal” the will of the people by not voting for the candidate the majority selected. This is an issue easily rectified by State legislatures. State legislatures need only pass a law requiring electors to vote for the candidate selected by the majority of voters in the district they represent and this issue would become a non-issue.

Although, getting all or a majority of States to adopt a Congressional district Electoral College model is easier said than done, it is far better than forcing an alternative system upon the nation by a constitutional amendment. A constitutional amendment of this kind would not be beneficial to the American people, because it would give more power to the national government to regulate voting privileges in each State and further strip power from the States and people by centralizing it at the national level.

The Electoral College is an ingenious system developed by our founders that we would do well to not only preserve, but restore to its original intent. We are a nation with diverse interests and the only way to preserve this diversity, while still remaining unified nationally, is to retain the most government power at the local level, closest to the people. The Electoral College must also be preserved to keep our republic from devolving into a total democracy, in which we will all be subject to mob rule.

[1] The District of Colombia has three Electoral College votes

[2] Currently there are 538 Electoral votes, so a simple majority is half that number (269) plus one (270 votes).

[3] Maine and Nebraska are the only two States that did not institute the general ticket.

[4] The number of Electoral College votes for each State is equivalent to the total number of US Representatives for that State and the two Senators.



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