It is strange to at least some, and ostensibly many, how a process invested with such immense power could be surrounded by so much controversy. Deviating from my usual commentary, I wanted to use this week’s post to weigh the Electoral College’s pros and the cons, the good and the bad, and the smart and the dumb.
The purpose of the Electoral College, as well as the justification for its existence, has been explained in each classroom to every student across the country. As the legend goes: the delegates of the constitutional convention were conflicted over how to best elect the president. Some proposed to elect the president through congressional election, and others opposed that method due to its inherent susceptibility to corruption and lack of independence. Some, such as James Madison, believed that the president should be elected by a majority mandate, although even he acknowledged the issues that would ensue: a lack of consensus due to the northern and southern states being deeply divided over slavery. And lastly, as well all know, the “founders” of the Constitution shared a profound apprehension of “mob-rule” or “tyranny of the majority,” fearing that an unqualified, potentially dangerous populist could rise to the most powerful position in the nation. The concerns were valid at the time, and I admit that perhaps there was an era when the Electoral College was a necessary and even competent method used to elect presidents. In the modern era, though, there is no rational reason for why unknown electors through an antiquated and arcane process should determine a president.
The most prevalent and seemingly eternal argument used to defend the Electoral College is the notion that “small states” or “rural citizens” will be underrepresented in a popular vote system. Now, aside from the fact that it is bizarre for anyone to posit that giving every citizen one, equal vote would somehow oppress rural farmers in Idaho, it is simply either dishonest or ignorant to claim that the current electoral system. Truthfully, a person’s vote in Wyoming is worth nearly four times more than the vote of someone in California. Additionally, a vote is worth exponentially more if the voter resides in a highly contested “swing-state.” Why should a person living in Florida or Ohio have more of say in the electoral process than a person from Massachusetts or Alabama? Until every person has a full and equal vote, it can be hard to explain how we live in a fair and effective democracy.
The only plausible reason for the Electoral College that I view as somewhat serious is the fact that it leaves states in charge of elections, which makes it harder for any faction to achieve massive election fraud; however, and obviously so, there is no justification for why states cannot still be responsible for recording the total number votes within their state, as they already do, and have those votes added to a national sum to decide the presidency.
Although it is not on its own a complete indictment on the insufficiencies of the system, the election of Donald Trump ironically devastates the last valid “argument” there was to defend the Electoral College; instead of preventing an unqualified, unstable and unpredictable tyrant from ascending to the nation’s highest office, the Electoral college ensured that it would come to be. Now, if anyone thinks that such a perspective is partisan or somehow impartial, I would implore them to look at the Hayes vs. Tilden election in 1876, which proves exactly how partisan and impartial the electoral system naturally is. When 20 electoral votes were in dispute across four states, the Republicans and Democrats came to a “behind the curtain” compromise that would elect Hayes as president while withdrawing federal troops from the South and, furthermore, ending the era of Reconstruction.
Regardless of my strong feelings against the Electoral College, I concede that the system does and has had its relatively few merits; however, after over two centuries of use and a less than 90 success rate, in terms of aligning with the popular vote winner, it is time we allow our electoral process to truly represent the will of the electorate.