“California’s forty million people are sick of being ignored.” “The Electoral College will destroy America.” “Why we should abolish the Electoral College.” Cries to abolish the Electoral College have lately increased in their frequency. The aforementioned recent New York Times opinion headlines, and many others, testify to this phenomenon. Donald Trump’s presidential victory without winning the national popular vote in 2016 added fuel to the fire, and critics of the system shudder at the thought of an encore in 2020. Referencing this and other similar occurrences, they decry the mechanism as fundamentally unfair, unequal and unrepresentative.
Further, critics contend that the system places more value on certain votes than others, allowing presidential candidates to focus exclusively on swing states and ignore states such as California and New York, whose electoral outcome is guaranteed. Contempt for the system has prompted a proposal known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which seeks to neutralize the effect of the Electoral College by ensuring the victory of the candidate in possession of the national popular vote. If states were to adopt this proposal, they would award their electors to the winner of the national popular vote regardless of the outcome. As of now, 15 states have signed this compact. Thus, the compact possesses 73% of the 270 votes necessary in order to have legal force.
In the midst of this outcry, we must recognize that the Electoral College has thus far successfully protected the stability and diversity of our constitutional republic. Those advocating for its abolition must consider the practical and constitutional implications of such an action.
The Electoral College reflects our founders’ constitutional commitment to liberty over efficiency alongside their desire to protect the rights of the minority from tyrannical majoritarianism. The idea that only the national popular vote has the ability to confer legitimacy presents a stark contrast to many of our constitutional principles. Our constitution contains a variety of checks and balances created to protect minorities and promote moderation among the majority. In addition to the Electoral College, the separation of powers, a bicameral legislature, federalism, the president’s veto power, the Senate filibuster, judicial review, equal representation among states in the Senate, and the Bill of Rights protect against the tyranny of the majority, ensuring that minority voices are respected. The Electoral College provides a hearing to smaller states and ensures that those in populous urban areas will not completely dominate an election. Cries to abolish this system disregards the founders’ careful design to protect the freedom of the minority and guard against a simple majoritarianism.
Further, the Electoral College honors the diversity of our democracy. Presidential candidates are forced to appeal to diverse interests and craft moderate, varied coalitions by focusing on winning individual states, rather than relying on a simple majority of the national popular vote. Different states become key swing states at different times and are located in diverse areas of the nation. Thus, presidential candidates must campaign in a variety of locations, which often change every few elections, instead of simply parading their merits on either coasts while ignoring the rest of the nation. The Electoral College respects the diversity of the many regions of the United States, thus ensuring that presidential candidates will build varied and more stable coalitions.
Those seeking to abolish this system must also consider the practical implications for elections. The Electoral College protects the stability of our democratic institutions by lessening the impact of voter fraud. As of right now, perpetrators of fraud have no incentive to merely manufacture or tamper with votes and must focus their efforts on a key battleground state, or county, in order to impact the results of an election. There are many swing states, and it is often hard to determine which state or county will sway an election until after the fact. In addition to discouraging voter fraud, the Electoral College promotes stability by avoiding nationwide recounts.
The current clamor surrounding the Electoral College reflects a culture that tends to condemn an entire system if it doesn’t produce the desired results all of the time or doesn’t fit its contemporary ideas of equality. No system is perfect, but some work better over a long period of time compared to others. The Electoral College has successfully protected the stability and honored the diversity of our constitutional republic, and in seeking to abolish this system, one must consider the practical and constitutional implications of such a fundamental change.
Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.