In Defense of the Electoral College

This post was authored by Chris Snook

Following the 2016 election, there’s been renewed calls for the abolition of the electoral college system. While it’s doubtful none of these same people would be doing the same had Hillary Clinton won the electoral vote but lost the popular vote, the concept of the electoral college does sound illogical to many.

But what if I told you that your vote in our current electoral system is not supposed be equal to another? Does this induce anger, confusion, or perhaps a combination of both? It’s not uncommon for anyone’s first thought to be “that’s not fair!”

Much like the lies we’re exposed to as children – Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy (spoiler alert), American democracy is yet another one of them. While your local municipality might be a democracy to an extent, that’s where it ends. Your state has a legislature, which is a hallmark of republicanism, and not every state law is settled with a referendum. Article 4 section 4 of the U.S. Constitution makes it clear that the U.S. not a democracy, stating that “The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and on application of the legislature, or of the executive (when the legislature cannot be convened) against domestic violence.”

I do though believe voting is important and an integral component of one’s civic life. To first explain why voting for the President of the United States matters, we must identify what the electoral college is and what purpose it serves. The Electoral College is a system implemented by the United States Constitution to elect the president of the United States of America, as opposed to a system of direct democracy. The difference being that a democratic election involves having people vote for the president of the United States in a nationwide vote. The Electoral College has each voter, voting for the President in a state-wide vote. Besides Maine and Nebraska, every state has established by law, that the winner of the state-wide vote for president, receives all the electoral votes from that given state.

This system was chosen for a variety of reasons, the largest of importance is that the electoral college hinders the power of the majority rule and helps ensure the integrity of the republic.

So, how does a single vote matter, if it is not for the president but for an elector. While technically you vote for an elector but since electors are chosen based on what candidate wins the state, your vote for president is the same as your vote for an elector. It’s also worth noting that each vote is worth way more than anyone realizes. We need to stop looking at our votes as one vote in a national election but as one vote in a state election. If the U.S were to switch to a democratic election, wherein everyone gets a singular vote for the presidency, each vote is then worth 1 in nearly 137 million votes. With the Electoral College, each person votes in a statewide race, and in North Dakota for example your vote would be worth 1 in 739,000. Your vote in North Dakota would be 175 times more likely to influence an election than in a nationwide vote. In addition to that the winner of the state race gets every single elector that state has. North Dakota receives the least amount of electors a state can receive among others, which is 3. Out of the entire Electoral College, North Dakota has about .56% of the electors, less than a single percent. Though small, North Dakota only has .22% of the total population. This means North Dakota, even for such a small state has over twice the amount of voting power in the Electoral College than it would have in a democratic election.

Many, in more populous states argue that this is unfair, that states with low populations like Wyoming, Alaska, North Dakota etc. receive disproportionate voting power in the presidential election. This is a fallacy to assume that people are the only factor that should decide an election. What states produce our food, deliver us our oil, provide us our coal and let us extract their numerous other natural resources? Hint: it sure as hell isn’t Massachusetts. The less populous states have always been areas that provided important resources to our population centers, and the founders identified that, which is why they are given an elector count that is not proportional to their populations.

When looked at under objective scrutiny, the electoral college actually affords this nation an opportunity to have an election that more accurately reflects the needs and wills of the nation, not just the citizens. Private people are not the only components of this nation; we have businesses, farms, trade flows and institutions that do not get votes, but their needs are reflected in the way we elect presidents. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but the system used today was put together for a specific reason and that was to ensure that everyone had a say and no voice would be left too small.

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Since the election, I have been searching for reasons that the Electoral College might actually make sense, and while I do appreciate your perspective, it is still pretty obvious to me that it is an incredibly flawed system. First, I feel the need to point out that, although the victory of Donald Trump has ignited my anti-Electoral College passion, I have been opposed to it since long before this November. Had Clinton won the EC but lost the popular vote, I hope I would still acknowledge the flaws and believe it should be abolished, even if it did work in my favor this time. (Also worth pointing out that Federalist Papers 68 effectively tasks the EC with keeping the likes of Donald Trump out of office, so at least it would be doing its job).

    But that is just a small qualm I had with your post. My serious issue lies in how you choose to value states, arguing that we should not have a straight popular vote because the smaller states that contribute resources such as food and oil might be ignored should larger states see an increase in their electoral might. I see two major issues with this stance. The first is that you fail to acknowledge the resource contributions of larger states. According to the Economic Research Service of the Department of Agriculture, the top three agriculture producing states are California, Iowa, and Texas, in that order. (https://www.ers.usda.gov/faqs/#Q1) Granted, the next seven are all midwestern states, and most voted for Trump, but to say that smaller states are leading the way in terms of food production is simply inaccurate. You see the same with oil production, except that CA and TX switch places, and Iowa is replaced by North Dakota. Once again, the other top producers are mostly inland, Trump supporting states. (http://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/100515/us-states-produce-most-oil.asp). I will concede that it is true that most of the states that produce resources are the states whose votes you seek to protect, but I still think it is misleading to ignore the contributions of California and Texas. But, either way, this is still not the greatest problem with your view.

    The greatest problem is the measures by which you choose to value the voting rights of various states. The way I see it, any form of government will place the will of some over the will of others, be it the will of one tyrant, or the will of a majority or plurality of voters, or the will of 538 voters. The question is, how do we best determine whose opinion matters the most. I would say that we should do it based on whichever side gets the most support on the sole basis of numbers. You seem to disagree, preferring to allocate votes in a manner that prevents those in less populated areas from being dominated by those in more populated areas. This is a valid standpoint, but the way you justify this is where the fault lies. You seem to justify your belief on your assumption that many of the smaller states are providing more to the country, and therefore should have a more powerful vote. My issue with this is that I believe it restricts voting power to a very small, select group of the population, that is, those who produce resources. Why should they be the ones with the most power? Who is to say that their contributions to society make them any more capable of choosing a good president? At the end of the day, it seems that a popular vote would give excessive power to large states, while the Electoral College gives excessive power to small states. So the real question is how do we decide who deserves that excessive power more. In my view, it is the large states. Why? Because it seems foolish and potentially even dangerous to allocate voting power based on some sort of metric of desert, whereas basing it purely of population size guarantees that no individual’s specific qualities can enable them increased electoral power.

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