Is the Critic’s Problem with the 12th or the 10th?
The Electoral College isn’t perfect, but it is better than the alternative. To date, there have been five instances of the Electoral College and the popular vote not meshing: Quincy Adams over Jackson (1824), Hayes over Tilden (1876), Harrison over Cleveland (1888), W. Bush over Gore (2000), and, most recently, Trump over Clinton (2016). Taking Occam’s razor to the debate, the electoral college serves as a check on the centralization of power and gives a voice to the potentially silenced. Unfortunately, to collect its benefits, one must pay an expensive price: a devaluation of the individualist, populist, and collectivist vote shares. Alterations have been made before, but those were tweaks rather than today’s common call for a complete overhaul.
Advantages of the Electoral College
For years, conservatives have been clinging to the surface level position that the Electoral College protects states’ rights and is indicative of the left’s attempt to centralize power. These advocates are right, the Electoral College is inherently a federalist issue, but it is not the only issue in play. Any attempt to repeal it, strips power from rural communities and their respective states in favor of coastal, densely populated cities and the federal government (hold for Chicago).
Without the Electoral College, people can eat the crust while neglecting the heart of the pie. However, potential benefits extend past the commonplace states’ rights argument. In addition to reinforcing the federalist nature of our republic, the Electoral College mandates candidates seek broad support in elections, encourages two-party stability, while simplifying potential recounts.
According to the 2010 census, New York City alone accounts for over 2.5% of America’s population. A state with the minimum number of electoral votes – say Montana or Delaware – accounts for only .5% of the country’s electoral votes or 0.3% of the United States aggregate population. A switch to a popular vote system makes New York City alone 8 times more powerful than some entire states. This problem is only exacerbated when other more dense, coastal cities are included: Los Angeles, Houston, and San Francisco to name a few.
Maybe Chicago and Columbus could save the Eastern Midwest, but what about Wyoming, Montana, Alabama, Mississippi, and North and South Dakota? Do they travel to the nearest city? Maybe it’s feasible for some, but surely not for many. Grand Island is in the same state as Lincoln and Omaha, one can travel from Colorado Spring to Denver, but it is difficult to suggest northern Mississippians book a flight to Miami.
When the conversation solely revolves around states’ rights, conservatives often lose their purpose. The poorest states are the same states that benefit most from the Electoral College. Forcing citizens of these states to travel to see a candidate speak severely limits their voice and enables the president to run on a platform that favors the will of the masses. Decisions are best made, and voices are best heard, at the most local level. The Electoral College – and America’s separation of powers – makes these voices count. As Alexis de Tocqueville has repeaatedly stated, there is always tyranny in the majority.
The Electoral College strongly supports stability in America’s two-party system. The two-party system has clear and evident flaws. Most notoriously, there isn’t a party to embody every individual’s interests. The vast majority of Americans favor legalization of marijuana and a more laissez-faire economic environment, yet neither party represents this view. These individuals must prioritize their issues rather than be able to, typically, vote for a party that favors both. Moving past long-term flexibility of this system, or lack thereof, the two-party structure unquestionably limits the ability of a candidate to win as the candidate deviates further from the party. The Electoral College is mostly binary where a popular vote isn’t; more people split and waste their vote Their vote may have more power, but – ironically – means less. The debate of the two-party system is a debate for another day, but Americans must know that advocating for the electoral college is also a vote for the two-party system and vice-versa.
Finally, and less importantly, the Electoral College makes vote recounts more simplistic. When Bush topped Gore in the highly contested 2000 election, the only state that needed to be recounted was Florida. Without the Electoral College – when the election is within the margin of error – the entire country must recount their votes instead of an individual state. This advantage grows more trivial as technology continues to progress, yet still fits the narrative of the Connecticut Compromise. By enabling a bicameral legislature, the founders were able to implement a system that promoted both the power of the people and individual state sovereignty. Its intent is more applicable than its current utility.
Electoral College Shortcomings
The most publicized problem with the Electoral College is that individuals who live in solid blue or solid red states are disenfranchised. Democrats in Texas and Republicans in New York are less likely to vote in Presidential elections. Not only is this a problem for the presidential race, it significantly and adversely affects down-ballot (Congressional) races in those states. This is exacerbated by the electorate’s propensity to refuse to split their ticket; those who vote for the President typically vote for his party in the Congressional races as well. Although this is a problem, the problem shouldn’t be addressed by inducing another one. Dismantling the Electoral College aids the symptom, but neglects the disease. The voting population must be more politically educated and less politically apathetic within their congressional districts. Further cutting states’ rights does not seem to address this issue as effectively as addressing education.
Finally and – arguably – most importantly, the Electoral College has the potential to both grow and mitigate local and state laboratories of democracy. With the electoral college in place, states are less likely to form local and community political outreach groups. Politically organizing is largely contingent on having a chance to win and when the possibility is taken away, an individual is more likely to be less politically involved. Therefore, these people are more inclined to be politically apathetic. When every vote counts, people can more easily be convinced to come to the polls. However, this is a double-edged sword as it – as previously mentioned – rips power from the states.
States’ rights also create their own distinctive form of the laboratories of democracies. The best practices of each state are implemented by other states following their success. This is why many attribute some of the success of the ACA to Romney’s plan in Massachusetts (although its reapplication was centralized instead of being picked up by another state).
Finally, it is important to restate that the president has less of an incentive to come visit a rural home. Local campaigns fill this void, but they can only partly fill the gap of the platform shift to the densely populated communities. Sticking with the normal theme of the argument: abolishing the electoral college hurts states’ rights which currently feeds the presidential two-party system. If you support the 10th amendment and America’s current political structure, abolishing the electoral college is your death wish.
Follow this author on twitter: @Logan_Kolas