by Sam Hockenbury
[UMass Amherst Democrats' Communications Director]
Remove the Electoral College and replace it with a popular vote where in you need 50%+1 votes to win.
- The system gives undo balance to smaller states. Smaller (in terms of population) states are more rural and in theory would protect them from the larger more populous states. This is a nice sentiment from a geographic perspective and if you believe that the President should represent the states. But if you believe the President is supposed to represent the people then this unfairly hurts people who live in densely populated areas. If over half the country lived in one city and the other half was spread out over the whole country, why should the second half have more of a say in voting than the first half. Half the country has an urban experience and urban needs should be met, even if geographically they are small.
- It rewards states who limit suffrage. The system was a creation of the slave states. Slaves notoriously counted as 3/5 of a person and so count towards population, but could not vote. Women counted toward population, but could not vote. There was no political incentive to expand suffrage because the Electoral College by these measures made the votes of the limited voter pool stronger, and could shut down dissentious voices without paying for it on the national stage. So, today, places that actively try to turn down voter participation benefit two fold. One their state is more likely to go the way that the dominant party or ideology wants it to, but it also increases the power of those voters who are allowed to vote because the Electoral College is based (limitedly) on population and not actual voting. (This was a fear James Madison had as he was against the Electoral College. Yeah, THE Father of the Constitution was against the Electoral College. The framers didn’t act unanimously as we have made them seem to be in the American mythos.)
- The Electoral College also discourages minority opinions within their own state. Ignoring the incentive to limit suffrage deliberately, the Electoral College endorses majority rule within states, and treats state votes as homogenous. In Massachusetts there is little incentive for republican voters to show up on election day because they’ll lose the vote in the state and therefore their vote will count for nothing in the national election. Even if they lose by one vote. This can drive down turnout, or make the idea of mandatory voting less appealing because minority opinions get filtered out at the state level.
- The Electoral College also doesn’t ensure election processes are decentralized. In a direct vote system, the states can still count their own ballots and report the numbers as they always do. If an individual state is very close, or there is a question on the counting or legitimacy of the count in a particular state they’re can be recounts in those states. The entire vote does not have to be re-counted or counted in a central location. The threat of fraud is limited by this as local vote counts keep the process decentralized.
- The Electoral College does not keep elections from being easily “stolen” in fact no election that is fairly run can be “stolen”, that is just a negative term drummed up by losers in every cycle. Thus the argument rests that it’s harder to steal a state then it is one voter in one random precinct. But if that is the case and we take that argument to be true, then are presidential candidates regional candidates or are they national candidates? The fear again is that the Electoral College forces candidates to appeal to more than one region. While the math on this is true, the same can be said about popular vote. One, now minority votes in each state count for something. Democrats have a reason to spend time in deep southern states, Republicans aren’t wasting resources to get New Yorkers to vote for them. So while regional attitudes are important we homogenize them too much and start cutting down voices.
- The house of representatives and the senate are both directly elected. But in a larger sense the House members represent their local towns, and senators represent the needs of their states. They are in a national office elected by people with non-national interests. The president should represent all the people because it is the only true national office. And while swing states change with time, a given election the swing states are known. And before someone says 2016 is different no one knew that Michigan and Wisconsin were swing states you’re wrong. Donald Trump knew. He appealed to the rustbelt vote, he had no reason to bother appealing to Massachusetts or Californian voters. His campaign was aimed squarely at the Midwest and the Clinton campaign missed the mark aiming at a south that they thought would be more winnable with changing demographics. A full on popular vote, candidates still need to appeal to their “firewalls” and to other voters to maximize their ability to win.
- This may be the most important point. The Electoral College has no need to heed the will of the people. The laws that bind these delegates are on shaky legal ground as they could be unconstitutional depending on your view of the framers intent. And even with these bindings, in the moment these electors can choose whoever they want. It is a closed door meeting. It likely would spark national outrage if they do decide a different outcome, but as long as the institution stands that sword hangs over our necks. The system was designed out of a fear of the electorate. Some will point to the fact that in history direct democracies fall. Popular selection of a president is not direct democracy; it is still representative democracy where there are institutional and lawful powers that hold these leaders in check. The Electoral College is not a check on the power of government, it is a check against the power of the people. And news flash, any government can fall. Any governing body is prone to corruption, and so if the Electoral College is corrupted and they ignore the will of the people, does it preserve our union or would that threaten to destroy it?
- And I also feel that I should clarify. If Hillary Clinton won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote, I would still advocate for removing it. No president should have their administration be delegitimized that they won in an unfair manner. George W. Bush and Donald Trump will have to live with people on the left saying that they should have never been in office and if it were not for the archaic system I have pulled apart in the above and things would be better without them having been in office (true or not). The people never wanted them in the first place, why do voters in Ohio matter more than other people, etc. And if it happened to Hillary Clinton the questions of the election being rigged would have bogged down the opening or even the entirety of her administration crippling her ability to govern. And that does no one any good either.
Ultimately this system is bogged down by many pitfalls and I fail to find the arguments for it to be convincing enough to keep it. There will always be a struggle to find the best way that represents the people and their interests, and maybe if we changed the manner in which we vote that could improve things drastically. But when it comes to the Electoral College, I find that it stands in the way of the national interest and damages the democracy all in the name of protecting us from ourselves.