Discussion Monday: The Electoral College

There seems to be a growing sense of frustration and angst against the electoral college style of voting. A New York Times article, published in 2019, reported that at least fifteen states have passed laws stating that they will award their electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote.

“Nevada became the latest state to pass a bill that would grant its electoral votes to whoever wins the popular vote across the country, not just in Nevada. The movement is the brainchild of John Koza, a co-founder of National Popular Vote, an organization that is working to eliminate the influence of the Electoral College.” (NYT)

There are and will be substantial constitutional ramifications for states should the states truly attempt to award the electoral votes based on the popular vote instead of the votes of the state. But that is neither here nor there for this article.

If the United States were ever to move away from using the electoral college, she would need to have a rational and reasoned out justification, one that is strong enough to warrant changing a system that has produced peaceful transitions of power for over 250 years. What would work better, and theoretically why would it work better? Americans, if they truly want to change things, must answer these questions and have a serious discussion about the issue before making any changes.

In order to do this though, we need to understand why the founders created the election process like they did. Why do we have an electoral college?

Option One: Congress Elects the President

For all those that want the U.S. to be more like other countries, Europe primarily, here’s a way we could be just like them: have Congress elect the president. Or, better yet, have the party that wins the majority in Congress select a member of Congress—and their party—-to be president. Wait, that’s the parliamentary system and not what we have in the U.S.

The founders really struggled coming up with a new and effective method for electing the U.S. president. They did contemplate having Congress elect the president but felt that Congress could dominate an honest or lazy president, while a corrupt or scheming president might dominate Congress, thereby making this method undesirable. Think about it. If the president were to be elected by Congress, who is he going to be concerned about pleasing? The people of the U.S. or Congress?

Option Two: The People Popularly Elect the President

After agreeing that Congress shouldn’t have the complete ability to select the president, the founders considered the opposite alternative, popular election.

What was the problem with popular election?

First, the bigger the country grew, the less and less likely all the citizens voting would be engaged and fully informed. The founders were not, I repeat, not, in favor of establishing a democracy in the United States. (For a more detailed understanding of why, please read my blog post called Why America is NOT a Democracy.) Democracies are usually violent and short-lived. Why? Because people are irrational, emotional, volatile and easily manipulated. Mob rule never works and the founders were disinclined to let that happen in the U.S. Just because the majority wants something, does not mean it is right.

The founders also knew that a purely popular election would not likely result in peaceful transition of power because the small states would feel that they were given no say or influence in the election process. The popular vote would essentially eliminate the influence of states all together. Since the founders were concerned with creating an electoral process that the people and states considered legitimate, they did not want to establish a process that alienated and frustrated and gave a disadvantage to a large sect of states.

Plus, popular vote would end up like this: Los Angeles, New York and a couple other big cities would be responsible for electing the president every term. This would leave almost forty or more states with little to say in the presidential election process and would not sit well with those forty states. Those states would have good reason to question the legitimacy of the election process—thereby threatening peaceful transition of power. The founders knew this and wanted to avoid it all costs.

How could they establish an electoral system that accounted for and prevented the influence of the mob/masses while also not leaving the election of the president exclusively with Congress?

The answer? A hybrid of sorts: the electoral college.

Option Three: The Electoral College

If you want to learn a bit more about the way the electoral college system works, read my post explaining it. The theory behind the electoral college was that it would give every state a just weight and say in the election process. Why? Because even states with small populations would still have at least three electoral votes. And, the popular vote wouldn’t be able to dictate or tyrannize over smaller or less populated states. The electoral college prevented majority tyranny or abuse.

The electoral college forces presidential candidates to care about every state. And do not conflate partisanship with the electoral college. The fact that some states always vote for one party or another is entirely the fault of the state, not the electoral college. Without the dramatic influence of the two party system, presidential candidates would have to pay attention to every state both before and after an election. This would not be the case should the president be elected by popular vote. He or she would only feel the need to represent, campaign to and please the few cities and states with the highest population and would give no fair weight or consideration to the country as a whole—citizens of smaller or less populated states who experience very different lives and have very different needs—and need to be represented as well—would not be represented.

Let’s Discuss

So, now you know why we have an electoral college system of voting. With this knowledge in hand, let’s ask and answer these questions.

  1. Do you agree with the founder’s reasons for using an electoral college and why?

  2. Do you disagree with their theoretical reasons and why?

  3. If you believe that popular vote is the better route to take, what are your theoretical foundations for that belief? How can you account for the flaws it would present? Is it a given that popular election is better or the right form of election even though the U.S. is not a democracy?

  4. If you believe the electoral college is wrong, why? What are your theoretical reasons for why you believe it is wrong?

  5. What is the best and lawful remedy for the electoral college if you believe it should be changed?

These are questions that Americans are not asking but should be asking before we take any drastic steps to change an electoral process that has produced 250 years of legitimately elected presidents and peaceful transitions of power.

I’d love to hear from you all. If you wholeheartedly believe in the electoral college, don’t hesitate to share and defend why, and if you do not, please share as well! Be diplomatic! The beauty of this country is the fact that we can engage in peaceful and respectful political discourse.

Please share your comments below!

The Liberty Belle

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