OPINION: The case against abolishing the Electoral College

By on March 26, 2019

We are all old enough to remember the 2016 election. That being said, you might recall that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton decried then-candidate Donald Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting the results of the election. So much so, that she called that refusal “a direct threat to our democracy.”

Well, for the last two years, the Democratic Party has spent their time refusing to accept that Donald Trump won the presidency fair and square. The same people that condemn the President’s violations of civic norms now advocate packing the courts and repealing the Second Amendment, among other things. But by far the worst of these is the campaign among the 2020 Democratic candidates to abolish the Electoral College.

To begin, it’s difficult to ignore the context in which the arguments against the Electoral College occur. Abolishing the Electoral College is always talked about, but never has it garnered the attention it has now been given. One does not have to look far to figure out why: President Trump’s victory in the Electoral College while losing the popular vote. Narrow wins in large states like Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan gave Trump victory despite getting blown out in California and New York even worse than Republicans usually do.

Of course, to suggest that Trump should not be President because he did not win the popular vote is akin to a chess player who has been checkmated suggesting that they ought to be the winner because they have more pieces on the board.

Both the Trump and Clinton campaigns went into the election trying to win the Electoral College, which was the agreed upon method of deciding the winner. Had the popular vote been the deciding factor, both campaigns would have almost certainly acted differently.

But this is surely not all of the problems raised against the Electoral College. As I noted at the outset, it is not as though there were not critiques made before now. Still, I remain convinced that it is the system we should continue to stick with.

To many, the Electoral College is a fundamentally undemocratic institution and should be abolished on that basis. That a candidate can win the most raw votes and still lose the election is seen as an affront to democracy. States are not represented in strict accordance with their population, giving small states a disproportionate influence and making some votes count more than others. Some voters are simply never talked to; Republicans in blue states and Democrats in red states may as well not even show up to vote.

To say the Electoral College is anti-democratic is a correct assessment. However, this is to its credit. The United States is, as suggested by the name, a union of states. We are not a democracy, we are a federal republic. We forget that at our peril. The states are themselves intrinsically valuable and unique units and they are what make up the nation. Were it not so, why not break up large Democratic states like New York or California for political advantage?

The idea that some voters have more electoral power than others is true, but it also isn’t unique to the Electoral College. The Senate is also an example of this, because the Senate represents states, not people. Hence Vermont, population 617,000, has the same number of senators as Texas, population 21,780,000.

Nor is it true that only a few states get all of the candidates’ attention. It is true that in any given electoral cycle, the number of swing states is quite small. In the upcoming 2020 election, for example, the only true swing states are Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, according to the University of Virginia Center for Politics. But that ignores that those swing states are constantly changing. In 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter carried every state of the former Confederacy aside from Virginia, according to the election site 270 to Win. In 2016, Republican Donald Trump did the same.

It is also not true that Republican voters in blue states or Democratic voters in red states aren’t counted, it is simply that they are outnumbered. This is why we have the House of Representatives, to represent the people directly. If you were going to make a case that those voters aren’t being represented, you would do better to aim your fire at gerrymandering. Unfortunately, that isn’t a partisan issue. Connecticut has not had a single Republican representative since 2009, despite Republicans winning 38 percent, 41 percent, and 41 percent of the presidential vote in 2008, 2012 and 2016 respectively, according to 270 to Win.

This is not to say that the Electoral College is a perfect system, far from it. But it seems to be the best of all the bad options. Our politics are quite volatile enough right now without throwing such a huge wrench in the process.

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