For the fifth time in U.S. history, the winner of the popular vote did not win the Electoral College, and thus did not become president. Clinton currently leads Trump by approximately 800,000 votes with plenty left to count.
We’ve all heard the argument for doing away with the Electoral College, and it’s a simple one: the candidate with the most votes should win. In times like these, there’s an abundance of outcry from those on the losing side pushing for the popular vote to decide our president. However, they ignore some compelling evidence against them that shows why we need the Electoral College now more than ever.
The founders of our country framed the process of choosing a president quite carefully. Back then, people would say, “The United States are…” – symbolic of the decentralized nature of the country and the sovereignty of each state. After all, the country owed its existence to each colony banding together as one to win independence. The Founding Fathers, in short, were put off by the idea of a centralized election because it would ignore the integrity of states in the federalist system.
Today, the fact that we are still a union of states is integral to our democracy. If our election were a mere summation of votes in which it was irrelevant from where they originated, then high population centers would be the focal points of presidential campaigns. The dense urban and metropolitan areas in California, New York, Illinois, Texas and Florida would render useless the need for a candidate to visit small towns or rural areas. Voters in many Midwest, southern, and northeastern states would be passed by simply because of the lack of people per square mile in their hometowns.
This would be harmful especially in light of how this election turned out. Clinton lost Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Iowa mostly because the Democratic Party did not take seriously the economic and social concerns of alienated, Rust Belt, blue-collar folks. Party leaders assured themselves that they had those votes locked up but didn’t put in the work or actually listen to the people. Instead of hearing their concerns about jobs, the Clinton campaign was organizing big city rallies with Jay-Z. In short, those who had comprised the party’s base some twenty or thirty years ago became dissatisfied, and those who were supposed to help fix things were looking the other way. This crisis would have been lost on us in 2016 – and those people would still not be heard – if states had been irrelevant in the election.
Furthermore, by anticipating population trends – how some areas are expanding rapidly while others are getting wiped off the map – we can see how the Electoral College will be integral to state and regional sovereignty moving forward. Los Angeles, for instance, has gained 300,000 residents since 1990, whereas socially and economically deprived Flint, Michigan has lost one-third of its total population in the same span. If there were no Electoral College, then presidential candidates would be more inclined to ignore floundering areas and orchestrate campaigns that disproportionately target voters in southern California or Florida who will essentially determine the fate of citizens in Flint or rural Iowans.
Having fifty statewide elections (plus D.C.) also discourages voter fraud. In our current system, each state has its own rules regarding early voting, registration, and recounts; one state cannot interfere with the process of another. Successful voter fraud requires an excess, reduction, or alteration of ballots in a particular state or combination of states – something that requires anticipation and guess-work. But if the president-elect is determined by just one large pool of votes, then illegitimate ballots from anywhere can alter the results. So if you think a recount in one state could get chaotic (see Florida, 2000), then imagine the disaster of a fifty-state recount of over 120 million votes if the margins are slim. That could very well extend past Inauguration Day, thereby straining not only our national unity but our democratic procedures regarding transfer of power.
Some have argued that the Electoral College discourages voter turnout in states that are solidly red or blue. I would counter that the system on its face does not inhibit the exercise of one's voting rights. The Electoral College does not even come close to infringing on one’s franchise, and so there are no grounds for the argument that “discouraging” turnout warrants a change to popular vote. Just because the current system has a secondary effect that makes citizens of certain states feel less inclined to vote, that does not by any means make it a faulty system. After all, we are not guaranteed equal circumstances when we vote; to expect such would be far too idealistic.
Others have taken the drastic measure of suggesting that when the electors gather in Congress on December 19, those whose state populations cast their ballots for Trump should refrain from voting for him, whether to make a statement against the Electoral College, or, even worse, because Trump is an extreme danger. This is absurd. To do so would be an assault on the foundations of our government and a sign of disrespect for this time-honored process. The Electoral College is just as valid whether it has rewarded your friend or foe; it should not be hijacked out of personal, vindictive reasons.
The Electoral College has been and should continue to be how we choose our president. We have been and will continue to be a nation of states in all types of environments and with all types of populations with various concerns, ideals, traditions, and hopes. The Electoral College is the better way to ensure as equal representation as possible, of both states and those who are proud to live in them.