Now more than ever, the Electoral College has come under fire for supposedly undermining the will of the American people, and causing widespread confusion amongst the voting population. In reality, the College provides a valuable service to smaller states and a filter that distinguishes between lawful and unscrupulous election results.
The Electoral College was originally created as a result of James Madison’s fear that so-called “factions” would form, which he saw as groups of citizens who wished to push a law or an elected official that would violate the rights of all in the United States. If these factions were to eventually grow to more than half of the nation, they could effectively destroy the country, or in Madison’s words, “…sacrifice to it’s ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” The Federalist Papers, as written by Alexander Hamilton, state that the purpose of the Constitution is to ensure “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” The Electoral College requires any budding presidential candidate to win a super-majority, a majority of votes in a majority of states (or at least a majority of large states), rather than just an overall national majority. Thus, candidates are incentivized to pay attention to smaller states and cities they might otherwise ignore, whereas with a popular voting system large population centers such as New York City and Los Angeles would be all candidates focus on.
Swing states, or states that are almost impossible to affirm if they will support one party over another, are also essential. Whereas every state usually is contested at one point or the other, and as a result becomes integral to the election, this does not hold true for a popular voting system. Major cities with high populations do not change political affiliation with nearly the rapidity that states do, potentially leading to an election that is remarkably similar every four years.
One of the main faults of the popular system is the apparent necessity of recounts. In the 1960 presidential race between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, Kennedy won the electoral vote by 99 votes, and the popular vote by mere tenths of 1% of the voting population. While both sides accused the other of voter fraud, the Electoral College ensured that a recount of all 68 million votes was not necessary. This recount would have taken months, and more opportunities for possible fraud would have appeared. In the Electoral College, recounts would only have to be undertaken in certain states, streamlining the process and ensuring verifiable results. This wider margin of victory gives the President-Elect more authority, and prevents any possible conflicts of leadership.
While certainly controversial, the Electoral College provides a valuable service to the American people, streamlining the process and eliminating confusion over the results.
Now that Donald Trump has won the electoral college while failing to obtain the popular vote, we must ask ourselves why we allow such a system where some votes count more than others. Why must someone who lives in a state with a small population have more of a vote than someone who lives in California or Texas?
For those unfamiliar with how the electoral college works, it gives a certain amount of delegates to each state. No matter how small, every state has at least three votes to begin with. Once that is included, the population of the state decides the how many more votes that state has. Now, the largest issue most people have with the electoral college system is that no matter what percentage of the popular vote goes to a certain party, any candidate with the majority in that state receives all of that state’s delegate votes. After doing some calculations, I discovered that one could effectively win the electoral college by only obtaining 22% of the popular vote. This means that despite 78% of the populace voted against you, obtaining 50% plus one of the 11 largest states plus a minority Washington D.C. effectively wins the Presidency with 270 electoral votes.
This fact alone shows how the electoral college does not reflect our democracy because a candidate can win even if the majority of the country does not vote for that candidate.
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