Should we abolish the Electoral College?
A MATTER OF OPINION: Alex de Ramon and Christopher Fenn debate whether the United States should keep the Electoral College. Chris says yes, Alex says no.
THE 2016 CAMPAIGN, as I’m sure we all well remember, produced many passionate debates over candidates, policies, and the issues facing our country. In the wake of it, however, a new debate has emerged over the future of the Electoral College. I will argue that the Electoral College has outlived its usefulness as a system of electing the president and that we should move towards a simple national popular vote as a model going forward.
First of all, the Electoral College has always been a mess of a system, historically, and arguments that keeping it preserves the wishes of the Founders are irrelevant. No less than James Madison, the Father of our Constitution, believed that a national popular vote would be the ideal method. In fact, he only accepted the Electoral College as it was a necessary compromise to make in order to placate slave states with lower populations. The infamous Three-Fifths Compromise was also created for this reason and gave slave states greater legislative representation.
Additionally, the original set-up of the Electoral College was that individual electors would use their own judgement to cast votes, with the runner-up becoming vice president. This system quickly led to much confusion in the elections of 1796 and 1800 due to the quick rise of political parties and factions. The ensuing 12th Amendment separated ballots for President and Vice-President. While this procedural change may seem irrelevant, it in fact supports the assertion that the Electoral College has never worked as it was intended to. Most of the Founders anticipated that Congress would often have to choose the President as the original system made it difficult for one candidate to gain an absolute majority. Clearly, the system today works very differently.
The Electoral College is today seen as a formality or rubber-stamp of a process, and most of the time it works in that way. However, 2016 proved that the Electoral College can function in a wholly anti-democratic way by choosing a president that was not the choice of the majority of US voters. This also occurred in 1876, 1888, and 2000. This process occurs because electors are expected to vote in accordance with their state, and most electors are specifically chosen by political parties based on their loyalty to the party. In essence, there is very little incentive for electors to try to vote independently: this can be seen in the term “faithless elector” which denigrates any elector who attempts to use their own judgement in voting.
The above description of electors as loyalists and yes men directly contradicts what Alexander Hamilton considered the advantages of the Electoral College system, as he described in Federalist No. 68. Hamilton argued that one strength of the electors is that they were chosen by their fellow citizens for that time and purpose only and were therefore “free from any sinister bias.” In the past election, there were several electors who were replaced or otherwise forced to vote with the majority when they attempted to cast a ballot for an alternative choice (one who did not win the electoral votes of the state). If that is not the tyranny of the majority, I’m not sure what is. He also argued that they would be wiser than the general public and have greater access to information that would thereby affect their vote. In today’s Information Age, there is clearly no shortage of information about political candidates and their platforms, especially with the incredible length of political campaigns in this country.
Finally, Hamilton argued that the Electoral College would 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.” Could anyone seriously argue that Trump was well-qualified or at all prepared to be President? Without doubt, many of you probably heard of the efforts of the “Hamilton Electors” in 2016, but their utter failure shows that the current system makes almost no effort to accommodate electors who are concerned over the qualifications of the choice that “the people” made. The Electoral College was designed as an intentionally anti-democratic system, but perhaps it turns out that our citizens can prevent unqualified candidates from entering the office of the President, if only we listened to them.
Now that I have examined the Founders’ thoughts about the Electoral College and some of its history, allow me to turn to the present. First of all, we no longer think of our government in the way that citizens did back then. When the United States first became a nation, many were concerned about having an overly strong federal government, and they saw our governmental structure as a federation of states, consequently believing in outdated concepts such as states’ ability to secede from the union. While federalism is still important and states do have latitude in many areas of policy, any casual examination of our history of the past century would show that the federal government has hugely expanded its powers and has, in some cases, expanded into areas such as education that were traditionally seen as the domain of the states.
Also, it is worth remembering that the Constitution does not establish an actual right to vote. Our Founding Fathers thought that only white men with property should be able to vote. Obviously, the US has expanded the ability to vote over its history, but since we think about basic concepts such as voting rights in such a radically different way, it should not be such a scary prospect to reexamine our electoral system.
Rather than an electoral college, the US should follow a simple electoral system of a national popular vote. This system would follow the basic democratic principle of “one person, one vote” and solve the myriad concerns and complications of our current system. Moreover, I believe that this system would incentivize voting and increase turnout. We all tend to think of our country as composed of “red states” and “blue states”, and I believe the winner-take-all system that distributes electoral votes discourages opposition voters in different states from casting ballots. After all, how many Democrats are encouraged to vote in North Dakota under the current system, or Republicans in New York? If we instead have a simple popular vote, every individual vote literally matters more, and I think it would be likely that more Americans of all political persuasions would find worth in voting.
The only real argument that Electoral College defenders have is that basing the vote of off population would lead candidates to focus unevenly on population hubs in places such as California, New York, and Texas. Essentially, urban voters in coastal cities could overrule the more sparsely populated heartland. However, this argument misses several key points. First of all, the current system gives undue influence to rural white voters.
Let’s compare the two states of California and Wyoming. Wyoming is the least populous state with approximately 590,000 residents and the minimum of 3 electoral votes. California is the most populous state with about 40 million residents and 55 electoral votes. Through simple math, we can see that California has about 68 times as many people, but only 18 times as many votes. This is because the total number of electoral votes has been capped at 538, and population changes in the census can only redistribute this number of votes rather than increasing it. (This is because DC has 3 electoral votes, the Senate has 100 members, and the House was capped at 435 members in 1929, when the US had a population of 121 million, about a third of where it is now).
But beyond even the number of total electoral votes being unrepresentative, the three electors in Wyoming represent far fewer people than electors in California do, which boils down to the fact that each vote cast in Wyoming is worth 3.6 times the same vote in California. While this represents the extremes of our system, it is clearly hypocritical to feign concern about unfair representation and voting power when our current model produces such gross inequality.
Also, it may be true that candidates of the future will focus primarily on the states with the most population. But candidates now focus almost entirely on “swing states” that reflect an uneven amount of attention. In fact, even within these swing states, Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina typically emerge as the most important states as they have more electoral votes. They have more electoral votes because they have higher populations. Why criticize a system that would result in some amount of uneven attention when the current system is much worse in the very same regard? Also, the “uneven attention” would be on the basis of living and breathing individuals receiving visits from candidates because more of those individuals live in that area. Does that not make more sense than a system where huge areas of empty “red” land have more say than a person who chooses to live in a city? Should the basis of our system be arbitrary geographical divisions of counties or states rather than the citizens of our country? Many Republicans love to post electoral maps of the 2016 election that shows huge swathes of red counties across the country. That’s great, but it is misleading. The American people chose Hillary Clinton as their president, but the electoral system gave them Donald Trump.
Finally, the Electoral College system could actually suffer from the same inequalities in population that its defenders rail against. A hypothetical map shows that one party must only win the 11 most populous states to win the Electoral College. Because Democrats have historically done well in 6 of those states, with some of the others being classic “swing states”, Democrats would only have to prevail in those swing states and win Georgia and Texas for this scenario to ensure their victory. While a bit far-fetched, demographic change has caused these very two states to become closer in 2016 than previous political wisdom would have suggested.
But let’s expand on this original map to look at a more realistic proposal. Let’s assume that Texas remains a red state, and add into the map every other typical red and blue state. We can leave some “swing states” gray for the sake of the argument (although Republicans could win every one of these states, and therefore a majority of the states, and still lose the election). While one could argue that the Democrats’ weakness in the Rust Belt in 2016 would make it difficult to win Michigan and even more difficult to win Ohio, I would argue that these weaknesses were primarily caused by Trump himself as a candidate and his differences in trade and economic policies compared to more typical Republicans. Even so, I have let Wisconsin stay as a gray state to accommodate that concern.
This map is a little different from the typical “blue wall” argument that was so common in 2016, that Democrats would have an essential safe majority of electoral votes through coastal states and the Midwest. But we can still see that the Electoral College itself is an unbalanced system that is ultimately based on population. In fact, if the Electoral College votes could be established more evenly and fairly based on population (and not capped at the current number), this fact would be far more salient. If a national popular vote would advantage cities and more populous regions, so does the Electoral College, only compensating for this by varying levels of voting power, which is undemocratic.
To sum up my argument, the Founders’ arguments for the Electoral College are no longer relevant to how the Electoral College actually works today, and the current system’s inequalities in voting power and disproportionate focus on swing states are serious flaws. These flaws, combined with the antidemocratic nature of the system itself, make our current electoral system unacceptable. America birthed the modern democratic movement as we know it. So why do we cling to an electoral system that flies in the face of democracy?
(March 16, 2017)
I WOULD LIKE TO thank Alex for presenting me with the opportunity to debate him on this issue that has proven to be concerning for American voters. While Alex explains why the nature of our presidential election system, the Electoral College, allowed for President Donald Trump to win the presidency despite not winning the popular vote, his article misrepresents historical events surrounding this fundamental American institution. Additionally, he comes to conclusions based upon the nature of the Electoral College that are theoretically possible but practically infeasible regarding the way in which a presidential candidate can reach 270 electoral votes. I will first delve into a more accurate account of the history and context surrounding the Electoral College. Then, I will systematically discredit the false claims that Alex has made throughout his essay by providing evidence based upon scholarly research. Lastly, I will provide reason for why the Electoral College needs to remain as an institution, but requires some reforms.
The Electoral College has its origins in the United States Constitution. Per Article II Section I of the Constitution, it is established that the election of the President and Vice President of the United States is determined via the Electoral College. The establishment of the Electoral College as a component of the United States Constitution derives from the work of delegates of the Constitutional Convention, specifically the compromises that were made as the result of the Connecticut Compromise. As you well know, the Connecticut Compromise satisfied both factions at the convention, those delegates from large states and other delegates from small states by making representation in the House of Representatives be based upon population, which satisfied large states, while satisfying smaller states by establishing equal representation in the Senate.
Based upon the premises surrounding the institutions created because of the Connecticut Compromise, the delegates at the Constitutional Convention were able to successfully negotiate the method in which the President and Vice President are elected. Accordingly, they established a system of 69 electors who would cast votes for President and Vice President.
Alex’s argument has four major flaws. First, he assesses that the Electoral College is an anti-democratic system and thus should be eliminated. Yes, by definition, the Electoral College can be considered undemocratic. But, one reason that the Electoral College, like many other of our institutions, was created, was to serve our system of checks and balances on power, a fundamental aspect of our democracy. It was created to serve as a safeguard on the power of the nation to select the President and Vice President, to be enacted if the nation selected candidates that were deemed to be unfit and unqualified to hold the office that they were attempting to occupy. You might be asking yourself what other “anti-democratic” institutions serve as the foundation for our nation by ensuring a system of checks and balances that has allowed for our nation to prosper for over two centuries. First, the way in which Supreme Court Justices are selected is inherently what Alex would consider an “anti-democratic” institution because justices are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate not directly elected. This aspect of our system of government is crucial in securing that the power of both the executive and the judiciary is checked by other branches of government. An additional example of an anti-democratic institution is the fact that presidential vetoes can only be overridden by a super majority in both houses of Congress. Again, this is implemented not to delegitimize the American democracy, but to strengthen it as this aspect of our Constitution allows for the power of the legislative branch to be checked by the executive branch, and vice versa. These elements of our Constitution only strengthen the legitimacy and strength of our democracy, not weaken it.
Secondly, Alex incorrectly assesses that elements of the Electoral College were arbitrary in its inception. He argues that states’ borders are arbitrary and thus it should not be their decision via electors to decide who is elected to serve as our President. Yet, he fails to recognize that the states are not arbitrary at all. In fact, they are the product of the influence of land purchases such as the Louisiana Purchase, and geographical features, including rivers and mountains. The boundaries of these “arbitrary” states are explained in the History Channel series How the States Got Their Shapes. Additionally, the Electoral College was intentionally created to be vague. The Constitution only dictated the system’s foundational elements such that it would allow for alterations to be made as seen fit. The intent of the Framers, in regards to the Electoral College, is consistent with their intent in writing the entire Constitution. The Constitution was not meant in any means to be set in stone. It was meant to be a living Constitution, meaning that adaptations, also known as amendments, were possible when it was deemed to be adequate. The very nature of the Constitution, and the foundation of the Electoral College, has allowed for American democracy to prosper under a single Constitution, one that is the longest surviving constitution in the world.
Thirdly, he concludes that the Electoral College has never been effective since it was established via the signing of the Constitution, which is a somewhat accurate statement. The Electoral College today undoubtedly is not functioning as the Framers intended for it to. It was impossible for them to foresee all the potential complications this institution would cause throughout its history. Yet, because they made the Electoral College adaptable to meet the needs of the country, they ensured that the Electoral College could sustain itself throughout American history with the assistance of relatively minor changes. Thus, there is no reason for the Electoral College to be eliminated because it can meet the needs of the time.
Lastly, Alex falsely contends that the Electoral College system has failed repeatedly. First, why Alex deems the system to fail is because he contends that it is a failure if individuals who do not win the popular vote win the electoral vote. But, this is not a failure of the system, simply because the system was not designed that way. It was not designed to award the presidency to the individual who received the most popular votes. The intent of the Framers in establishing the Electoral College suggests that there are only two requirements of the individual that the electoral college deems to be the next president. First, the victor must receive a significant amount of the popular vote, such that it would enable them to govern effectively. Secondly, the popular vote they receive must be sufficiently distributed from states throughout the United States that are representative of a diverse nation. The second requirement is one of the reasons that the popular vote is not important in the Electoral College. The intent of the Framers was to promote and reward candidates who were able to receive the votes of individuals from various geographic demographics of the United States, as the Framers recognized that the United States, even at its inception, was a very large and diverse nation.
The Electoral College has proven this ability throughout time to correct itself over time to compensate for previous blunders. After the Election of 1800, in which the election was settled by the House of Representatives when Thomas Jefferson received the same number of electoral votes as his running-mate for Vice President, Aaron Burr, the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution was enacted. Simply, the Twelfth Amendment remedied the situation that occurred in 1800 by creating separate ballots for the President and Vice President, thus causing this issue to never arise again. In three states during the Election of 1876 two distinct set of electoral votes were produced, causing a significant controversy that had to be resolved by a special fifteen-member commission. Similarly, to how the incident that arose in the Election of 1800 was remedied, legislation was passed to modify the institution to correct this significant flaw in the system. In 1887, legislation was passed that delegated the power to each state to determine the legality of the votes cast, thus permanently preventing the issues surrounding the Election of 1876 from ever arising again. The most important takeaway from these two examples are that there were several times the Electoral College system could have been destroyed and abandoned, yet it wasn’t because the problems that arose with it could be easily remedied.
As a result of the ability of the Electoral College to be altered and corrected, as well as the success with which remedies to the institution has been accomplished, there is no reason to depart from this current system. Let me conclude this essay by debunking major issues that Alex has with the Electoral College and why he thinks a national popular vote could remedy this. First, Alex contends that swing states have too much focus under the Electoral College System, and by shifting to a national popular vote that would cause the focus to be diverted to large states, where he contends it should be placed. Yet, as aforementioned, the intention of the Framers in establishing the Electoral College was to ensure that the victor would receive electoral votes from a diverse array of states, not just large states or small states. Further, he comes to the conclusion that a candidate only has to win the eleven most populous states to be victorious in the Electoral College. While this is theoretically possible, it is practically infeasible, as a candidate would have to win the deep blue states of California, Illinois, and New York, in addition to the deep red states of Texas and Georgia. Simply, this rationale is irrational. The more “realistic” proposal he introduces is still baseless. He falsely represents South Carolina as a swing state, while failing to represent Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan as swing states (all states President Trump successfully won). Further, he misrepresents Georgia as a blue state, when in eight out of the last ten elections the state has been red. Lastly, and most importantly, Alex does not provide evidence to suggest that the popular vote would remedy these two “problems” that are theoretically possible, but realistically improbable, nor does he provide evidence to back up his claim that “he feels” and “believes” that turnout would increase under the popular vote and that Clinton would have won if our electoral system was a direct popular vote. The Electoral College is not perfect. I am not trying to argue that it is. Simply, I am arguing because of the nature of the institution that was created because of the intention of the Framers, this institution can be modified after a significant flaw is identified. Additionally, I am arguing that this “anti-democratic” system has strengthened our democracy and has allowed for the largest and most diverse nation in the world to be ruled over effectively by the President of the United States
(March 23, 2017).
CHRIS MAKES SOME GOOD points about the Electoral College, but he suffers from some flawed reasoning, and a lot of his points obscure some deeper truths.
First, I’ll address Chris’s words about the history of the Electoral College. The Connecticut Compromise established the basic mixture between proportional representation based on population and equal representation based on states, most notably in the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively. And, yes, the Electoral College stemmed from this basic division of government. But I’m not quite sure why he characterizes his account as “more accurate”: all he does is pick the historical details that justify his argument. He ignores that most of the Founders’ arguments that justified it are now irrelevant (see Madison and Hamilton’s comments in my first post), and that they expected that Congress would usually have to pick the president. They also did not anticipate that a states’ electoral votes would be assigned by a “winner-take-all” system. Putting all of these facts together, I think it is clear that while the Electoral College worked as a good compromise in its time, there are few good reasons to keep it today.
Chris says that I make a mistake by calling the Electoral College undemocratic, when many other institutions in our government are undemocratic (such as the Supreme Court, etc.), which apparently creates a logical inconsistency. Chris does this by tying all of these factors to the concept of “checks and balances on power”. While most examples of checks and balances, such as veto power and overrides, advice and consent, and judicial review, are fairly self-explanatory, Chris states that the College was “created to serve as a safeguard on the power of the nation to select” a candidate who may be considered “unfit and unqualified”. This does not make much sense to me. Checks and balances work by preventing each branch of government from gaining too much power. The people are clearly not a branch of government, so the Electoral College is not a “check” in the usual sense of the term. Moreover, as I stated in my first post, it is just about inconceivable to imagine the electors themselves actually rejecting a winning candidate. If they did, as Chris seems to expect based on his idea of the College as a check on the nation, I would not be surprised to see widespread rioting and a serious governmental crisis on our hands. Our expectation, as it should be, is that the people should decide who leads our country and that the Electoral College simply ratifies this choice. But that conception falls apart when there is a gap between the popular vote and the electoral college.
Chris is correct that the borders of the states are not “arbitrary” as I previously stated. But my larger point was that areas of land are the current building blocks of our election system, rather than an individual voter’s power. This is clearly a preposterous system. In fact, a majority of American voters have wanted to abolish the Electoral College for decades (although it has become a somewhat more partisan issue due to the 2016 results). But the Electoral College is obviously still around. Chris is technically correct that the Constitution is amendable and not “set in stone”. But it is very difficult to amend: as evidenced by the gap between the polling mentioned above and the complete lack of progress in amending the Electoral College. The American Constitution is regarded as one of the most difficult to amend in the world: we can informally see this through the simple number of amendments passed. Since the Bill of Rights was added almost immediately afterwards, there have only been 17 amendments for over 200 years of history. That doesn’t quite sound like a “living document” to me.
Chris’s third argument simply repeats his assertion that the Electoral College “can meet the needs of the time”. I would be interested to see his ideas for what exact reforms he wants to make to the Electoral College: I would imagine that Chris would like to see a proportional distribution of electoral votes instead of the current “winner-take-all” model. This would be a very great step in reforming the College, but it does not go far enough. The inherent basis of the Electoral College is flawed because it represents geographic regions rather than citizens. Also, the method of proportionality is a key consideration. For example, Maine and Nebraska are currently the only two states that distribute electoral votes based on congressional district, as well as “at-large” state votes.
But if electoral votes were distributed in this way nationwide, there could actually be larger gaps between the popular vote margin and the Electoral College, because districts are gerrymandered to make as many districts “safe” as possible by maximizing the potential for certain parties to win (currently favoring the GOP, but a potential redrawing would surely be enough to keep Chris up at night).
As for Chris’s last point, the two requirements that he explains for the winner of the Electoral College are technically correct: winning a substantial amount of the vote and getting votes from a diverse collection of states all around the country. But these requirements ignore the reality of how our election campaign currently works. As I have already said, campaigns focus almost entirely on the swing states (most of which are in the Midwest/ “Rust Belt” region) and ignore “solid” red and blue states. So while candidates technically have to win around the country, they will necessarily ignore large regions (the West Coast, much of the South and New England, etc.). A popular vote will probably lead to campaigns focusing mainly on cities and metropolitan areas, but let’s dispel with the notion that the Electoral College is somehow equitable in how it divides attention between states and regions in the country.
In essence, Chris bases his argument for keeping the Electoral College on a lot of shaky points. It is not easy to alter or amend the Electoral College, and the only reform that would actually narrow the gap between the popular vote and electoral votes is to make the distribution of electoral votes proportional to the percentage of the popular vote that each candidate wins in each state. If we can do that, why not go the extra step in abolishing the Electoral College? There really are not any good reasons to stick with it besides tradition. It is a complex system that was created as a compromise over reasons that are no longer really relevant. It results in unequal voting power and paints a misleading picture of our nation as “red” and “blue” states.
As for my example maps, I acknowledged that they were unrealistic given our current political landscape. But their point was to illustrate that the Electoral College is ultimately still based on population. Winning the most populous states, or at least some of them, gets a candidate most of the way to that “magic” 270 majority. From using simple math, we can find that just 3 states (NY, CA, IL) made up almost half percent of Clinton’s electoral votes, and 4 states (TX, FL, PA, OH) made up about 30 percent of Trump’s votes. Candidates do have to win small states, but the only truly small state that is a swing state is New Hampshire, and the bigger states ultimately have most of the power in determining the victor. Population should not be considered some scary, radical basis for our national election system: it already is, just in an unbelievably roundabout way.
Chris is right in that I provided no evidence for my assertion that a popular vote would increase turnout. But an analysis of voter turnout by state in 2012 shows that swing states had higher turnout, on average, by 6 points. This makes sense: swing states determine the winner of the election, and so there is a greater incentive for voters to actually vote when their vote literally matters more in determining the outcome. In a national popular vote system, every vote has equal potential to affect the outcome, which would suggest a greater incentive to vote, and increased turnout according to the evidence above. In any case, our current levels of voter turnout are abysmal for a country that claims to be so proud of its democracy. And I never claimed that Clinton would have won a direct popular vote system in 2016. That is a hypothetical scenario that is difficult, if not impossible, to predict because the entire strategy of the campaign would have changed. I simply stated that Clinton DID win the popular vote under our current system.
Chris admits that the Electoral College is flawed. But saying that it has strengthened our democracy is laughable. It would actually be more accurate to call our system of government a “democratic republic” due to its many undemocratic features, which Chris actually goes to some length to point out in his response. The Electoral College clearly damages our “democracy” by making the election of our president susceptible to unaccountable partisan hacks. It has resulted in controversy and damaged legitimacy of elected presidents when what should be going on is a peaceful transition of power and a respectful reconciliation of opposing parties and ideas (at least with how ugly and unbearably long our campaigns have become).
A national popular vote is simpler and incentivizes voters to actually vote in every state in the union. It solves many problems with the Electoral College, such as uneven voting power and the possibility, however remote, of electors or Congress choosing a president instead of the people. Sure, states with small populations such as Vermont, North Dakota, and Alaska won’t get much attention under a popular vote. But they are already ignored, along with states with huge populations such as New York and Texas. A popular vote would not be a perfect system either, but it is a far better alternative than keeping the Electoral College.
(March 28, 2017)
LET ME CONCLUDE THIS debate by first clarifying why the Framers’ intentions are still relevant and applicable. Then, I will discuss why a direct popular vote system would be ineffective and more importantly would not adhere to the Framers’ intentions.
Alex concludes that because alterations have been made to the original Electoral College system, the arguments and intentions of the Founders do not matter. Yet, he fails to recognize that the Founders knew that the system would altered over time, which is why the Framers established a general framework for the Electoral College, as opposed to one that was rigid and specific. As a part of the general framework that was established, the Framers purposely constructed the system in such a way as to leave the language of it vague enough to allow for the system to be easily adapted. This vague language was utilized to ensure that every reform made to the Electoral College system would not require a constitutional amendment. Further, Alex forgets that a living constitution refers to the ability of the Constitution to be loosely interpreted to “meet the needs of the time,” in addition to its ability to be amended.
Alex correctly asserts that the Constitution is hard to amend. Yet, he advocates for policies that would require a constitutional amendment. In other words, he minimizes the possibility of his proposal occurring.
Alex is correct when he states that a national popular vote will incentivize more individuals to vote in the United States. He is additionally correct when he states that the popular system is undeniably simpler than the Electoral College system. Yet the national popular vote simply does not achieve the same goals of the Electoral College system nor conforms to the intent of the Framers. As aforementioned, the Framers of the Constitution established two requirements for a candidate to become the President of the United States. According to the Framers, candidates must win a sufficient percentage of the population in order to govern the nation effectively and the support they receive must come from a distribution of states in order to ensure that the interests of different states are adequately represented. While a direct popular vote system may be successful in homogeneous countries, the Framers intentionally selected the Electoral College system because it embraced the diversity and heterogeneous nature of our country. Simply put, under a direct popular vote, the president would undoubtedly satisfy the first requirement established by the Framers, yet they would not necessarily have to receive the support of individuals with diverse issues that would be representative of the nation.
By transitioning from our current presidential election system to a direct popular vote, power would be shifted to urban centers in the United States, and would be stripped from those living in suburban and rural areas. Candidates would focus their efforts on urban areas as it would be advantageous for the candidates to try to gain the votes of the majority of individuals residing within major cities as our population is concentrated in urban areas. According to the United States Census Bureau, as of 2010, 71.2% of the population in the United States live in urbanized areas, which are defined as cities with populations of 50,000 people or more. Under such a system, states would no longer be the primary unit of focus and instead, the unit of focus would become cities. Some might argue that cities should be the primary unit of focus because that is where the majority of the American population is located. Yet, advocating for this directly goes against the Founders’ intentions, which I have already proven are still relevant because the system would only represent the interests of urban areas. Thus, more of an emphasis would be placed on issues of urban areas, while the issues of rural and suburban Americans would be largely ignored by candidates running for president.
Lastly, we need to keep the Electoral College because it promotes the diversity of our nation. It tasks candidates with having to address the issues each state is facing. If the presidential candidate of a party in which the state leans is elected (i.e. - a Republican in a solid red state), then that state's issues will be represented, as their issues were ostensibly already part of that party’s platform. Even if a state's preferred party loses, that state's interests will still be represented by other swing states and states that helped the candidate to victory.
While the Electoral College system is not perfect, it does do a sufficient job in representing the diverse interests of our nation, and conforms with the wishes of the founders. Additionally, as stated by Alex and previously mentioned, the Constitution is hard to amend and it is improbable that a constitutional amendment will be passed that abolishes the current system that we elect our president by. Thus, instead of scrapping the system and violating the wishes of the Framers, we can instead reform the Electoral College to fit the needs of the time by uncapping the amount of electors, promoting proportional representation, or taking any other steps that seem fit, just as the Framers gave us the ability to do.
(March 5, 2017)
First map credit Zifan Ali, Creative Commons
Second and third maps produced using 270towin.com