First, let me make clear that I do not believe that the results of the 2016 presidential election should be overturned. The winner of a contest is determined by the agreed-upon rules, and we can’t start changing those rules after the fact. As of November 8th, 2016, the presidency was decided by a majority of electoral votes, which Donald Trump won. According to the established rules of the game, he won and will be the next president. Having said that…
The Electoral College should be abolished. Here’s why:
- The Electoral College has two purposes: first, to prevent a dangerous or unqualified candidate from winning the presidency, and second, to ensure proportional representation between the states.
- The Electoral College, when put to the test, has completely failed to accomplish either of its purposes.
- Maintaining the Electoral College voting system does more harm than good.
Now let’s look at each of those points in greater depth.
The Electoral College Has Two Reasons For Existing
As Alexander Hamilton explained in The Federalist Papers #68, the Electoral College was established in part to prevent a charismatic tyrant from winning over the populace and taking the highest office in the land. Hamilton was concerned that a large group of voters might be won over by a candidate who would harm the nation or its people. James Madison also pointed out that a charismatic enough candidate could convince a large portion of the country to “sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” In essence, the Electoral College was to serve as a compromise – a middle ground between Congress selecting the president on their own (without sufficient input from the people), and a misguided public potentially voting for an unqualified or dangerous candidate. To fulfill the founders’ intent, the Electoral College should act as a safeguard 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.” Protecting America from what John Adams and Alexis de Tocqueville called “the tyranny of the majority” is one of the Electoral College’s two purposes and reasons for existing.
The second reason the Electoral College exists is to make sure that less-populated states are not overwhelmed by the votes of states with more people. There are 538 “electors,” apportioned by state (number of House representatives plus number of Senators). When voters cast their ballots, they are technically not voting for the president directly; voters are telling the electors which candidate to vote for. In the end, it is the 538 votes cast by the actual electors that determine the next president. In some states, electors are bound by law to cast their votes for the candidate who wins the state’s popular vote. However, in the majority of states, electors are technically free to cast their votes as they see fit. Electors almost never vote against their state’s popular vote – this process is essentially a formality in the present day.
The Electoral College Is Failing In Its Purposes
The Electoral College has the power – and the responsibility – to override the will of the voters, when the voters want to elect a clearly unqualified candidate as president. There has never been a candidate more clearly unqualified for the presidency than Donald J. Trump. He has never held political office or worked in public service. He lacks even basic knowledge of American governance, foreign policy, Constitutional rights and limitations, or national security. He possesses none of the grace, self-possession, compassion, tolerance for criticism, careful deliberation, temperament, or willingness to learn that the office of the presidency requires. Trump has a well-documented and indefensible history of blatant dishonesty, fraud, unfair and poorly managed business dealings, and self-enrichment to the detriment of others, as well as wide-ranging conflicts of interest that present opportunities for corruption on an unprecedented scale. He has directly and repeatedly threatened Constitutional rights, including freedom of the press and of religion, and has even advocated committing war crimes.
The presidential oath of office demands that the president “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Donald J. Trump is patently unprepared and incapable of doing that job. If there has ever been a case of passionate voters sacrificing the public good and the rights of other citizens, it is the 2016 election. If anyone seeking the presidency has ever embodied the founders’ fears of an unqualified candidate, it is Donald J. Trump. It is the job of the Electoral College to override passionate but misguided voters and prevent the presidency from falling into Trump’s dangerous hands.
However, by all indications, the Electoral College will not only fail in its purpose when it officially votes on December 19th – it will fail so spectacularly that it will actually achieve the opposite result from what it was designed to achieve. If the electors treat their votes as a rubber-stamp formality, they will deny the will of the majority (by more than 2 million votes) not for the good of the nation, but to hand the Presidency to exactly the kind of candidate they are responsible for keeping out of office.
The second purpose of the Electoral College is to maintain proportional representation between more- and less-populated states. The College also fails in this regard. As an example, California has a population of 38.8 million people and 55 electoral votes, meaning that each of its electoral votes represents approximately 705,000 actual individual voters. Wyoming has 3 electoral votes representing a population of 585,000, or about 195,000 actual votes per electoral vote. An individual vote in Wyoming is 3.5 times more powerful than a vote in California. So, although the original intent was to balance voting power between states, the effect in modern times is to give disproportionately large influence to voters in smaller states, which unfairly reduces the power of individual votes in states like California. As a result, we end up with results like the 2016 election, in which Hillary Clinton received over 2 million more actual votes than Donald Trump, but lost the election due to the disproportionately large combined influence of less-populated states that went for Trump.
The Electoral College Does More Harm Than Good
Some may say that the 2016 election is merely an anomaly, and that on balance, the Electoral College is still preferable to direct democracy. I disagree. The 2016 election was not an anomaly, but a test of the system – a test which the system failed spectacularly. Assuming the electors cast their votes as expected, the Electoral College failed to protect America from the most unqualified and dangerous candidate in its history – a candidate who perfectly fit the situation that Hamilton and Madison warned us about, and for which the Electoral College was created. In addition, instead of equitably distributing power between the states, the electoral College skewed the 2016 election in favor of the preferences of smaller states, denying the presidency to the candidate who millions more individual voters preferred.
The Electoral College is an outdated relic that no longer serves its purpose. When put to a true test, it handed the reins of power to a dangerous and unqualified demagogue, against the popular will of the American people. The 2016 election results will stand, but to ensure that future elections reflect the best interests of America and its citizens, the Electoral College must go.
What To Do
It would take a Constitutional Amendment to get rid of the Electoral College. This is highly unlikely, since 3/4 of states have to ratify an Amendment, and many smaller states would likely refuse. If you still want to add your voice to the call for an Amendment, you can sign a petition (currently almost 600k signatures) to do so here. If you want to encourage the electors in Trump states to change their votes, go here (currently 4.6 million signatures). If you like the idea of the National Popular Vote Compact, an interesting end-run around the Electoral College, support it here.
Thanks for reading. Long live the Republic.