“Even if the vote is close and someone wins by just a little tiny hair, electors give that person all their votes and it’s considered fair and square!” ~Schoolhouse Rock, The Electoral College
Many Americans believe the president should be elected by popular vote. While it often works out that way, the decision is technically made by what is called the Electoral College. The Electoral College is an effort to control domination of the presidency by one large populous region. This procedure for electing a president was laid out in the U.S. Constitution by the Founding Fathers, who did not think the president should be chosen by Congress, nor by a mass of voters.
Since Hillary Clinton won the popular vote for president, we’ve been hearing the calls for a direct popular election. Even Donald Trump told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he’d prefer “simple votes.” But the Electoral College, for all its perceived imperfections, is still a better way to choose a president. So why shouldn’t the people, the ultimate source of political authority in a government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” be able to vote directly for the president? To answer this question, we must return to the founding of our country.
The Electoral College is NOT unfair; it’s the only way that each state is heard
The states in 1788 all had men running separate governments. The states were afraid of losing freedom and would not coalesce into a union without assurances that a few large states could not unfairly bully or ignore all the small states. This problem occurs in a microcosm all over America. In sparsely populated counties, votes do not matter, because the large counties have all the power. Water rights are a good example of how this plays out. Everywhere in rural counties the people complain about water being sucked up by cities hundreds of miles away.
Back at the founding of our country, those that wanted a strong united government had to convince folks in state governments that their voices would be heard. So they made a compromise. The Electoral College works like this: every presidential candidate has a slate of electors in each state, generally chosen at state party conventions. Each state’s allotment of electors equals the number of members in its Congressional delegation: one for each member in the House of Representatives plus two Senators from each state. Here’s the formula:
Number of Senators + Number of Representatives = Number of Electors
This way the election is not just based on population only, which would give the larger states all the power. Hillary Clinton may have won 1.7 million more votes than Donald Trump, but Trump actually won the popular vote of 3,084 counties and Hillary only got 57.* Look them up and it means that Hillary is only popular in big cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and Boston. The rest of the country loves Trump. That is the reason for the Electoral College.
This election is the second time in sixteen years that a Democrat won the popular vote but didn’t win the presidency. In the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore won the popular vote while George W. Bush won the Electoral College. Other candidates who won the popular vote but lost the election were Andrew Jackson in 1827, Samuel Tilden in 1876, and Grover Cleveland in 1888.
More popular votes? That’s not how the game is played
We’re the United STATES of America, not the People’s Republic of America. The states elect the President. Winning the popular vote in a U.S. Presidential race is irrelevant. We are not a direct democracy; we are a Constitutional Republic. The Founding Fathers didn’t even mention a popular vote in the Constitution. That’s how unimportant it is. The popular vote doesn’t matter.
The Founding Fathers designed the Electoral College for a reason. The Electoral College is a brilliant process that allows all states to be heard, no matter how small or sparsely populated. The Electoral College means that votes are spread much more evenly across the country. Without it, the politicians would abandon Middle America and focus on the highly populated coasts. The Founding Fathers knew this could happen. That’s why they set up a system to prevent it. The Electoral College levels the playing field and gives all states an equal stake in the game.
The Electoral College prevents Mob Rule
The Founding Fathers also wanted to prevent demagogues and populists from being elected President. That’s another reason why the creators of the Constitution set up the system as a limit on direct democracy – or in Alexander Hamilton’s words, as a way of preserving “the sense of the people” – in other words to keep a malicious majority from forming. The founders were very much against “mob rule,” and that’s exactly what would happen if, say, the Hollywood liberals got their way. How would you like them deciding for everyone? They certainly don’t represent the majority of the country.
Without the Electoral College, the city dwellers in New York and California would elect our president every time. But there is a huge mass of land in between those two states, and the conservative people who live in rural America need a voice also. We should all be thankful that the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College to prevent two big states from choosing the president of the whole country. If you look at this years’ election map it’s about 90 percent red so the Electoral College did its job electing the person the majority of the states wanted.
In Defense of the Electoral College
The Federalist Papers is a collection of 85 essays written in defense of the Constitution and described by Thomas Jefferson as “the best commentary on the principles of government, which ever was written.” The Federalist Papers are where the founders explained their thoughts on practically every aspect of the Constitution, including what kind of person they envisioned as president. In particular, Federalist 68 is devoted to a defense of the Electoral College and offers unabashed praise of a presidential selection process that it deems perhaps “not perfect” but nevertheless “at least excellent.”
The Founding Fathers were intelligent men who thought everything through carefully and with much deliberation. Still, the Electoral College is questioned every time it operates. According to The Washington Post, over the years there have been 700 attempts to change the Electoral College, but all have failed. The small states know that without the Electoral College, heavily concentrated pockets of people will control the entire country. The large states would always be deciding on the president and smaller states would have no say whatsoever. The Electoral College is not an outdated concept; it’s a vital part of the U.S. Constitution. The Electoral College makes elections fair for all Americans – not just the bigger, louder, or more powerful ones.
*12/21/16 update: Final tally shows Trump lost the popular vote by 2.8 million – but he BEAT Clinton by 3 million votes outside of California and New York.