At this time of record-high polarization in our nation, especially in the political realm, there have been any number of extreme, dangerous, silly and downright ignorant proposals to change the rules of the game that have been floated in the last couple of months. One of the most dangerous, because it appears to have the greatest support, is the proposal to scrap the Electoral College in favor of a simple popular vote total.
First, this proposal should be exposed for the nakedly partisan effort it is: in two recent elections, the Democrat candidates, Gore and Clinton, won the popular vote while losing the Electoral College vote to the Republican candidates, Bush and Trump. Naturally, the Democrats would prefer a system that would have given them victory rather than the system which gave them defeat. Their support for scrapping the Electoral College isn’t any more complicated than that. They just want to disguise their partisanship by making a high-sounding but simplistic argument that a lot of people accept without much thought: the winner should be the top vote-getter. It’s not merely a simplistic argument; it’s also an ignorant argument. It ignores the historic rationale for the Electoral College.
Most Republicans’ arguments for retaining the Electoral College aren’t much better. They’re just as partisan, and they try to disguise their partisanship by making a high-sounding but somewhat more complex argument that the Electoral College is part of the genius of our Founders’ plan for our country and thus sacrosanct. It’s not an especially deep argument, but at least it’s deeper than the Democrats’ simplistic argument.
Seldom does anyone stop to ask the question, why have Democrats won the popular vote in two recent elections while losing the Electoral College? The answer is quite clear, but few people go to the trouble of trying to figure it out: the largest Democrat-majority states are more Democratic than the largest Republican-majority states are Republican. The ten largest states comprise the necessary winning margin in Electoral Votes: 270. The popular vote margins in the top six states that went for Clinton exceeded the top six states that went for Trump by over 6 million votes. In California alone, Clinton’s margin was over 4 million votes, while her national popular vote margin was less than 3 million.
The central feature in what conservatives still view as the genius of the Founders’ Constitutional plan is the concept of Federalism: that our nation is not comprised of one monolithic mass, but rather of now 50 individual states banded together while retaining their own identities and a certain amount of sovereignty. Isn’t that preferable to a nation dominated by California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts? Do we really want Presidential candidates to ignore the American heartland? That’s what would happen if we scrapped the Electoral College in favor of a simple national plurality.
Those who favor the Founders’ plan should take no comfort in the belief that it would require a Constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College, and that seems highly unlikely to succeed. Democrats in some states are proposing a work-around: a state law that pledges all Electors to the national popular vote leader regardless of how the voters in that state voted. There’s even a word to describe Electors who fail to vote as their state voted, and that is faithless. Look it up: Faithless Electors. That’s what twelve states have proposed: a state law that would direct that state’s Electors to all vote for the national popular vote winner, regardless of how the people in their state had voted. That’s about as anti-democratic as you can imagine. Democrats who love to play the “disenfranchised voter” card are curiously silent on this act of disenfranchisement. It’s an outrage, and most likely unconstitutional. Imagine the chaos if a close Presidential election were decided by such a state or states. How fast could the Supreme Court settle it? Who would be the president in the meantime, if it took longer than eight weeks?
No, the Founders’ plan for the Electoral College is even sounder than they probably realized at the time that the Constitution was written, and it alone ensures that Presidential campaigns will be broadly contended through the nation, not limited to the most populous states with large urban populations.