by Brian Nichols

In the weeks following easily the most tumultuous election in recent memory, a call to abolish one of our nation’s bedrock institutions has been gaining traction: the call to abolish the Electoral  College.

The reason behind this movement is due by and large to the fact that while Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote against Hillary Clinton, Clinton ended up winning the popular vote by over 2 million votes.  Because of this, the #NotMyPresident movement has broken out, causing millions of Americans to sign a petition calling to abolish the Electoral College, and in turn, use the national popular vote as a means to determine the next President of the United States.

To be clear, this is an absolutely terrible idea.

First of all, it is important to understand why a national popular vote to determine the winner for POTUS is problematic.  A pure democracy is a mob rule.  It creates the scenario for a majority to dictate their will on the minority. That’s the entire reason our Framers made the United States a democratic-republic and not a direct democracy.

Furthermore, the idea that a true democracy is the way to go is simply nonsense.  Those in favor of a national popular vote have been crying out injustice because, in their view, the 2 million more voters who voted for Clinton over Trump are not having their voices heard due to smaller states having more pull in the Electoral College vote.  While it’s true that a vote in Utah has more weight when compared to a vote in California, it is important to remember that this was the entire point of the Electoral College in the first place.

Were it not for the Electoral College forcing candidates to pay attention to smaller, more rural states, larger populated states such as Texas, California, Florida, and New York would be the only states that would receive any attention, as these states possess the largest population centers in the United States.

The reason that the Constitution calls for the Electoral College rather than just providing for the direct election of the president is that most of the nation’s founders were rightfully weary of pure democracy.  James Madison worried about what he called “factions,” which he defined as groups of citizens who have a common interest in some proposal that would either violate the rights of other citizens or would harm the nation as a whole.

Madison’s fear, which Alexis de Tocqueville later coined “the tyranny of the majority”, was that a faction could grow to encompass more than 50 percent of the population, at which point it could “sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.”  Because of this concern, Madison proposed a solution for tyranny of the majority, being “A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking.”

As Alexander Hamilton writes in “The Federalist Papers,” the Constitution was designed 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 entire point of the Electoral College is to preserve “the sense of the people,” while at the same time ensuring that a president is chosen “by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.”

It’s important for the electorate to understand that we are not a true democracy. We’re a democratic-republic.  To those complaining that the Electoral College “isn’t right”, I say this:

It doesn’t matter if it’s “right or not”.  It’s our system.  Clinton could have won both the popular vote and the Electoral College had she focused on contested states such as Wisconsin and Michigan, but she didn’t.  Instead, she let her arrogance and over-confidence get in her way, and ultimately lost both of these traditionally blue states.

The bottom line is that Trump played to win within the system as it was set up, while Hillary took for granted her chances of winning (much like in 2000 when Al Gore couldn’t even win his home state).

Clinton lost because she didn’t campaign to win based on the current system.  She could have tried harder and done better, but her ego got in the way, so she spent more time appearing with celebrities rather than campaigning in crucial swing states.  But this is neither here nor there.

But let me play devil’s advocate against my own argument.  Let’s argue to change the system.

The Constitution was created to be amended.  After all, the Framers would have never been able to imagine things like the internet.  And this is why there is the ability to amend.  However, they made it so that change cannot happen overnight, because they knew that in times of emotion (such as now), knee-jerk reactions happen where emotion would override logic and reason.

Yes, there was much philosophical debate between the Framers, and the Constitution was the means to insure both sides were equally heard and represented.  The checks and balances, fail-safes, and separation of powers instilled within the Constitution were all intentional and should not simply be tossed aside.

So, to rid the presidential elections of the Electoral College, a constitutional amendment would be needed.  But this act would simply be a waste of time, as there is no logical situation where such an amendment would be adopted. Why?

Because in order to amend the constitution, you need either 2/3 support in the House of Representatives or 3/4 support in the States. And as such, one can all but assure that the smaller states that would become afterthoughts, being completely forgotten in our electoral process, wouldn’t vote for such an amendment, nor would their congressional representatives.

Rather than have two “all or nothing” positions, I suggest that those in the pro-popular vote and pro-Electoral College camps compromise on a system that would be fair and sensible to all.

I am not one to praise the Electoral College blindly.  I understand the value behind the Electoral College, but that does not means it is without faults.  To correct these faults and to compromise with the pro-popular vote crowd, here is my recommendation:

Instead of a system in which the popular vote winner in each state wins all of that states Electoral College votes, I propose a system that is a proportional system in which Electoral College votes are awarded based on each congressional district with each state.  Remember, the number of electors in each state is the sum of its US senators (2) and its US representatives (based on population).

For example, California currently possess 55 Electoral College votes; 53 based on US representatives and 2 based on US Senators.  In the current system, the winner of the popular vote in California would receive all 55 Electoral College votes.  In contrast, the amended system I am proposing would have each of the 53 electors allocated based on how each candidate did in each congressional district, with the final 2 electors (US senate electors) going to the winner of the state wide popular vote.

In theory, we could see a scenario in California play our where the Democrat would win 30/53 electors, the Republican winning 23/53 electors, and then the Democrat receiving the additional 2 electors based on winning the statewide popular vote.  This would result in an allocation of electors being 32 for the Democratic candidate and 20 for the Republican candidate rather than the Democratic candidate receiving all 55 electors per the current system.

With a proportional Electoral College system such as this, states that are considered Republican and Democratic strongholds would suddenly come into play.  States such as Texas, California, New York, and Florida would suddenly become spots of interest for candidate who would traditionally write these states off, as there would be an incentive to not only visit these states, but to travel throughout areas within these states that are otherwise forgotten.

Now, I am not one to pretend that this proposal is without faults.  For example, this would require reform in the manner in which congressional district lines are drawn, as the current gerrymandering system is completely politicized based on the political party in control within each state.  This means a truly independent/bipartisan commission would be needed to ensure accuracy and fairness in the redrawing of district lines.

My proposal isn’t perfect, but it’s a start.  At the very least, it draws concerns from both sides and takes into consideration the strengths of each position to create a system that is better than the current system we currently have without scrapping the entire institution.

Going forward, it is going to take each American to remove themselves from the rhetoric and emotion of the current political climate in order to accurately and rationally evaluate how we move forward.  This is going to require bipartisan efforts and a mutual understanding of each other’s concerns.  Until we are able to talk to each other and listen to one another, things will simply remain the same.

  • Hugesinker

    The things that are supposed to prevent a Tyranny of the Majority are the Bill of Rights, Separation of Powers, the Enumerated Powers Doctrine, an Independent Judiciary, and the Oath of Office. The Electoral College does not serve that purpose and was never expected to– at least as far as I can tell. It is instead tied up in the dealings which also created the Great Compromise, but that’s a different issue.

    The other reasons for why it is the way it is are wrapped up in our history and the logistics of a national election in the late 18th Century. Alexander Hamilton believed that the electors chosen by the states would rarely ever come to a majority agreement on a candidate. They would just discuss it and offer up their favorite candidates, usually from inside their own states– then it would fall on Congress to choose the president among the most popular top three. This was in a time where ordinary citizens had very little information about the national government and what it was doing, and electors had to choose the candidate(s) to nominate themselves. Becoming an elector was a serious undertaking and for many of them it also required costly travel. Say what you want about the original vision, but it was quickly subverted by the establishment of powerful national political parties. Now a republican in California throws away their vote for president every single time, because it’s morphed into a winner-take-all monstrosity with a spoiler effect that mandates strategic voting and maintains our two party duopoly. So I am generally in favor of changing the electoral college system. I am in favor of the smaller states having a little more power, as in the current system, but we don’t need the electors anymore. The prospect of faithless electors is a poison pill that we do not need.

    The improvement you are proposing is not a change to the electoral college system at all. States can already decide how to choose their own electors and some of them are already not winner-take-all states. That opens up a potential for gerrymandering, but that’s a different issue. According to the constitution, a state legislature could pick all their state’s electors without even holding an election.

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