No, Don’t Abolish the Electoral College

For an obscure institution the average person forgets exists until election night, the Electoral College sure has been getting a great deal of airtime. After Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s declaration that the Electoral College is a racist scam, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg calling for its abolition, and the recent court decision declaring that states have no authority to bind their electors to vote a certain way, the Electoral College certainly is enjoying a great deal of limelight. Unfortunately, this attention is largely focused on seeking this very important institution’s destruction.

Attempts to abolish the Electoral College are nothing new. They’re part of a long tradition of seeking to make the U.S. function closer to a centralized direct democracy. It’s the school of thought that was responsible for the 17th Amendment establishing the direct election of senators.

Those in favor of a more directly-democratic system see the EC as an affront to justice and equality. They lament that there’s no requirement that the president be chosen by voting at all. States are free to choose their electors in whatever manner “thereof may direct.”

Additionally, the number of electors chosen must equal the state’s representatives in Congress. And while the House of Representatives determines representation based on population, every state is equally represented in the Senate, leading to some blatant inequalities when it comes to the number of electors per capita. Someone voting for president in Wyoming, where there’s an elector allotted for roughly every 192,000 people, supposedly has more of a say than someone in California, where there is an elector for around every 718,000 people. And as the last election demonstrated, it’s not necessary to win the national popular vote to become president.

Not only are citizens not actually guaranteed the right to vote for the electors, but, too, once the electors are chosen, they’re free to vote for whomever they wish. While so-called faithless electors haven’t really rocked the boat in a way that’s electorally-meaningful in the past 200 years, the very possibility shrieks of injustice to those who champion equality and more direct democracy.

Essentially, radical egalitarian democrats want as few filters as possible between the individual will and its realization in politics. From this point of view, the Electoral College, the Senate, and even states don’t make much sense, as they impede this unadulterated will. While this view is heavily focused on an individual’s will being expressed, it fails to understand that individuals are inherently weak, especially when it comes to politics.

But this weakness has historically been improved, because humans have always formed what the mid-century sociologist Robert Nisbet called “mediating institutions.” Groups such as family, community, and church act as mediators between individuals and the rest of society and offer more protection than would be available to a solitary atomized individual.

While our states aren’t as natural as the family, they serve a similar purpose in defending their citizens from abuse and protecting their interests. This was the logic behind the establishment of our decentralized federalist system of government, where seats of power are balanced against each other in an attempt to limit potential abuses of power.

If states are important (as a “mediating institution” of sorts) for protecting their citizens from abuse by the central government, then the Electoral College is vital to ensure that every state maintains some relevance and the ability to influence the federal government. When necessary, the Electoral College might even serve as a useful tool the states could use to rein in the federal government by directly appointing electors to ensure the president is answerable to them and doesn’t ignore their interests. If presidential candidates were forced to kowtow to state governments, rather than trying to bribe the shortsighted masses, we’d see a very different incentive structure driving the national debate in which decentralization would be sure to follow.

It’s understandable why some people think eliminating institutions like the Electoral College will result in more freedom and direct control for the average person. But further centralizing our political system by eliminating federalist institutions like the Electoral College will inevitably lead to a more powerful federal government and leave individuals with fewer options if that power is abused.

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Zachary Yost

Zachary Yost is a Young Voices contributor and a Pittsburgh-based writer.

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  • National Popular Election of the President.
    National Popular Vote .com
    “Agreement among the States to elect the President by National Popular Vote.”
    June 12, 2019.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District Of Columbia.
    The bill ensures that every vote, in every state, will matter in every presidential election.
    As of June 12, 2019, the bill is law in 15 states plus the District Of Columbia, possessing 196 electoral votes, including small states and one Federal District (RI, VT, HI, DC, CT, DE), medium-sized states (by population or by geographic size: MD, MA, WA, OR) and large states (NJ, IL, NY, CA, CO, NM). The bill will take effect when enacted by states with 74 more electoral votes.
    The bill has previously passed at least one legislative chamber in seven states with 65 electoral votes (AR, AZ, ME, MI, NC, NV, OK), and has been approved by unanimous bipartisan committee votes in two states with an additional 26 electoral votes (GA, MO). A total of 3,122 state legislators have endorsed it.
    The shortcomings of the current system stem from state winner-take-all laws (i.e, awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes in each separate state).
    Because of winner-take-all, presidential candidates have no reason to solicit votes in states where the statewide outcome is a foregone conclusion. The 12 closely divided “battleground” states within 3% of the national outcome received 100% of the general-election campaign events in 2012 (NV, CO, MN, IA, WI, MI, OH, PA, NH, VA, SC, FL).
    Obama and Romney campaigned together in only 8 states. Two-thirds of the events (176 of 253) were in just 4 states (Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Iowa). Meanwhile, 38 states were totally ignored.
    Battleground states receive 7% more presidentially controlled grants, twice as many disaster declarations and numerous favorable actions from Presidents, as detailed in Presidential Pork (Hudak, 2014). Presidential Swing States: Why Only Ten Matter (Hecht and Schultz, 2015), Going Red: The Two Million Voters Who Will Elect the Next President (Morrisey, 2016), The Rise of the President’s Permanent Campaign (Doherty, 2011) and The Particularistic President (Kriner and Reeves, 2015).
    State winner-take-all statutes have allowed candidates to win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide in four of our nation’s 57 presidential elections – 1 in 14 times. A shift of 214,393 votes in 2012 would have elected Mitt Romney despite President Obama’s nationwide lead of almost 5,000,000 votes.
    The U.S. Constitution (Article II, Section I) gives states exclusive control over awarding their electoral votes: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….” Winner-take-all was not debated at the Constitutional Convention or mentioned in the Federalist Papers. It was not used by a majority of the states until the 11th presidential election (1828).
    The National Popular Vote Interstate compact will go into effect after it is enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes – that is, enough to elect a President (270 of 538). Under the compact, when the Electoral College meets in mid-December, the candidate who received the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC) will receive all of the electoral votes of the enacting states.
    The National Popular Vote bill preserves the Electoral College and state control of elections.
    Supporters include former Senators Jake Garn (R-UT), Birch Bayh (D-IN) and David Durenberger (R-MN); former Congressional Representatives John Anderson (R-IL), John Buchanan (R-AL), Tom Campbell (R-CA), Tom Downey (D-NY), Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and Bob Barr (R-GA); former Governors Howard Dean (D-VT) and Jim Edgar (R-IL); and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA).
    For additional information, please see our book Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote (downloadable for free at http://www.Every-Vote-Equal .com). Also National Popular Vote and Every Vote Equal on You Tube, Facebook and Twitter.
    National Popular Vote .com and Every Vote Equal .com

    • Re: “The shortcomings of the current system stem from state winner-take-all laws (i.e, awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes in each separate state).”

      Then why don’t we simply abolish winner-take-all and replace it with a proportional allocation method of awarding electors? Isn’t that the better solution? If that requires a constitutional amendment, that would be feasible since just about everyone hates winner-take-all.

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