Seven Reasons to Elect the President by Popular Vote
While the Electoral College was created by the founders, it no longer serves the best interest of the country and should be replaced by popular election of the president. Here are seven reasons why. Individually each may suffice; together I believe that they produce an overwhelming case for this change.
1. The current practice of the Electoral College actually violates the intent of the founders
Let’s deal with the “originalist” argument first: that the Electoral College is part of the intent of the founders as codified in our Constitution and therefore is the best possible system.
In fact the Electoral College as it operates today is not at all what the founders intended. As Alexander Hamilton explains in Federalist Paper #68, the intent was for the Electoral College to act as a deliberative body of informed citizens of discernment to choose the president.
“It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made 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. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.”
The current practice of the electors being a rubber stamp of the popular vote in each state is the complete opposite of the intent.
2. It is a state-level winner-take-all system
Not only is the Electoral College not a deliberative body, but it also badly skewed by the winner-take-all nature of electoral votes in a state. While it does not take a popular majority to win the presidency, in fact it can be won by a small minority of votes. The way the Electoral College works today is that if a candidate wins a state by even a single vote they win all of that state’s electors. As a result, by winning just 11 states a person can win the presidency, even if they have a small minority of the popular vote — what one might rightly call a tyranny of the minority.
This is not too far off from what has happened this year, in which the swing of less than 100,000 votes across three states — less than .1% of the total popular vote — would have produced a different Electoral College outcome. Meanwhile the fact that Clinton won the popular vote by 2.8 million votes — a 2.1% lead nationally — is irrelevant.
3. It is wildly skewed against one person one vote
While in general we think that the principle of “one person, one vote” should rule, in the Electoral College it is not even close. The most extreme example is that one Electoral College vote in Wyoming is worth three times more than votes in Texas, California, Florida, New York and several other large states. So, as in the Senate, a few small states have greatly disproportionate power. We may need to maintain that in the Senate, but it doesn’t have to inform every part of our federal government.
4. It concentrates campaigning into just a few states
Elections used to be conducted on a national basis. In 1960 Richard Nixon pledged to visit all 50 states, and he did. Big national swings of votes could happen, with the Democrat (Johnson) winning by a landslide in 1964 and the Republican (Nixon) winning by a landslide just eight years later. But today the presidential campaign is carried out in only about a dozen “battleground states” (the most undemocratic two words in the English language). Trump and Clinton visited Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina and just a few other states over and over and over again, while utterly ignoring about 75% of the states including California, New York, Texas, Wyoming, Kansas, Massachusetts, Illinois, etc. The majority of Americans watch the election happen in the distance.
Some people defend the Electoral College by saying that if it were gone candidates wouldn’t care at all about the small states. But by and large that’s the situation today. For example, this map shows where Clinton and Trump campaigned in the summer: not many stops in small states in the South or NorthWest! As election day approached, their appearances were even more focused on just a few battleground states.
If the election were by popular vote, though, a vote in Providence, Rhode Island, would be as valuable as a vote in Lansing, Michigan. Today it’s not.
Is there any wonder, then, that our voter participation is so low? In 2016 only 55% of voting age citizens bothered to vote.
5. It disenfranchises tens of millions of voters
Republican in California and New York, and Democrats in Texas and many small states, know that with the Electoral College’s state level winner-take-all rules there is no chance that their vote will make a difference. With the Electoral College voters who don’t live in a contested state simply can’t have an impact; with a direct election system every voter would matter.
Again, is there any wonder that our voter participation is so low?
6. It delegitimizes some “winners”
This year the winner of the Electoral College will lose the popular vote by a considerable margin: over two million votes. Already many of the tens of millions of Clinton supporters are saying “he’s not my president”. Our Declaration of Independence states that governments derive “their powers from the consent of the governed.” But when a minority can elect our top national officer, not only do they not have a mandate, they don’t even have our consent.
Donald Trump says that if the election had been based on popular vote he would have campaigned differently and still won. Maybe. Let him prove it.
7. In what other election does the winner of the popular vote not win?
So on this matter let us listen to the voice of our president elect:
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