On the American Electoral College – And Why We Should Not Abolish It
The Electoral College is admittedly something rather complex, confusing and obscure to many folks – even to many Americans. So just what is it and why is it a vital part of America’s history? Briefly, it is the method by which Presidents of the United States have been elected ever since 1789.
The Founding Fathers wanted to make sure that all states from all parts of the country had a fair say in what was happening concerning its elected leaders. It was first approved on September 6, 1787 at the Constitutional Convention. The US Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788. Article 2, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution in part lays out the system:
“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.”
The Electoral College consists of 538 electors, so a majority of 270 electoral votes is needed to elect the President. Each state’s entitled allotment of electors equals the number of members in its Congressional delegation: one for each member in the House of Representatives plus two for its Senators.
All this was done to ensure that states with smaller populations would not be ignored or swamped by areas with large populations. America was never thought to be just a pure democracy. It was always conceived of as a republic. The Founding Fathers were quite clear on this. As professor Michael Bauman of Hillsdale College puts it:
The US is not now, nor ever has been, a one person/one vote nation. We are a republic, a confederation of states, not a democracy. In order to maintain some equity between the states, we assign two senators to each one, no matter its size or population. All states get two, regardless. We set things up in that way in order to give the states a voice. We are not a democracy; we are a confederation. The Electoral College is based upon that principle. We vote for presidents by states, not by mere popular vote. Were the presidential election conducted by mere popular vote, then candidates would spend all their time in big states and big cities, overlooking those that are small and that have fewer voters. Now they must attend to all states and must compete to win them. Two or four electoral votes can be the difference between winning or losing an election. Little states now have a voice and must be attended to. They might be small, but they can tip the balance.
So the population of a state determines the number of its electors. A state that has a very big population has more electors than states with smaller populations. Thus California for example has 55 electors, while Alaska has just three. And if the population changes in a state, so too does the number of electors – either up or down.
But all this is now being questioned, mainly because the Democrats do not like the fact that they are not in the White House. Many of the lead candidates for the 2020 US Presidential election are saying we must dump the Electoral College. This includes Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke, as well as others such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The Democrats are of course the party of illegal immigration, ‘tear down the walls,’ and give everyone the vote, including illegals. And they also want to lower the age to vote as well! So, if you have 22 million illegals in the US for example, most of course predisposed to the Democrats, having a popular vote would really help guarantee a Democrat-controlled White House.
The 2016 US election is a prime example of all this. Trump of course won the Electoral College vote, while Clinton won the popular vote. Unfair? Not really. As the former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett reminds us, outside of California, Trump won the popular vote in every other state – and California has a high amount of illegal immigrants.
Mark Levin reminds us that smaller states with smaller populations lose out big time without the Electoral College, and we would end up being ruled by a mobocracy – the bigwigs in New York or California, while so many others are just ignored.
Another commentator on the social media, Butch Crawford, offered this explanation:
For all the people who fell asleep in civics class…
1: There are 3,141 counties in the United States. Trump won 3,084 of them. Clinton won 57.
2: There are 62 counties in New York State. Trump won 46 of them. Clinton won 16.
3: Clinton won the popular vote by approx. 1.5 million votes.
4: In the 5 counties that encompass NYC, (Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Richmond & Queens) Clinton received well over 2 million more votes than Trump. (Clinton only won 4 of these counties; Trump won Richmond) Therefore these 5 counties alone, more than accounted for Clinton winning the popular vote of the entire country.
5: These 5 counties comprise 319 square miles. The United States is comprised of 3,797,000 square miles.
6: When you have a country that encompasses almost 4 million square miles of territory, it would be ludicrous to even suggest that the vote of those who inhabit a mere 319 square miles should dictate the outcome of a national election.
Large, densely populated Democrat cities (NYC, Chicago, LA, etc) don’t and shouldn’t speak for the rest of the country.
And this children, is WHY you have an Electoral College. It’s a safety net so that EVERYONE’S vote counts.
Let me cite some other experts on the importance of the Electoral College. First, Windsor Mann reminds us of a few basic truths:
If we eliminate the Electoral College, as Warren proposes, presidential candidates will start treating states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina the way the rest of America does — as states not worth visiting. Candidates will invest their time and money in states with the most people, the most money and the most political influence, such as California, New York and the areas surrounding the District of Columbia. This will make American politics more segregated, more centralized and more elitist, not less.
So much for letting every voice be heard! And as Rich Lowry reminds us, each vote is in fact counted:
All votes are counted toward the outcome in every state. Voters from Republican, rural areas in California, for instance, aren’t disregarded; they are simply outnumbered. If it is the considered progressive view that this is tantamount to disenfranchisement, California could immediately mitigate the problem by splitting its electoral votes by congressional district the way Nebraska and Maine do. This would require no change to the U.S. Constitution, or elaborate schemes. Of course, California is loath to give up any of its solidly Democratic electoral votes.
Walter Williams offers us a useful history lesson here:
The Founding Fathers had utter contempt for democracy. James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, said that in a pure democracy, “there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual.” At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Virginia Gov. Edmund Randolph said that “in tracing these evils to their origin, every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy.”
John Adams wrote: “Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet, that did not commit suicide.” At the Constitutional Convention, Alexander Hamilton said: “We are now forming a republican government. Real liberty” is found not in “the extremes of democracy but in moderate governments. … If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy.”
For those too dense to understand these arguments, ask yourselves: Does the Pledge of Allegiance say “to the democracy for which it stands” or “to the republic for which it stands”? Did Julia Ward Howe make a mistake in titling her Civil War song “Battle Hymn of the Republic”? Should she have titled it “Battle Hymn of the Democracy”?
The Founders saw our nation as being composed of sovereign states that voluntarily sought to join a union under the condition that each state admitted would be coequal with every other state. The Electoral College method of choosing the president and vice president guarantees that each state, whether large or small in area or population, has some voice in selecting the nation’s leaders.
Donna Carol Voss offers more much-needed historical background:
“Pure democracy” is just another phrase for “mob rule.” Dictatorship of the majority means 51 percent of the citizenry rule the other 49 percent. That minority has no rights except those the condescending majority grants. It works well for those in the 51 percent, not so much for those in the 49. Plato knew it, and James Madison, who knew his Plato, did too. Plato and Madison both recognized that justice and liberty for the minority is possible only when power is shared between groups in society.
Plato’s “Republic” heavily influenced Madison and the other framers to devise a Constitution that protected the minority. Plato held that the ideal, i.e., just, form of government was one in which power was shared correctly between workers, warriors, and rulers. Madison held that the ideal, i.e., American, form of government was one in which power was shared correctly between judges, lawmakers, and rulers.
Inspired as it is, our Constitution protects the minority while preserving the best of democracy: we the people elect representatives to run the government (republic) and we do so by majority vote (democracy). Ergo, this is a democratic republic. Ergo, an Electoral College.
She offers a sporting analogy if some of you prefer to think about all this in such terms:
Think of the Electoral College like the World Series. One person-one vote equates to the World Series Champions being determined by total number of runs scored. If the Dodgers win the first game 10-0, and the Yankees win the next four games 1-0, the Dodgers win the series. Even though the Yankees bested the Dodgers in four games, it doesn’t matter because the Dodgers scored 10 runs to their 4. One anomalous game decides the whole series. Without the Electoral College, a few heavily populated states decide the whole election.
It comes as no surprise that the Democrats have a very low view of the US Constitution and the American Federalist system. Their attempt to get rid of the Electoral College is just another example of this. While the Electoral College may not be perfect (nothing is in a fallen world), it has served America well, and those wanting to abolish it need to make a much stronger and better case to do so.
Let me conclude with some wise words from Lewis Morris: Leftists “cannot win in the arena of ideas, so they want to change the rules of the game. So far, they have been very clever about exploiting the so-called problems of the Electoral College. The first thing to remember is that there is no problem with the Electoral College. Except if you are a Democrat who can only win by pitting segments of the nation against one another.”
9 Replies to “On the American Electoral College – And Why We Should Not Abolish It”
It seems the only time eliminating the electoral college pops up is when the Dems/Libs don’t win under that system. Without the electoral college it would definitely be mob rule. Now, THAT could start a most-unwanted civil war in the USA.
Wow! Thanks Bill. Very informative: filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge. Should be required reading in all schools worldwide.
You saying: “While the Electoral College may not be perfect … “, reminds me of Churchill’s statement that democracy is the worst system of government except for every other system. However, the representative-democracy electoral-systems in use worldwide (Oz, US, UK, Europe etc) can and should be corrected and made less “worse” if we have the will.
What’s wrong with our electoral systems? They have serious flaws that allow election of a candidate with 51% (‘after preferences’, or in a second or third round) who would lose, big time, a run-off election against another candidate eliminated BY THE SYSTEM, not by the voters’ votes. This results in exactly the same problems that the US Electoral College System is designed to stop – a dictatorship of a bare majority ignoring the minority – though in this case the ‘bare majority’ may in fact be dictating to the REAL majority.
A simple example PROVES my case: Candidates A, B & C get 33, 35 and 32% of the vote respectively; so C is eliminated. Suppose half of C voters then support A, while the other half support B. Hence B wins with 51% after preferences or after the second round. But those figures PROVE (it’s a Sudoku-style puzzle for you) that in run-off elections C would win 65:35 against B and 67:33 against A. In other words, our voting systems can give an unfair result. Now first-past-the-post systems are probably irredeemably flawed here, but preferential voting systems can be corrected simply by counting the votes differently: that is counting them FAIRLY. This can be done via Average Preference Counting (APC) where the winner, in the absence of an absolute majority, is the candidate whose average preference is closest to 1st preference. Please see tinyurl.com/ElectoralReformOz for more detail.
Adopting APC could be very beneficial for peace worldwide. E.g. Suppose A and B above are groups or ideologies radically opposed to each other, and C is a consensus group that both A and B accept as better than their arch enemies, then APC is more likely to result in peaceful consensus rather than a government flip-flopping between opposite extremes or suppressing a minority.
After recently picking up a beginners introduction to Australian politics, the value of the American voting system (and it is the same in Australia, for the same reasons) was almost common sense intuitive.
But seeing Butch lay out those simple statistics on the Trump vs Clinton election, the idea of a popular vote is quite terrifying.
Who in their right mind would argue that it’s good, or even ethical, to have a popular vote system in such a biased population structure such as America.
The same is true of Australia. How much trouble would our country be in, if Melbourne and Sydney had the deciding vote on matters of the whole country.
Along about 1966 I wrote a letter to the late Senator from Washington State, Warren G. Magnuson, suggesting we abolish the Electoral College and replace it with the popular vote. I gave the usual sophomoric reasons not unusual to youth.
Senator Magnuson very graciously wrote back and explained to me (also known as “being taken to school”) why the Electoral College exists and why it is so important. I have never forgotten his lesson, and still have his letter.
Interestingly, Magnuson was a Democrat – and though they still leaned too far to the left for me then, those old guys are probably spinning in their graves with what is happening now.
You teach me another lesson I needed to understand Bill. Thank you. I once went to meeting on The Australian Electoral Council (I think thats what they called themselves) where they informed me if I was unhappy with my choice of ‘other representatives’ I could place a No 1 in one box and strike out all other boxes on the ballot paper. My vote would note be disqualified. The Australian Electoral office does not notify those who make an invalid vote. I hope I haven’t been wasting mine on many occasions.
Mark, this may help: while a single 1 vote may sometimes be regarded as a ‘formal’ vote and be counted, unless you vote for a candidate or party with a very high chance of election, it is highly likely that your vote will ‘exhaust’ (that’s Electoral Commission speak for becoming ‘informal’) very soon in the count and so be be totally wasted.
But PLEASE: never vote only 1; and, please never vote only 1-6 ‘Above The Line’ in an Australian Senate election. That will often be a TOTAL WASTE of a vote and a denial of our duty to be salt and light to our community.
Let me explain: In an Australian upper house (Senate) election where 6 Senators are elected in each electorate, voters are now required to vote EITHER: 1-6 ‘Above The Line’ (ATL), for at least 6 Parties or Groups in order of preference; OR, vote 1-12 ‘Below The Line’ for at least 12 Candidates in order of preference. Now this new system does prevent the abuses of the old Vote-1 ATL system, but it has the real problems of: favouring big parties (surprise surprise); and, disenfranchising voters whose votes ‘exhaust’ because they only voted 1-6 ATL or 1-12 BTL and their vote exhausted before the critical Senators 5 and 6 were elected.
So please, PLEASE, NUMBER EVERY SQUARE, either Above or Below the line, or your vote could be totally wasted. In an Australian Senate election, it’s not easy to rank about 20 Parties ATL or 100+ Candidates BTL, but if you don’t do so you could be allowing a Green Socialist Left Sex Party Anarchist to win the last Senate seat at the expense of a somewhat conservative candidate that was not on your list of good guys.
Please encourage any conservative parties and candidates to cooperate and recommend their full preferences above and below the line. And if that fails, follow their 1-6 recommendations and complete your vote with the exact opposite order of secular rationalists who sometimes publish their full preference order.
Thanks Bill, always had a hankering for knowledge on the workings of the American system.
Although in NZ – I do love the Constitution, and constantly think in terms of “We the People”. Alas, to little avail.
And it is with sadness I observe the Law of Gravity does not apply in politics. Were it were to do so, to lean a little far left of center would mean to fall off – I could seriously go for that!
But there ARE other Laws; and the behaviour of our abhorrent government [not: abhorrent behaviour of our government] just recently, contrary to the majority who still have a mind to think with, will have very serious consequences on our little Nation. God Help Us!
In 1776, the year of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, only landowners had the right to vote. What would America look like today had that never changed?
Thanks Marlin. The Founding Fathers of course thought long and hard about such matters. As mentioned, they were NOT offering us a democracy, and they had a legitimate fear of mob rule. So their reasoning here had some merit actually. See this lengthy treatise by James Madison for example as to why they preferred this option:
Whether limiting the franchise to property owners today is a good or bad thing is another matter, and not the direct subject of my article.