Why the Electoral College is vital to maintaining national unity

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Claire Moore '22

Today’s voters call for an amendment to the United States Constitution which would establish a national popular vote for presidential elections.

Following the turbulent 2020 presidential election, it is important to understand the intricacies of America’s indirect voting system, referred to as the Electoral College.  While this is an imperfect method of electing a president in need of reform, its often overlooked benefits are crucial to maintaining the character and function of our nation’s constitutional republic.  

The process of electing the nation’s chief executive begins with each state, including the District of Columbia, selecting its electors through a popular vote.   These electors will represent the state in deciding the next President and Vice President, according to archives.gov.  Every state receives a number of votes equal to the number of members in its Congressional delegation, translating to one for each House Representative and an automatic two for state senators.  The number of electoral votes delegated to a state is proportional to its population.  For example, Wyoming only has three votes whereas New York has 29.  In a presidential election, a candidate needs to secure at least 270 of 538 electoral votes to win the presidency.  Using this method, a candidate may lose the popular vote while still acquiring enough electoral votes to win the election, highlighting a flaw of the Electoral College.

Intrastate ballot-counting helps to ensure that presidential elections run as smoothly as possible.  The decentralized voting process is able to contain disputes over miscounts or voter fraud within individual states.  If needed, this allows for a relatively calm and efficient recount within the territory, as opposed to a nationwide frenzy.  This proved to be instrumental in both the 1867 election of President Rutherford B. Hayes and the 2000 vote for President George W. Bush, according to hillsdale.edu.  Now with our country’s current disarray, the widespread use of mail-in ballots, and varying voting deadlines among states, a nationwide recount would be nothing short of disastrous.

The maps show states and counties skewed by population to affirm the Electoral College’s importance.  Courtesy of The Washington Post

The Electoral College makes fraudulent voting more difficult.  In a popular election, partisans could influence the polls by engaging in simple “ballot-box-stuffing” to tally enough falsified votes in any state.  The Electoral College, however, requires fraudsters to have knowledge of where to cheat, according to The Wall Street Journal.  Battleground states with similar levels of support for each political party, such as Florida or Pennsylvania, are reasonable inferences as they often determine elections, still no one can be sure until election night.  As a result, dissenters need a hypothesis beforehand about where manufactured votes will be the most effective, widely discouraging fraud.

Another valuable asset of the Electoral College is the stability that it encourages by focusing on two major political parties.  This does not prevent other parties’ candidates from running for office, but instead ensures that the winner of an election will likely be a Democrat or Republican, according to stanfordmag.org.  The Electoral College’s two-party system provides reasonable certainty for how the government will be run, no matter which party wins the majority and ends up in the White House.

A presidential candidate must also hold a broad national appeal under the Electoral College.  Because of its structure, the Electoral College favors a nominee with evenly distributed popular support throughout the country rather than one who managed to gain majorities in select states.  This fosters a national view, as opposed to a regional outlook.  Presidential candidates cannot just exclusively focus on densely populated urban areas, but instead need to divide their attention among rural regions and address the concerns of their inhabitants, according to nationalaffairs.com.  The current constitutional arrangement ensures that the whole country, with all of its interest groups, influences the election.  Consequently, an elected president will possess a national endorsement, promoting unity throughout the country.    

Arguments in favor of abolishing the Electoral College center around instances where the elected president lost the national popular vote, yet managed to obtain more electoral votes and win the presidency.  Critics advocate that a popular vote would better align with our country’s dominant democratic values.  All votes would equally impact the outcome of the election, rather than just those in swing states, coinciding with the American commitment to the equality of all citizens, according to The New York Times.

To date, only five elected presidents have not won the popular vote.  These men are former presidents John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and George W. Bush and President Donald J. Trump.  Although the Electoral College results do not always agree with the outcome of the popular vote, the system still upholds national equality by addressing the population discrepancies of urban and rural communities.  Under a popular vote, presidential campaigns would likely prioritize metropolitan interests because cities contain millions of voters whereas rural numbers are significantly lower.  The Electoral College, however, still considers population differences through an increased number of electoral votes for highly populated states, yet gives rural voters ample voice in selecting the next president.  This practice truly promotes public equality despite occasional defects. 

This graph highlights the different perspectives of the Democratic and Republican political parties in regard to abolishing the Electoral College.  Courtesy of pewresearch.org

The arguments against the Electoral College threaten America’s constitution and the entirety of its governing system, according to nationalaffairs.com.  Arguments that constitutional practices are outdated and that full-fledged democracy is the only answer can be easily used against any of the lawful institutions listed in the Bill of Rights and Amendments designed to preserve a free government in America.  The Constitution of the United States should be measured in its effectiveness of defending a fair, reliable, and liberated government that protects the rights of all its citizens.

Even with its flaws, the Electoral College remains necessary to our country’s democratic government.  A proposed alteration of the Electoral College is expanding the Congressional District Method to all 50 states.  Both Nebraska and Maine already use this system, meaning they deviate from the traditional “winner-takes-all” approach by splitting their electoral votes along county divisions.  The winner of each district gains one electoral vote and the state-elected candidate receives two electoral votes, according to fairvote.org.  Because states are allowed to delegate their electoral votes as they wish, this plan only requires a bill in each state’s legislature to be implemented.  A national adaptation of the Congressional District Method further equalizes the influence of individual votes on the national election, encouraging higher voter turnout and allowing for more a democratic system, according to electoralcollegereform.com.

Overturning the Electoral College would not guarantee a national popular vote for the presidency.  Instead, it would require a complex constitutional amendment specifying every detail of a popular vote.  This may even trigger calls for a complete rewriting of the Constitution, which would create America’s biggest governmental crisis since the Civil War, according to nationalaffairs.com.  Taking into account the current fragility of our nation’s political sphere, abolishing the Electoral College is simply not wise nor viable, although future reform proposals seem likely.

Featured Image by Claire Moore ’22