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What's The Point Of The Electoral College System?

  • Noah Peterson
  • Dec 15, 2016 11:11AM

Now that the endless recounts are in, it’s official: Trump has lost the popular vote in the US presidential election by a greater margin than any other president in American history. Hillary Clinton is currently beating Donald Trump by 2.8 million votes, despite being the runner-up of the election. This gap is over five times that of the 2000 presidential election when George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore by 544,000 votes, yet won the presidency due to the Electoral College system.

After the election, Trump tweeted his response to losing the popular vote: “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” I’m not sure what the President-elect was referring to, but he certainly sounds like a sore winner. Perhaps it was a jab at the millions of illegal immigrants in the US, and how they most likely would have voted for Hillary Clinton, if given the opportunity. Trump is only the fifth person in American history to lose the popular vote and still win the presidential election. What purpose does the Electoral College serve, and why not just use the popular vote to determine a victor?

The Founding Fathers of the United States first drafted the constitution over 240 years ago, and eventually used the Electoral College system to determine the selection of presidents. Aside from the recent uproar, historically this system has been very successful for the nation as a whole. When you walk into your local municipality and cast a ballot for the candidate of your choice, you’re actually casting a vote for citizens called electors. These electors are appointed by the states, and take a pledge that they will support the same candidate that voters have cast their ballots for.

Some Americans find the Electoral College to be a flawed system that is difficult to understand. Why select a few people to vote for the masses? Critics state that the Electoral College rewards some states more than others, as elector votes are disproportionate around the nation. During every election cycle, some of the public inevitably carries on about moving away from the current system, in favor of an overall national popular vote.

At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the delegates wanted to build a stronger centralized government. During America’s infancy, the English colonies that ultimately became states were not entirely unified – the 13 colonies had different laws, rights for their citizens, and even different currencies. The delegates needed to legitimize the Federal Government to unify the states under one banner and avoid a “mobocracy” of the people, as it was called at the time. Larger states wanted a representation of the population, while smaller states wanted to uniformly retain equality of representation. A compromise between the two birthed the Electoral College that we use to this day.

The Electoral College wasn’t the only thing that came from this compromise – Congress was also born. In the House of Representatives, each state had a number of members proportionate to its population. In the Senate, each state would be represented by two sitting members. As it pertained to the election of a President, the rules of this compromise would be the same. Each state would be allowed to select a quantity of electors based on how many Representatives they had in Congress, placing their vote in representation of the state’s citizens. Each state was also awarded two additional electors for the Senators, representing the sovereignty of the state.

The decision to use electors to indirectly vote for candidates on behalf of the people was controversial even in 1787, and sparked strong debate at the Constitutional Convention. Its justification came from the idea that if Americans decided to vote for a criminal or traitor to the US, electors could reverse that vote to preserve the integrity of the nation. The Founders wanted certain elements of a democratic system for the US, but feared the unrestricted democracy of a popular vote. Simply put, the Founding Fathers of the United States never intended for the nation to be led by its people: America is a Republic, and in this Republic citizens vote for Representatives to make decisions for them. Mob rule was never intended to be how US presidential elections were decided.

Historically, the Electoral College system has been wildly successful. In 40/45 elections, presidents selected have won both the electoral and popular vote. That’s a pretty good outcome, all things considered. After all, no one system that represents millions of people can be perfect. The American people have yet to vote for a confirmed treasonous spy, so thankfully electors have not had to vote down a President-elect prior to their inauguration.

Critics of the Electoral College system in the US disagree with indirect representation. Supporters of a popular vote system believe that the population should have the ultimate say in who wins the presidency, but seldom discuss the implications that this approach would have.

On the one hand, it is true that a system in place which only considered individual votes would be the most democratic thing to do. On the other, however, areas with smaller populations wouldn’t get fair representation. Citizens of South Dakota, for instance, would get the shaft because New York has a much larger population. Any voters living in a rural area would basically be “throwing their vote away,” if their cast ballot were in opposition to a favored candidate in a thriving metropolis. People voting from the heartland of America would have no chance compared to those in major cities.

By taking a look at any map of votes cast during modern US presidential elections, it’s clear to see why the Electoral College system is in place. In an almost uniform manner, most of the landmass in the United States is red, representing the Republican vote. In highly-populated regions of the nation, the color shifts to blue, representing the Democratic vote. Changing the system we currently have in place would severely undermine both rural and conservative voters. If the Electoral College were ever cast aside for the popular vote, presidential elections would become extremely one-sided – and that doesn’t seem very democratic at all.