It’s time to get rid of the Electoral College
By Peter Carlen, guest writer
Contrary to Donald Trump’s childish lies on Twitter, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 Presidential Election by roughly 2.5 million votes, and on Jan. 20, 2017 it will not be Hillary Rodham Clinton being sworn in as our new commander-in-chief but instead Donald J. Trump.
An ill-informed bystander may witness this wholly undemocratic result and scratch their head a bit. In what ridiculous system could a candidate win the popular vote by approximately the entire population of Nevada and not win the election?
The Electoral College is that system. The Electoral College was created by our Founding Fathers for a number of reasons, many of which are outdated. The first and foremost fear of the Founding Fathers with respect to voting was that a monarch could come to power. The Founders feared the mob rule of direct democracy and they felt that having a group of informed men (the Electoral College) to decide the president would avoid a dictator-type character coming into power. Our Founders also created the Electoral College as part of a compromise between large states and small states. That compromise is the reason that your vote matters approximately three times more if you live in Wyoming then if you live in California. While the Electoral College, as the Founders desired, is certainly not a direct democracy, it is also not a representative democracy. The will of the American people is not guaranteed with the Electoral College, and that is the fundamental problem with the system.
One of the ways that the Electoral College’s undemocratic ills manifest themselves is in the phenomenon known as “swing states.” Every four years, Americans research the candidates, head to the voting booth, and cast their ballot for the candidate of their choosing. And every four years, a few lucky swing states get to actually choose who becomes president.
The reality is that very few states are actually competitive in presidential elections. If you live in a safe state such as California, Texas, Alabama, New York, North Dakota, or one of the many other states that are reliably red or blue, there is no incentive for candidates to care one bit about your vote.
Why should a candidate campaign for votes in Texas if the outcome is more or less predetermined? Proponents of the Electoral College will respond to this critique by saying that the states that are considered swing states often change, which is true. Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan won’t always get to be the lucky deciders of our president, and California was once a red state.
However, the fact that only a few of our 50 states get to decide the election is still troubling despite the fact that who those states are may change every once in awhile. It is a fundamental tenet of democracy that your vote matters. No matter where you live, your vote should contribute in some way to who becomes president, and if you’re a Republican in a blue state or a Democrat in a red state, your vote doesn’t matter. Swing states are undemocratic.
Another facet of the Electoral College’s undemocratic nature is the Electors themselves. The members of the Electoral College do not have to vote for the candidate that their respective state voted for. It’s expected of Electors to vote for the candidate the majority of their state voted for, and that has been the case for almost all electors in every presidential election in American history, but there is no law on the books or article in the Constitution that requires them to do so. The ability of Electors to go against the will of their state is wrong in principle even if it rarely plays out in reality.
The will of the American people should be represented in the leaders of their government. Electors going against the will of their state, otherwise known as “Faithless Electors,” are an additional obstacle to the desires of the American people being represented and they are yet another facet of the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College.
The final flaw of the Electoral College is also its greatest. Under the Electoral College, a presidential can win fewer votes and become President. America has had 45 presidential elections in its history. Of those 45 presidents, five have not won a majority of the votes. Eleven percent of America’s presidents have not represented the will of the American people. Many people may hear those numbers, and a reactive “So what?” might ascend in their minds. After all, 89 percent of our Presidents have been elected by the majority of Americans. And what exactly is the issue with a candidate winning fewer votes and becoming president? The margin is generally pretty close, so who cares? That apathy is understandable, but there is something not only undemocratic about a candidate winning fewer votes and becoming president, but something un-American.
Those in favor of the Electoral College will counter this critique by saying that America is not a direct democracy. That is true. America is not a direct democracy; America is a representative democracy. The American people do not vote on legislation or most other decisions that are made by our government. The American people did not have a vote on whether the Affordable Care Act or the Patriot Act or the Bush Tax Cuts or any other piece of legislation should be passed, but representatives that the American people voted for did.
At every level of our government, the will of the people is represented to some extent. Mayors, city council members, state representatives, congressman and congresswomen, senators, state senators and governors are all elected by a majority of the people they represent.
For all of those positions, the will of the American people is represented. Even appointed positions such as the head of Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources have some connection to the will of the American people. The head of the DNR was appointed by Minnesota’s governor Mark Dayton, who was elected by a majority of Minnesotans.
Governors have to win a majority of the votes in their state, Congressmen have to win a majority of the votes in their district, etc. All of those positions listed above have to win a majority of the people they represent. And who does the president represent? Our country. If the president represents the entire nation as our commander in chief, shouldn’t he have to win the majority of our votes? The Electoral College doesn’t think so.