In Defense of the Electoral College

You’re kidding me, right? A moderate-leftie in 2017 is prepared to defend the Electoral College? Yes. First, because it isn’t going away, and second, because I think it served us a vital purpose this election.

The Electoral College is specified in great detail in our Constitution. It isn’t just a good idea, like civilian Secretaries of Defense; it’s not an Executive Order like DACA; it isn’t even a law, like the ACA. No, it is foundational: it’s in the Constitution. The Constitution is really tough to change, and if we make any changes to it this century I don’t think the issue will be the Electoral College. I am pragmatic in most of my views. The College is not likely to go away, so we might as well make the best of it.

And it may even have served us well. If we elected our presidents by direct popular vote, Hillary Clinton would be our president today with the support of a majority of the electorate — who are concentrated in a comparatively small geographic region. This map shows the election results by county. Clinton’s support came largely from coastal urban centers and a few inland big cities. She lost over vast, contiguous regions of the nation’s interior.2016_election_popular_vote_map

If we elected our presidents by direct balloting, U.S. presidential politics would inevitably and permanently become dominated by the country’s large population centers. Presidential campaigns would be limited to the major markets — the cities with the votes. The less populous interior, with its unique sets of concerns, issues and values, would be completely irrelevant — truly the “flyover” states.

By virtue of the Electoral College, and its bizarre winner-take-all weighting of votes, sparsely-populated states stand a chance of exerting influence over the election outcome. Candidates are obliged to campaign in all markets to secure a win — even places like Wisconsin and Michigan.2016_electoral_college_map

Thanks to the Electoral College, I became aware of just how many of my compatriots are unhappy with the direction of our country — and just how unhappy. The College woke me up to my hypocritical smugness, my dismissive attitude toward Americans who live far away from me. I feel that a Clinton win would not have been worth the price of rolling over so many dissatisfied citizens with our big, heavy left-trending snowball. (Of course, if some of the electors had defected to Clinton, I would not have objected.)

My Norwegian neighbor and political junkie (who has inexplicably never pursued U.S. citizenship) disagrees. She feels that every time the president won the College but not the popular vote, the resulting presidency was a disaster. I’m not so confident: I might agree concerning the 2000 election, but the three other times were in the 19th century, twice with really weird circumstances, and I don’t feel qualified to judge. In 2016, I think the system served us well. Only time will tell if it leads to disaster.

And you?

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Hilde Bialach says:

    For the record I don’t have an opinion on the elections in the 19th century but I am troubled by the elections in 2000 and 2016 that were won by people who didn’t have the popular vote majority. Also from 1900-1996 the Electoral College results were the same as the Popular Vote results and the results were very balanced: 13 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Looking at that you could say it was time for a Democratic President and the majority of the public knew that by voting for Al Gore.

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  2. Very intriguing idea. I guess I am trying to redeem a disappointing situation for myself personally, by acknowledging that if Mrs. Clinton had won, I would have continued in my smug superciliousness. In this regard the College did me a personal benefit by drawing out my hypocrisy. It remains to be seen what impact there is on our nation and society at large.

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