In the past I’ve written an article on the basics of the Electoral College - the institution used to elect presidents - and made arguments for why it is flawed. However, to fairly represent both sides of this important issue, I will now argue the system should remain.
Many Americans don’t understand why “the College” exists to begin. Our founders never intended direct democracy; historically, tyranny of the majority had followed. Instead, we are a constitutional republic - the same reason our Senate has equal representation.
The College derives from the principle of federalism, where powers are split among different levels of government; thus, state elections determine the president. There are several benefits to this method.
It ensures small states contribute a voice, but also that populous ones still have more impact; essentially, a holistic measure of a candidate’s national support. Louisiana’s voters are independent from New Jersey’s; the individual votes aren’t combined.
While small-state voters are overrepresented (per electoral vote) compared to big-state voters, this doesn’t intrinsically benefit either party. President Donald Trump carried seven of the ten largest states in 2016, whereas Hillary Clinton took six of the eleven smallest and D.C. - which would be the 3rd-smallest state if it were one. Historically, all winning candidates have earned support from many large and small states alike.
The clarity of the rules virtually ensures a square outcome - reach 270, you win! Any necessary recounts only involve individual states - not one national pile. Recalling that the 2000 election hinged entirely on Florida, going undecided for weeks, makes the thought of a national recount quite unpleasant. Similarly, the College discourages voter fraud; any examples are kept within states and likely insufficient to affect the national result.
One unpopular rule is that minority votes in each state are eliminated - but, doesn’t this happen in all elections? Think of it as 51 elections for governor. If you lose a governor’s race 60%-40%, you don’t get 40% control of the governor’s office; you go home empty-handed, wondering how you might do better next time.
Like with the College, your win as governor is equally legitimate if you win by 500 votes as by 500,000. In 2016, thirty-six states and D.C. were decided in majorities - demonstrating a clear mandate from voters.
To say Vice President Al Gore and Hillary Clinton won nationally is misleading, as doing so was never the goal. Trump campaigned to the College - a strategy to which he accredits his 2016 victory.
There’s no way to know who might have won a popular-vote election. For analogy, baseball games aren’t determined by hits, but runs; a strong team is able to string several hits together within innings to score runs. A losing team possibly getting more hits is irrelevant, since nobody competes towards that.
Having to win votes by state enhances the votes of ethnic minorities. In 2004, Bush won 44% of the Latino vote by proposing sensible immigration policies - thus carrying Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. Without this trio, he’d have lost nationally.
Statistics from the University of Virginia demonstrate this phenomenon. In 2012, without Madison and Milwaukee, Obama lost the state of Wisconsin by 97,000 votes.
In 2016, Clinton lost in this regard by 333,000 votes. Without Detroit, Obama won Michigan by 67,000 votes, whereas Clinton lost by 301,000. Lastly, Obama lost Pennsylvania without Pittsburgh and Philadelphia by 273,000 votes, but Clinton lost the rest of the state by a whopping 629,000 votes.
Trump’s economic message meanwhile in 2016, flipped another trio red: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, whose rural and suburban voters broke decisively in his favor - without which, he loses nationally.
Although these states don’t hold the majority of America’s population, the College ensures that shifts in support, there and/or elsewhere, are quantified in every election. Any strong ticket must possess unique demographic attributes to win a national array of voters. Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris - a biracial woman - as his running mate, in hopes to recapture minority support in the Midwest this year.
Trump’s picking of Mike Pence of Indiana helped them capture the region in 2016 - which twice before then, had backed Illinois’ Barack Obama. Alternatively, the Clinton-Gore ticket, from bordering states Arkansas and Tennessee, carried several Southern states in the 1990s.
But you may ask, don’t only swing states matter? While they do see heavy attention, they also change constantly, and for different reasons. Nobody predicted Trump winning the “Midwestern Trio.” Take examples from the 20th century: New England states largely supported Republicans, but now almost uniformly supports liberal or moderate candidates.
Missouri and Ohio were well-known bellwethers (swing states known for frequently backing the national winner, by margins similar to the popular vote), but have recently trended Republican. As mentioned, Southwestern states have flipped Democratic over the past decade, from demographic changes. Texas may now no longer be “safely red” for the first time in a generation; as for other ruby-red Southern states, many had voted blue for decades.
All this to say, the importance of voting this November has never been more crucial. Whether you have in depth knowledge of how the Electoral College functions, or still come away with very surface level understanding, let me make this one point crystal clear: vote.