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Electoral Boogaloo: Why the Electoral College Is Bad and Just Getting Worse

Posted 11 Months ago by Jet Presto

Wrote this thing a while ago, and updated a few things for a recent thread wherein we argued the merits of the electoral college. Here's the whole shebang. (It's long, obviously.)

America is a nation with a strange relationship to democracy. We claim to love it, especially when justifying the invasion of foreign nations like Korea, Vietnam, or Iraq. And yet, domestically, we could take it or leave it. The gutting of voting rights, massive gerrymandering, voter restrictions, unlimited corporate financing of campaigns and candidates: these are common ways that American democracy is constantly undermined. Perhaps the strangest of all is the way we select the President.

But before diving into it, it’s worth noting a pretty stunning reality: no American citizen has a constitutional right to vote for President. Yes, you have a right to vote for your state officers. And sure, when it comes to the practice of voting, there are amendments and laws that are supposed to make it accessible for everyone, but those don’t apply to the Presidential election. That is because of our method for selecting them. As is probably well understood by now, people don’t actually vote for the president directly. In essence, states select a number of electors – overwhelmingly allocated in “winner take all” rules, though Maine and Nebraska divvy them up by district. Those electors then meet up a month later to do the actual voting that elects the president.

There’s been a lot of talk about what the role or responsibility of these electors actually is, made more controversial by the 2016 results. Many have argued that the electors have a duty to vote according to their own personal conscience, regardless of who won the state’s popular vote. These were known briefly as “Hamiltonian electors,” but mostly that argument was a last ditch Hail Mary to try to prevent an actual tyrant from taking office. It’s worth noting that Alexander Hamilton – everyone’s favorite ten dollar founding father – never much liked the electoral college. “But wait! What about the Federalists papers!” Hamilton wasn’t a fan of the college, but he was a fan of the Constitution, and he needed to sell people on it. That’s why he wrote glowingly about it; to convince people back home to ratify it. But almost immediately, he saw major flaws with the system and – ironically in an effort to try to ensure George Washington got the necessary number of votes for a clean sweep – very nearly manufactured an upset for John Adams!

However, these electors really are supposed to vote according to how their state decrees. All states today use a popular vote to determine who their electors will go for, but back then, a bunch of states simply had the state legislatures decide. And that was – and remains – completely constitutional. In fact, just recently the Supreme Court ruled that it is constitutional for states to punish these rogue voters, commonly called “Faithless electors.” States do not have to do so, but they may. The reason this is totally fine is that how these states conduct their elections, even for president, is up to the states. So, if they pass legislation requiring their electors vote in accordance to the popular vote of the state, it’s totally legit to punish them if they do not. They could even simply say that they’re not even going to bother with a vote and simply have their state legislatures pick; still constitutional. Granted, this hasn’t happened since 1876 when the new state of Colorado decided they didn’t have enough time to properly prepare for a popular vote. Perhaps worth noting that this was the first time in US history that the winner of the popular vote (who also got a majority of almost 51%) lost the electoral college (by 1 electoral vote). Colorado had three electoral votes. It was a whole thing. I’ll get into it a bit later.

This is actually a key component to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact – a plan that has emerged to functionally make the winner of the popular vote, by default, the winner of the electoral college. The idea is simple: if enough states that combined to make the required 270 electoral votes for electoral college victory agreed to collectively award their electors according to the national popular vote, then there would be no need for an amendment abolishing the EC, and would be constitutional on the grounds that the founding document grants this authority of how to allocate electors to the states, not the federal government. It might require Congressional approval since the Compact Clause dictates that no states shall enter compacts with each other without the expressed consent of Congress. It’s hard to say which way an originalist Supreme Court influenced by Antonin Scalia would rule, given no one ever knows what alleged logic they’re just going to make up the day of the ruling. Still, there is ground to stand on and it might even be possible to get those votes in Congress. An amendment once had a majority of Senate votes about fifty years ago. There are some concerns that need to get addressed within this plan, but it’s infinitely better than the current system.

The electoral college is more often than not controversial because it has somehow turned into a particularly partisan issue. I suppose it makes sense given that Republicans have largely benefited from it and Democrats have not. In the past seven presidential elections, the Democratic nominee won the popular vote on six of those occasions. Yet in 2000 and 2016, the Republican who earned fewer votes became president because of the electoral college. This really does mark the increasingly partisan attitudes towards the electoral process, with Democrats noting the inherent unfairness of it and Republicans arguing that it’s all just sour grapes.

To a degree, there’s a grain of truth to sour grapes arguments. It’s hard to imagine the bulk of Democrats would be calling for changing to a popular vote if they had won those elections in the electoral college. In fact, Democratic strongholds like New York and Delaware didn’t even sign onto the compact until after 2016. Conversely, we saw multiple Republicans – including the current President – complain about the electoral college in 2012 when for a brief moment on election night, it looked like Mitt Romney might win the popular vote but lose the electoral college. It prompted the ageless tweet, “The electoral college is a disaster for democracy,” from the current Republican president. Perhaps it’s worth noting that the Interstate Compact is a bipartisan effort, with Republicans on board and making some grounds within their own party. It’s true that no Republican governor has signed a bill, and they rarely get Republican votes in the House, but key members of the movement are former Republican Congressmen, and even people who had major roles in George W. Bush’s campaigns, who are regularly meeting to discuss it.

So why are people so opposed? What are the reasons given that we shouldn’t switch to a popular vote?

“We’ll just have California and New York determine every election!”
This is one of the most common refrains from the Republican supporters, and there’s a bit to unpack. First off, it’s a bit telling if you don’t think you can win an election if it were up to the people, and not geography. We see this all the time with political figures and supporters posting disingenuous maps that make it seem like the winner got broader support than they did. When you look at an electoral map all colored in, you’re just seeing land; not people. Fortunately, we have much better ways to display the electoral map that shows where the actual people are that are voting, that is much more representative of the electorate. But again, what does it say that you seem confident that you can’t win a majority of votes in the country?

This argument also seems to suggest that because the most populated states like California and New York tend to be pretty heavily liberal, the Republicans would have no chance at winning a national election. As mentioned earlier, it’s commonly noted that Democrats won the popular vote in six of the past seven elections. It’s worth noting, however, that in seven of the ten elections prior to that, the Republicans won it. George W. Bush also did win the popular vote in his re-election campaign in 2004, and again, Mitt Romney came fairly close to winning in 2012.

But more importantly, it’s objectively not true. In terms of just general population, the two states combine for about 59 million residents. This is in the United States, with its general population of over 328 million. So do these two states account for a fair amount of the US population? Sure, but it’s also just under 18%. And you’re not going to win a popular vote contest just getting 18%. More than that, what exactly are the odds that every California and New York voter is going to vote Democrat? In 2016, just over eight and a half million Californians voted Democrat to just under four and a half million who voted for Republican. The 2 to 1 ratio applies to New York as well, where 4.5 million voted for Hillary Clinton and 2.8 million voted for Donald Trump. In a national popular vote, you’d have to win the most votes across the entire nation. You’ll want every vote you can get in Nebraska, every vote you can get in Massachusetts, every vote you can get in Florida, and yes, every vote you can get in New York or California. I’d actually argue that it’s mostly Republicans in these states that lose their voice in the election, instead functioning more as a money dispenser to the campaigns while not getting any actual say in anything.

Besides: with the electoral college and how solidly blue and red the majority of states are, we already see just a few states determine the outcome. If it’s not California and New York, it’s Ohio and Florida. At least with a popular vote, everyone’s vote is equal, whereas a Republican voter in California or a Democratic voter in Alabama have their votes count for literally nothing while their fellow voters in Ohio and Florida determine the outcome.

“Well then, they’ll just campaign in cities and forget everywhere else!”
Admittedly, this is a funny argument given that we actually have evidence to prove this wouldn’t be the case, and we see it all the time without issue. Every single state determines their governor and senators by the popular vote. Whoever gets the most votes, wins. And yet, we routinely see candidates for these offices campaign across the entire state. In most states, you simply can’t win just with the vote of the city and metropolitan areas. In Massachusetts, Boston has a population of a bit over half a million, but the state’s total is over 6 million. There’s this idea that the overwhelming majority of Americans live in the cities, and while those often are the places that are thriving and popular destinations, this narrative is a bit misleading. If you added up the numbers of the 50 most populated cities in the US, you’ve got about 15% of the total population.

The reality is, the overwhelming majority of Americans live in rural, suburban, exurban, and small town areas. And it’s not even that close. The main divide in America today is not “North and South.” It is not “Big state, small state.” It is among these different sects of rural, urban, suburban, and exurban areas. And those exist in every single state, which is why you see candidates for governor or senator campaign across the whole region.

Besides: this is what we see with the electoral college now anyway. The last presidential candidate to visit all 50 states was Richard Nixon, due primarily to a gimmicky campaign promise. No one is campaigning in Hawaii because it’s solidly Democrat and also only has four votes, and no one is campaigning in Wyoming because it’s solidly Republican and only has three votes. We regularly see presidential campaigns target less than a dozen key states – Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina are going to get substantially more resources than California or Mississippi. Which is sort of funny because in turn, the state parties get substantially less money and resources. The national Democratic Party is not going to give more resources to the Mississippi state Democratic Party for down ballot candidates because the state is a lost cause, just as Republicans don’t tend to put a lot of money in New York at this point. Unlike the actual economy, this does have a trickle down effect, and that is ultimately a less representative government.

“Big States would just dominate over small states.”
While it’s true that this was a concern back in 1789, there’s little reason to believe that would make a difference in modern times. In 2020, every state has urban areas with similar needs, rural areas with similar needs, suburban areas with similar needs, and exurban areas with similar needs. While the specific interests of certain geographical regions might vary – what a farmer in Idaho might need could very well be different than what a farmer in Vermont needs – those differences have shrunk significantly over the generations. What exactly makes Massachusetts so different from North Carolina? Never mind to the point that a North Carolina vote counts for discernibly more than a Massachusetts vote? Does a Texan somehow need health care less than a New Yorker, or a Washingtonian need affordable housing more than an Iowan?

The culture at this point is even discernibly different. Prior to the Constitution, when you hear folks like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson write about their country, they’re talking about Virginia specifically. After the revolution, the colonies were a somewhat loose confederacy of independent nations. There was no central “American” identity, really. At this point in time, though, state pride is a sub-division of nationality. A person in Washington isn’t talking about Washington when they mention their country, nor is someone from West Virginia referring to West Virginia. The idea these days is that we are “Americans” first and foremost, hence the long-lasting patriotic campaigns.

We also have this thing called Congress, with the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Senate especially gives greater voting power to small states, and if an election were to go to the House, again small states have greater voting power. We love to praise the Founders for creating systems of checks and balances, but having the Senate and the electoral college actually gives greater power to smaller states. It creates an imbalance in the other direction. There’s no reason why one Wyoming vote should count almost 57 times more than 1 California vote for president. After all, the President doesn’t represent a state; they represent the country. It would stand to reason, then, that votes in all states should count the same.

“A popular vote just makes it easier to cheat and commit voter fraud to sway elections.”
I know there’s a common fear about voter fraud, even though there is decidedly little evidence to suggest it happens at anywhere near the level one particular party likes to say. The elections tend to be close in the popular vote, but rarely so close that any fraud that does happen would sway it. But that’s on the national level. The state level can be a little different. In Michigan during the 2016 election, for example, Donald Trump won by just over 10,000 votes – less than half a percent of the total vote. Because states award electors in a winner take all format, such a tiny percentage has a much larger impact on the total result, as Trump received all 16 electoral votes for a 0.3% popular vote win in the state. By comparison, the 2000 election was one of the narrowest popular vote results in history, with Al Gore winning over 500,000 more votes nationwide. That represented just over 0.6%, twice the margin in Michigan.

These margins are not usually so close on the national level that fraud would be common enough to swing it. But those margins get even smaller on state levels. To overturn a national popular vote often separated by hundreds of thousands if not millions, one would require substantially more fraud. Yet because of the winner take all system of the EC, just a few thousand fraudulent voters in Michigan, Ohio, and Florida could potentially sway the entire electoral college. In essence, it’s easier to cheat in just a few states than the entire country. Which also makes it easier for foreign players to interfere, too. Easier to just target residents and voters in a couple of states than the entire Union. Too big a margin for error or things to not work out your way.

In 2000, Gore “lost” Florida by a little over 500 votes, despite winning the national election by about 500,000. That 500 votes in Florida is a much easier target for fraudsters to aim for and achieve than the 500,000 nationwide. Fraud is, frankly, more likely to sway a presidential election because of the electoral college.

“You act like you know soooo much more than the founding fathers! They designed this for a reason, and it’s worked pretty well so far! There have been a few bumps and exceptions, but by and large it’s not been an issue because they knew what they were doing!”
I mean, the Founding Fathers thought that the cure for pneumonia was bloodletting and affixed leeches to their bodies, so I feel confident in suggesting that on some matters, we all know better than the Founders. But also, this ignores the reality of the history. While it’s true that the Founders did work out various compromises and systems of checks and balances, the electoral process for President was….haphazard to say the least. In fact, it was quite literally the last thing they came up with, and it was primarily a last minute compromise just to get a process done. Basically they came up with the electoral college in the same way that I came up with my senior year English paper; last minute and just to get something good enough to pass. Almost no one left the Constitutional Convention particularly happy with the electoral college, but they felt satisfied enough that they could go home and convince their citizens to ratify it the Constitution.

It’s worth noting that there was at least one person there, James Wilson, who advocated a national popular vote from the start. The entire idea of a president was controversial, and the election process was too. But Wilson managed to convince a handful of others that the best way to do so was a national popular vote. It should also be noted that The Godfather of the Constitution, James Madison, and the (sort of plagiarizing) author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, both noted at the time that their preference was for a popular vote. Madison himself wrote later in his life that the electoral college was a mistake that needed to be corrected. Alexander Hamilton noticed pretty much immediately flaws with the system. (He even tried to exploit them in the very first election.)

In fact, the electoral process changed multiple times in the first decade and a half of the nation’s history. The Founders’ original system was that electors cast two votes – whoever gets the most votes is the President. The runner up became the Vice President. That changed during Jefferson’s administration because people realized that was, uh, dumb? Hamilton’s concern was that enough people would vote for someone with the intention of them becoming Vice President that they might accidentally give him more votes than their intended president (in this specific case, John Adams over George Washington). Eventually, they changed it so that one vote was to be cast for President, and the other for Vice President explicitly. But that didn’t happen until the fifth election.

The point is: even the framers were able to recognize the flaws with their system pretty quickly. And when they saw them, they addressed them. The electoral college is not sacred simply because it’s in the Constitution. I mean, slavery was recognized as valid in the Constitution, too. And they clearly could not anticipate everything, hence the amendment process and the creation of the Supreme Court, for worse or worst. Not to mention, what do you argue is the “strict construction” view in the case of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact? The constitution gives the federal government oversight on interstate pacts, but it gives the states supreme power on elections. Soooo….which one wins? The constitution is not without its flaws and contradictions, nor can it be expected to handle every situation, especially in modern times.

But also, did it work well? Their system encountered major problems in literally just the fourth election. Both Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr got 73 electoral votes, meaning it went to the House to decide. This was not wholly unexpected. They did come up with a plan for such a scenario, obviously. In fact, some at the Constitutional convention figured this would be how many elections were decided. But then they ran into a problem: what sounded good on paper didn’t function particularly well in practice. If you’re into game design, you know all about this kind of thing. An idea sounds good, until you actually play it. The House was divided in 1800 and it took days of backroom dealing to finally emerge with just enough votes for Jefferson to win. The process was upsetting to most, including Jefferson, and especially the errant Burr, sir.

A funny thing happened just twenty-four years down the line. Six elections later, a crowded field produced no winners. Though Andrew Jackson won more popular and electoral votes, he did not win the required number for actual victory. Again, it went to the House to decide. Again, it was heated and took days of backroom dealings before they awarded the presidency to John Quincy Adams. This was especially infuriating to Jacksonian Democrats, and really marked the beginning of the calls to abolish the electoral college outright. By this time, democracy was gaining quite a bit of steam, and enfranchisement was rapidly expanding from just thirty years earlier. Most states had waived property ownership as a requirement, and others were allowing Catholics to participate. Still a ways away from people of color or women voting, to be sure, but every election from 1800 to 1852 saw increased voter turnout because they gave voting rights to more and more people.

In 1876, Samuel Tilden won almost 51% of the popular vote, yet Rutherford B. Hayes won the electoral college by literally just one vote. This was hugely controversial at the time, especially given that Colorado’s three votes went to Hayes, though it was the only state that did not conduct a popular vote at all. Because of Colorado’s predominantly Republican legislature, it was assumed that some scheming had been done behind the scenes, just as Burr figured in 1800 and Jackson in 1824.

And, just twelve years later in 1888, Benjamin Harrison lost the popular vote by a little under 1 percentage point, but won the electoral college by about 70 electoral votes, further adding to the idea that the electoral college makes it seem like the winner has broader support than they do. Something lost in the shuffle of the wild 1968 election is that because of George Wallace’s candidacy, the election very nearly also wound up in the House. (Perhaps this is a reason Nixon supported a popular vote.) And then, of course, we had 2000 and 2016, repeated of 1876 and 1888. What’s more, if Donald Trump were to win re-election, it would not come with a popular vote victory either. If that happened, he’d be the first person to lose the popular vote for both terms, a feat not even George W. Bush could pull off.

Even more, the electoral college has long been used to inaccurately display the concept of a popular mandate. In about fifteen elections, the winner did not get a majority of total votes. If you look at the electoral map, you would think that Donald Trump was an especially popular president, yet his approval rating constantly hovers around 40%. Ronald Reagan is often regarded as one of the most popular presidents of all time, with a massive electoral landslide in 1980 winning all but four states. And yet, he got just over 50% of the total vote. You would think by electoral maps that the likes of Franklin Pierce or James Buchanan were popular. Now, I know I’ve rattled off a bunch of presidents you either known nothing about or didn’t remember held the office, but suffice it to say….they weren’t popular. None of these guys were. Incoming presidents like to talk a lot about the “will of the people,” but the electoral map fundamentally represents something else entirely.

“Well the founders intended the electoral college to prevent tyranny, since the masses could not be trusted.”
If you think the electoral college was put in place to prevent tyrants from taking the office, I’ve got some bad news for ya…

This is a common refrain, but it’s also not really accurate. Perhaps one could argue that’s a possible unintended consequence of the electoral college, but that was not its stated or intended purpose. It’s true that for every pro-democracy founder like Wilson or Jefferson, there were folks like John Adams and Hamilton who often feared the masses, recognizing that tyranny was not just the tool of individuals. But that’s not what Madison was thinking when he wrote it in.

The reality is that back in 1789, most Americans had no formal education, many were not even literate, and news traveled incredibly slowly. The supposed distrust of the citizenry had less to do with fear they would enact tyranny themselves, and more to do with the idea that they simply could not be informed enough about the candidates and the issues to decide. Pro-democracy advocates like Jefferson and Madison preached the importance of schools and ensuring as many Americans as possible could attend, often claiming that it was essential for a healthy and functioning democracy. Even the democracy-concerned Adams felt that way.

But it’s also worth noting that the Founders absolutely intended for the House of Representatives to be the most powerful arm of government, and that was always intended to be up to the will of the people. And given that they anticipated a fair number of presidential elections to be determined by the House itself, which was elected by the masses, it’s safe to say that the thinking was not to keep presidential elections out of the hands of the people because the people could not be trusted. A lot of people argue that a popular vote is “mob rule,” but I’m not really sure how one distinguishes between that and…uh…democracy? Like, we don’t think of electing Representatives or Senators or Mayors or Governors as “mob rule.” Why does that apply to the President? How does one distinguish between a “mob” and “the people”?

“ But we’re not a democracy. We’re a constitutional republic!”
This is honestly one of the most exhausting points we hear. It’s like when you keep poking someone and they ask you to stop touching them, and you respond with, “technically, I’m not touching you. My molecules are touching your molecules!”

Quite simply, the entire concept of the United States is a republic predicated on democratic principles. A government “of, by, and for the people” is not a thing if the people do not get a say. The Founders clearly believed that the people had to give their consent for the government to have legitimacy. It’s literally what the Revolution was all about.

And again, they intended the House to be determined by popular, which was supposed to be the most powerful arm of government and was expected to determine presidential elections. But also, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that the government is not beholden to the popular vote because we elect leaders who represent us but operate independently from us, then angrily declare that these representatives have no right to tell you what to do (like wearing masks).

“Why scrap the whole thing? Why not just divvy up electors by distract?”
On the surface that might sound more fair, but you’re forgetting who establishes the districts. Since we have no non-partisan, independent organization responsible for creating fair and genuinely representative districts, instead opting to let the party in power draw up the maps, there’s nothing to stop them from drawing them in ways that further maintain their electoral power. Take a state like Massachusetts. If Democrats draw up the districts so that the majority of Republican voters occupy just two or three of them, then even if those Republicans wind up out-voting Democrats in the general, the electoral votes would still be allocated predominantly to the Democratic candidate. Put simply: allocating electors via districts does not end the problem of the electoral college; it actually makes it worse and on a smaller level.

I’m not entirely sure we want to give parties even more incentive to gerrymander horrendously. Not to mention, we already see issues of incumbent presidential candidates appropriating more money for swing states (a thing that is actually quite common and is truly bipartisan). Most incumbent presidents will swing more money and resources to things like infrastructure projects in Ohio or Florida over ones in California or Nebraska. Electing the president with any system that his some votes count more than others will inevitably encourage favoritism from elected officials.

It also feels like a popular vote could help ease the increasing partisanship problem. It’s been so “us versus them” and so toxic and cutthroat. But what if both candidates had to create broadly appealing platforms and try to win people on a large, nationwide scale? In effect, the electoral college only incentivizes further polarization, because it’s in the parties’ best interest to keep states solid blue or solid red. Republicans don’t have to work to earn votes in Alabama because it’s solid red, nor do they really bother in California where it’s solid blue. Similarly, Democrats don’t bother in Alabama, nor work hard in California for the reversed reasons. But imagine if a Republican candidate actually thought they could make some gains in California because a quarter of votes could be bumped up to a third, or Democrats thought they could make headway in Louisiana?

On top of that, we might actually see voter turnout increase because people in those 40 or so states that don’t change much don’t see the point in voting. As much as Republicans like to argue it’s just sour grapes, it’s actually pretty often Republican voters that get completely erased by this system. Either way, one would imagine that to be elected to the Presidency, where they represent all Americans in all states, every vote should count the same.

“You just want this so your side can win.”
If I’m honest, what I really want is a national popular vote by ranked choice voting. This is, to my mind, the most representative and democratic way to reach something resembling a consensus. It’s a basic founding principle of the nation: the power of the government comes from the consent of the governed. How can we argue that applies to the most powerful position in government when they routinely get elected with a minority of votes? I don’t necessarily hate the idea that whoever gets the most votes wins. After all, we do that for every other office, and governors regularly get elected without getting a majority without much hullabaloo. But personally, I just think it makes no sense that the most powerful person in the country can get in with the majority of Americans voting against them than for them.

Underlying it all though is a sense of basic fairness. If my candidate lines up against your candidate, and more people like your candidate than mine, so be it. At least that system is truly fair, everyone is treated as equal under the law, everyone has the same power in voice, and we can earnestly say that this is the “will of the people.”

Yes, it’s true, for a number of big states or swing states, giving up the electoral college means giving up some power. California Democrats probably aren’t super eager to give up those 55 electoral votes that are a big reason why the party is competitive. At the same time, when we’re talking about the one single office that is supposed to represent everyone in the country, there is simply no good reason why our votes should matter more or less than others depending on where you happen to live.

But there’s another lens to look at this through: regardless of what you personally feel about the electoral college, it’s not that difficult to see that the way we elect our president – the one political office that represents everyone in the country from Massachusetts to Mississippi to Hawaii to Maine – is seen by millions and millions of Americans as innately unfair and broken. Looking out your window, you can easily see a crisis growing. In an age where distrust of government, scientists, doctors, experts, and even religious institutions is at an all time low, one would imagine that a system of electing the president that more Americans feel is fair is essential to the survival of our democracy, and the stability of the republic.

In the end, while yes I do have strong opinions on this, obviously, it’s not a matter of preference at this point, nor is it about trying to ensure that one party wins over the other. In fact, a simple popular vote would encourage parties to create more broadly appealing platforms since all voters in every district would matter equally. You simply couldn’t coast on figuring out what the smallest number of voters you can appeal to in order to win. Plus, local and state parties will get more access to resources from the national parties to grow, which means more options for down ballot offices, which means greater and more accurate representation for Democrats and Republicans; something also critical to the longevity of this country.

If we were truly going to exist for another 250 years, then we simply *must* try to find a system that has more credibility. We already have seen a concerted effort to simply ignore the results of one election. And it’s unlikely Trump is gone from another run in 2024. But if he wins, it is guaranteed that he will do so while losing the popular vote, for the third time failing to crack a plurality, never mind an actual majority. And I just don’t know where we go from here if we have the most polarizing and authoritarian president in history winning both elections without the consent of the people.

Not listening to the people has been a major part of what we’re seeing with these protests and the police response. Just imagine if we continue to have presidents who regularly lose the popular vote, but win the White House. If it’s supposed to be a government of the people, by the people, for the people, that all people are created equally, and we hold these truths to be self-evident, then how on earth do we still have the electoral college? It’s not very “republican” to let some Americans have greater say than others, either.

There are 3 Replies

TL;DR Wrap up:

1. "California and New York would decide the election!"

The total population of those states - including children not old enough to vote - barely makes up 18% of the total US population. And then remember that almost every single election, both states see about a third of their votes going to the Republican candidate.

Remember: there are Republicans in California and New York just as there are Democrats in Texas and Kentucky.

Plus, the electoral college already ensures that it's Ohio, Florida, and Michigan that basically decide the election.

2. "They'll only campaign in the cities."

If you add up the total population of the 50 most populous cities in the country, you don't even get get 15% of the total US population.

We also see examples of how candidates would campaign very often. Every state determines their governor and senators via popular vote. And every election cycle, those candidates campaign all over the state. Yeah, they may spend a little more time and resources in the big cities, but they always spend a good amount in rural and suburban areas.

And again, we already see this system in the electoral college, unless anyone thinks candidates genuinely spend a fair amount of time and money campaigning in Mississippi, Texas, Rhode Island, or California.

3. "I'm worried about fraud."

It's actually *more* likely and *easier* for fraud to sway an election via the electoral college than via the popular vote. Even the closest elections on a national level would require massive, unprecedented levels of fraud to overturn a popular vote. But because the margins are substantially smaller in just a small handful of states, the chances that fraud could sway the election are greater.

Consider how much easier it would be to fraud your way to a victory by needing 540 fake votes in Florida versus 501,000 votes across the nation.

(But absolutely states should still run the elections in their states.)

4. "Big states would just overshadow small states."

We still have the Senate, which gives small states greater sway over things. Didn't discuss this much in the piece, but this argument is also fundamentally a piece of rhetoric for the Republican party. We say we worry about "small states," but that's not even thinly veiled code for the rural states where there aren't a lot of people, most of which tend to be deeply Republican. "Small states" tends to refer to Idaho, Montana, or Kansas, where there aren't a lot of people. But not to Rhode Island, Maryland, or Hawaii, small states that typically vote Democrat and their say is overridden.

5. "You just want your side to win."

Telling argument that Republicans don't think they can win a national election if it requires getting the most amount of people to support their platform. It's true that Republicans have only one 1 of the last 8 elections in the popular vote. But prior to that, they won 7 of the 10 popular votes before that. Republican gubernatorial candidates are not uncommon even in heavily blue states. A popular vote would make both parties need to make more broadly appealing platforms, because they'd need as many votes in as many different parts of the country.

Those are my main talking points. Others go deeper into the history of both the Founders' intentions and feelings (Madison, Hamilton, and Jefferson famously did not like the electoral college, with Madison later in life writing that we ought to get rid of it - something backed by Andrew Jackson and early Democrats for a long time.)

There's also the fact that the President is the only office in the entire land that represents all Americans equally. They do not represent the states. It only seems reasonable and fair that all Americans should have the same voting power. The electoral college fundamentally puts more voting power for some people and less voting power for others and treats Americans as unequal, dependent on where they live.

And also, the history of American elections is rich with problems, major controversies, and legitimacy issues.

11 Months ago
Jet Presto

I wrote this thing last year, which is why I say "The current president" referring to Trump. Sorry, I forgot to change some tenses and stuff when I updated it for this.

Also wanted to add this bit of history:

An amendment once had a majority of Senate votes about fifty years ago.

There was a bipartisan bill in the mid to late 1960s that was supported by nearly 2/3rds of the American public to abolish the electoral college and use the popular vote to determine the president. Had very broad appeal, including from popular Republicans like Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower. And it came within four votes shy of passing. The four main votes to prevent the bill from passing were Deep South Republicans who were staunch segregationists and were openly acknowledging that the electoral college helped them maintain their power and thought a popular vote would be a disaster for protecting the sanctity of white power. (Literally how they talked about it. I'm not doing any editorializing.)

11 Months ago
Jet Presto

I *also* forgot to mention that when discussing the most populous states: everyone always says that "California and New York" are going to be the states that dictate a popular vote. But both Texas *and* Florida are more populous than New York.

So why would a popular vote be influenced by the 1st and 4th most populous states because they tend to vote more liberal, but not the 2nd and 3rd most populous states which tend to vote more conservative?

11 Months ago
Jet Presto

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