The Electoral College: Should it be preserved or should we let the people pick?

John Kim, Aidan Sun, Reporter, News Editor

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Once again, with the upcoming presidential election, there is a debate on the legitimacy of the Electoral College system. The movement to abolish the Electoral College in the name of democracy has been gaining traction, especially due to the result of the 2016 presidential election. 

Now, many Americans are pushing for a Constitutional amendment to determine the winner based on popular vote. Their arguments tend to revolve around the core concept of democracy (one person, one vote). They believe that the Electoral College hinders democracy without fully acknowledging that is precisely the intent of the system. 

For example, votes from people of small states, such as Iowa, are weighed more heavily than those from people of big states like California. 

Although these claims against the Electoral College seem logical and attractive on the surface, they fail to recognize the complexity and flaws with the popular vote system, while also neglecting the entire purpose of the Electoral College. 

America, when it was created, was not meant to be a democratic nation: it was deliberately designed to be a federalist Constitutional republic. The founders, much repelled by the idea of pure democracy, intentionally instituted checks and balances into the Constitution to prevent chaos from overtaking the federal government. 

Article Four of the Constitution states “the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” 

Moreover, Benjamin Franklin famously said “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what they are going to have for lunch.” Evidently, federalism is not only one of the most important American ideals, but also one that should be greatly protected; states should be entitled to a respectable level of sovereignty and significance on the national stage to prevent the federal government from possessing overbearing power. 

This idea is also demonstrated in the name of this sacred nation: the United States of America. The US is a collection of states, not of singular individuals. The Electoral College allows the states, the real fundamental political units of this union, to decide their president, which creates a more stable federal political environment in which all states are considered equal. 

This gives less populous states more voice than they would otherwise have under pure democracy, the same principle behind the bicameral Congress consisting of the House and the Senate. Consequently, presidential candidates are forced to actually campaign in less populous states (such as fly-over states) instead of only focusing on the big states that would provide them more popular votes. 

In fact, one decisive factor for Trump’s election was his focus on the “forgotten” Americans who don’t live in the big cities. 

Of course, the Electoral College is not a perfect system. However, through all its faults, it is part of the robust Constitutional checks and balances framework that preserves and protects hallowed American founding ideals.

 

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If a presidential candidate were to receive nearly three million more votes than her opponent during a national election and still lose, how and why could this be possible or even allowed? 

Those were the exact feelings of many Americans during the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, when Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton received 2,865,075 more votes than Republican Donald Trump. 

Despite Clinton’s overwhelming majority when it came to total votes, Trump is the one in the White House now, not Clinton. 

The Electoral College denies citizens the right to directly cast their vote and grossly misappropriates voting power, allowing for unpopular leaders (i.e. President Trump) to be elected against the will of the people. Once considered to be a sound compromise between White male voters in the more populous northern states and their counterparts in the less populated South, the Electoral College’s method of allocating votes based on the congressional representation a state has rather than the ballots cast by American citizens is a flawed system that must be abolished via a constitutional amendment. 

Because our election system relies on tallying electoral votes rather than the total number of votes from the country as a whole, states with more volatile voting populations are seen as “election battlegrounds.” 

While winning less-populated states would be of less importance if we allocated votes proportional to population, a candidate winning a state like Arizona, Ohio or Minnesota could make a significant difference with the Electoral College. 

Here in California, one electoral vote represents every 526 thousand people. Meanwhile, in smaller states, the electoral vote to actual vote ratio is much lower with 193 thousand voters being represented per electoral vote in Wyoming. 

This election, no different from the ones in the past, focus on states that make up the few, rather than those that make up the many, with the campaign for Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden spending $4.7 million on television ads in the state of Florida alone compared to $415 thousand in 47 other states. Candidates are incentivized to appeal to specific groups of voters in a small number of states rather than appeal to a majority of the American people. 

Why should Americans’ votes be valued differently depending on the state they live in? 

In the words of James Madison, “The purpose of the Constitution,” (and therefore the Electoral College), “is to restrict the majority’s ability to harm a minority.” Also vested in the Constitution, however, is the mandate to insure domestic Tranquility and promote the general Welfare. 

Abiding by this mandate and the will of the people is the role of the president. Whether the face of our country at a global summit or leading us into war, the president must be accountable to the people and only to the people. Someone who is not trusted by voters, someone who has the support of three million fewer people than the alternative cannot be and will not ever be accountable to the American people, but only to the small groups of people that won him a small group of states. 

Abolishing the Electoral College would bring about a new wave of voter enfranchisement, as both parties would seek out new voters in places they hadn’t looked to before. 

While opposing traditionalists may claim that the electoral system protects rural voters, I would argue that the Electoral College actually disenfranchises more voters than it enfranchises. Banning the Electoral College would in fact bring more weight to the voters of small town America. No longer will voters in Bakersfield be overshadowed by voters in Los Angeles, or voters in Carson City be overshadowed by voters in Las Vegas. 

The popular vote would set every voter on an even playing field. 

“There is no liberal America and conservative America – there’s the United States of America,” said then-Senator Barack Obama in 2004. 

When it comes to choosing the president through the popular vote, it is not a majority asserting their numbers over a minority. Rather, it’s the American people asserting their belief in one man or woman whom they deem fit for our highest office. 

We have turned our elections into a contest to see who can flip the most states red or blue rather than focusing on what the country as a whole actually needs. Calling an abolition of the Electoral College an “uphill battle” would be an understatement. 

However, it’s a conversation worth starting, as the past four years have shown just how dangerous an unaccountable president can be. It’s about time we commit to honoring the American people’s choice and let the popular vote decide who leads.