Should We Abolish the Electoral College?

Two opposing views on the way we elect our president.


| Winter 2016



Electoral College

A national popular vote would eliminate the “battleground state” phenomenon that has now become the key feature of post-convention campaigning, leaving most Americans alienated from the decisive phase of presidential elections.

Photo by Tom Bullock/Flickr

Editor’s note: The following opinions were written before the election of Donald Trump and, therefore, do no account for his historic win. Most relevantly to this article, Trump became the fifth U.S. president to win the Electoral College but lose the popular vote.

Yes

In this extraordinary strange election year, debating the Electoral College might seem an odd pastime when so many other issues concern us. But its logic, its distortion of the democratic process and its underlying flaws will still strongly influence the conduct of the election. So, let me make the case for its abolition and its replacement by a simple national popular vote, to be held in an entity we will call (what the heck) the United States of America.

There are three basic arguments in favor of the system the framers of the Constitution gave us, with little sense of how it would actually work. The first is easily dismissed. Presidential electors are not more qualified than other citizens to determine who should head the government. They are simply party loyalists who do not deliberate about anything more than where to eat lunch.

A second argument holds less populous states deserve the further electoral weight they gain through the “senatorial bump” giving each state two electors, because their minority status entitles them to additional political protection. But the real interests of small-state voters are never determined by the relative size of the population of their states. If, say, environmental sustainability or abortion or the Second Amendment is your dominant concern, it does not matter whether you live in Wyoming or California, Pennsylvania or Delaware. The size of a state does not affect our real political preferences, even though the Electoral College system imagines that it does. 

Third, defenders of the Electoral College also claim that it supports the underlying value of federalism. Having the states play an autonomous role in presidential elections, it is said, reinforces the division of governing authority between the nation and the states. But explaining exactly how it does this remains a mystery. Having a state-based system for electing both houses of Congress should be adequate to that task. Presidential elections have little if anything to do with the subject, even when some candidates claim to be “running against Washington.”

What are the positive arguments in favor of replacing the existing electoral system with a national popular vote? Here, again, there are three main points to make.