Thoughts on the Electoral College

Following the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election, there has been an outcry from many people to abolish the Electoral College system. Hillary Clinton gained more than 2 million votes than Donald Trump, but lost the election due to the Electoral College system. This is only the 5th time in US history where a candidate with the most popular votes did not win the presidency (Andrew Jackson 1824, Samuel Tilden 1876, Grover Cleveland 1888, and Al Gore in 2000).

From a neutral perspective, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both built their campaign strategies around winning the Electoral College. Since the rules of the game were clear from the beginning, it is somewhat disingenuous to say in hindsight that the popular vote should count more than the Electoral College. If the goal was to maximize the popular vote, candidates would have campaigned differently and the new outcome is anybody’s guess.

A better discussion to have is to talk about the pros and cons of the Electoral College system itself.  This is a good article that lays out the pros and cons of the Electoral College system. I have highlighted the key arguments below:

Cons

  • The possibility of electing president that does not win the popular vote. The obvious concern here is that the election result does not reflect the will of the people.
  • The role of the Electoral College to depress voter turnout. People who live in solid “blue” or “red” states are discouraged from voting because they believe their state’s electoral result is already predetermined.
  • The risk of “faithless” electors. A “faithless Elector” is one who is pledged to vote for his party’s candidate for president but nevertheless votes for another candidate. There has only been 7 such cases in the past century.

Pros

  • Contributes to the cohesiveness of a country by requiring a broad distribution of popular support to be elected president. Without an Electoral College system, the president would be selected by the domination of populous regions over rural regions and create regional factions in the US.
  • Contributes to political stability by encouraging a 2 party system. The winner take all nature of the Electoral College system forces extreme fringe parties to join the main 2 parties. This avoids the headaches of coalition governments where you have 5 different political parties each getting 20% of the popular vote.
  • Maintains a federal system of government and representation. Part of the founding fathers vision was to create a balance of power between the federal government and state’s rights. This is the primary reasoning behind why every state gets 2 senators regardless of population. Getting rid of the Electoral College would reduce the important of states and nationalize the presidential voting process.

There are valid arguments for both sides. The net takeaway is that until we have a constitutional amendment (which requires a 2/3 majority vote), the Electoral College is here to stay.

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