With Congressional mid-term elections wrapping up and 2020 Presidential races just beginning, there will no doubt be an abundance of comments about how unfair it is that the popular vote doesn’t always win.
In the 2016 presidential election, many were furious that Donald Trump won the presidency without winning the popular vote. This reaction was much louder than when the same phenomena occurred in 2000 with George W. Bush winning the presidency and Al Gore narrowly winning the popular vote. The outrage is unreasonable as the Electoral College is the best chance for a fair election.
Protecting Less Populated Areas
It is important to first understand that the U.S. is not a democracy and was never meant to be one. Rather, it is a republic. In a democracy, eligible voters make government decisions with the majority ruling. In a republic, elected officials make government decisions.
The problem with pure democracy is that it can easily lead to tyranny by the majority, a term James Madison expands in Federalist 51. Madison explains that in a democratic government, small states and their citizens can be completely silenced by larger states.
Currently, California is the largest state and holds 12.13% of the U.S. population. In a purely democratic election, there would be a large incentive for candidates to only campaign in California, and worse, only make and keep promises to make California happy. The issue here is that California is a heavily urban state and its citizen’s needs are far different from the needs of citizens in numerous more rural areas.
The electoral college ensures that areas with smaller populations still matter for presidential candidates. The founding fathers essentially created this electoral process as a moral endeavor to protect individuals in less populated states.
Keeping the Federal Government Small and States Strong
The number of electors allotted to each state is the sum of the representatives and senators it sends to Congres. When citizens vote for president, they are really voting for their electors. The popular vote in each state decides whether electors vote Republican or Democrat. The president-elect does not need to win people, but rather states.
During the founding of the country, the fathers took great care not only to protect small states but to dilute the power of the federal government. The electoral college is a big part of this. Each state votes for who will be president separate from other states, which gives each state power over the federal government.
The electoral votes from each state are all or nothing. No one can win part of a state, effectively making each state an autonomous being equal to and united with other autonomous beings. The powers at the federal level are forced to acknowledge every state and benefit more from doing so than from focusing only on largely populated ones.
Given all of this, the slew of outrage and lawsuits following the 2016 election is unfounded. The popular vote of the country doesn’t matter, only the popular vote of each individual state, which is what “winner takes all” refers to. It doesn’t matter that fewer people voted for the president, only that more states did.
Does it Make Sense to Change the Electoral Process?
Aside from the constitutional and moral issues with eradicating the electoral process in the United States, it would be an otherwise illogical move. In elections that have happened recently enough for living citizens to care, only Republicans have won the presidency without winning the popular vote.
It comes as no surprise then, that the people calling the loudest for a replacement of the electoral college are on the left. While changing the electoral process does guarantee that no more Republicans will win without the popular vote, it also guarantees that no Democrat ever will either.
If Democrats want to stop Republicans from being elected, they ought to look at where they have gone wrong in lost elections rather than calling for the fabric of the country to change so that they have an easier time winning. Candidates should use the electoral college to their advantage by focusing on less populated areas and making policy that appeals to the widespread rural middle class in addition to the urban population, and stopping the outrage when election results don’t reflect the popular vote.