Over the last few weeks, I have asked myself if we should get rid of the Electoral College. Was there a better alternative than what we have now? Should the Electoral College be reconfigured using the Wyoming Rule, where per district population is based on the smallest state instead of the 435 member rule? After examining a number of different options the answer was simple, move to a popular vote.
As I started thinking about it, I was able to get rid of one myth after another about why the Electoral College is a good thing. And as I was doing that, the Electoral College made less sense with each passing myth being busted. Slate listed a number of the myths in an article in 2012, and I am going to pick those apart one-by-one.
The outcome is certain.
Really? When you have two competing measures for popular sovereignty (the Electoral College and the popular vote) it is “certain”? If anything it is absolutely uncertain. One measures the will of the people, while the other is a technicality from over 200 years ago. If the goal of a democracy is for the people to have a say, then the Electoral College doesn’t do that. In fact, if we moved to a popular vote, the results would have zero ambiguity….most votes wins, pure and simple. Additionally, there would be no questioning of legitimacy. We don’t do anything like this in other races, so why the presidency?
According to the Slate article, the Electoral College’s “winner-take-all” method of awarding electoral votes (which obviously shows that the author is unaware of Nebraska and Maine) prevents a regional candidate from winning. Really? For their example, they use the south and how it is useless for Republicans to campaign in those states because they are already voting Republican. But what does that have to do with the Electoral College? The same would apply if there was no Electoral College.
Myth Busted #1: Using this logic, it also debunks the idea that candidate would just spend all of their time in the large cities. Just as it would be stupid for a Republican to campaign in Talladega, Alabama, it would also be stupid for them to campaign in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles. Basically, the argument of “campaigns would just concentrate in large cities” is a myth because they are already strongly Democratic in most cases.
The article states that people in toss-up states are more likely to be “engaged”.Okay, so that means that we have increased political participation in a handful of states while reducing the political participation in a large majority of other states? And that is “good” news? If we want to talk about engagement, making sure that every vote counts would be the best option. Having toss-up states continues to increase voter apathy in non-competitive states, which accounts for the vast majority of states.
Basically, they say that large states will still get attention. Of course, they compare Wyoming (a non-competitive small state) to Florida (a competitive big state). What is interesting is that this is a contradictory viewpoint of those who actually support the Electoral College. Those who support it say that smaller states will get attention because of the Electoral College. Really? How many times did either campaign stop in Vermont, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Alaska? See, that kind of blows that idea out of the water. Still, if we want to go to look at large states, how many times did candidates visit California, Texas, New York, Illinois? This argument by the authors is flawed because size does not matter.
Avoid runoff elections
The article says that the Electoral College prevents a crisis when someone wins with a plurality, not majority, of the popular vote because they can still win the majority of electoral votes. Two points here. One, the Electoral College does NOT do that. All candidates can still get under 270, even in a two-party race. Give John Kerry Arizona and Iowa in the 2004 election, and the Electoral College would be 269-269. What happens then, it goes to the House of Representatives. The authors conveniently forget to mention that scenario. Using a popular vote, it is highly unlikely that there would be an exact tie with over 120 million votes cast.
Additionally, France has been doing runoff elections for a while and they work fine. In in 2002 French presidential election, the runoff led the the Front National being absolutely humiliated at the polls after they received electoral legitimacy in the first round of the election. Therefore, again, this “avoid runoff” argument does not hold water.
Back to states and big cities
I want to revisit this one. Again, the argument is that if we got rid of the Electoral College, states would be ignored, as well as rural areas. First, nearly 3/4ths of states are ignored already. Second, when did either candidate hold a rally in a town with 10,000 people or less during the general election? Exactly.
Myth Busted #2: However, what could a popular vote do? It can expand the election map! Think about it, candidates go to “swing states” now, but they would also go to them with a popular vote system. Both Clinton and Trump would have gone to Orlando, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Scranton, and other places that are in swing states anyway, because they are classified as “swing voters” (a term I use loosely). So absolutely nothing is lost by that.
However, with a popular vote system, candidates would start campaigning in places where they had not previously campaigned because they were previously in non-swing states. Candidate would visit Peoria, Salt Lake City, Topeka, Fresno, Birmingham; all places in non-swing states but are in counties that had very close election results. Eliminating the Electoral College expands the electoral map, and will require candidates to focus on issues of national unity, and ideological division.
When you start to take apart the Electoral College, all of the myths that people talk about when defending it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Unfortunately, we will never get rid of the Electoral College because 3/4ths of the states would never do it.
Well, it was a nice dream anyway.