Representative democracy requires electoral college
Published: Thursday, November 8, 2012
Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 17:08
If you are like me, and have been paying a fair amount of attention to the election then you have probably wondered how a candidate can win the Electoral College, while losing the popular vote. There has been an increasing amount of ridicule aimed at the merit of the Electoral College because it was a real possibility leading into Tuesday that Barack Obama was going to win the Electoral vote but lose the popular vote to Mitt Romney. However, those who oppose the Electoral College have a misunderstanding of the tenets of representative democracy, and I for one support it.
First of all, there have only been four instances in over 200 years where a candidate has won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote: in 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000. That’s four out of 54 elections since 1789, if I’m not mistaken. So those who say this issue has somehow been plaguing American democracy are quite off-target. The Electoral College has been an institution of stability rather than conflict.
Furthermore, there has never been an instance where a candidate has lost the popular vote by a substantial margin. The widest margin occurred in 2000 when George Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore by 543,816 votes. Considering the population of the U.S. was roughly 281 million people in 2000, it’s difficult to say the “will of the people” was disregarded. Those who desire our president to be elected by means of a simple popular vote are, however, disregarding the Framers’ intentions.
The Framers intended for the election of the president to be a state-by-state process. The states with larger populations (and therefore receive more federal funding and other resources) have more electoral votes than smaller states. As it is now, Electoral College members vote how their state votes in a winner-take-all system, meaning that if a candidate receives any kind of plurality in the popular vote, they receive all electoral votes from that state (the only two exceptions being Nebraska and Maine.)
The most prevalent and perhaps loudest argument you will hear people making in opposition of the Electoral College is that one person should mean one vote. Certainly, somebody voting for Mitt Romney in Massachusetts means about as much as whoever voted for Barack Obama in Mississippi. Living in states dominated by the opposing party, a person’s vote means little to how their state’s electoral votes were going to be dispersed. More alarming for Electoral College abolitionists is when the person voting for Barack Obama in Mississippi is juxtaposed with a similar instance in Ohio – the former meant little while the latter was influential. Why should a Democrat in a deep red state even bother voting?
Though the one person, one vote argument makes the most sense on the surface, this is the most egregious example of misunderstanding how our representative democracy works. Those who want to abolish the Electoral College on these grounds would also have to abolish the Senate because each state, no matter the population, sends two senators to Washington. In the Senate, Connecticut’s small population has just as much influence as California’s.
Yes, it is important for the voice of the people to be heard. This is exactly why the Electoral College is, for all intents and purposes, tied to the vote of the people in each respective state. Presidential electors are not some rogue institution bent on ulterior motives of dismantling democracy. However, by creating the Electoral College, the Framers understood what we must remember: the relationship between the states and the federal government is crucial, as anybody who knows American history is aware. There are simply other factors and intentions involved in a representative democracy which would be abandoned by these dissenters.
I’m not necessarily saying we shouldn’t scrutinize the institution of the Electoral College, but to those who purport that it is a terrible mechanism that is subverting our democracy are grossly misunderstanding representative democracy and federalism.
I leave you in the words of former Justice of the Supreme Court John Harlan, dissenting in a case involving the one person, vote doctrine: “It is surely beyond argument that those who have the responsibility for devising a system of representation may permissibly consider that factors other than bare numbers should be taken into account. Not only is [the one person, one vote doctrine] refuted by history…but it strikes deep into the heart of our federal system.”