The Electoral College meets today to officially cast their ballots for President and Vice-President of the United States. No, not all 538 electors meet in a central location like a college, but rather they meet in their respective state capitols to certify the will of the people and pick our next national leaders.
President Donald Trump will be electorally rejected and denied a second term today win Joe Biden secures 306 votes, which is well above the 270 votes necessary to be elected President. Despite the legal challenges that the Trump team has levied and their rejection by the United States Supreme Court the President has yet to concede an election that he lost by over 7 million votes.
Why do we have the Electoral College?
The founding Fathers, as they drafted the new Constitution for a young nation in 1789, envisioned a system that keep the choosing of the President away from ordinary people and put in the hands of the elite. It’s not that they trusted the people to vote for our leaders but rather felt that the Presidency was not a powerful position. They viewed the House of Representatives to be the people’s branch that levied a great deal of influence and that is where the people directly elected their government representatives. But is the system outdated?
There have been rumblings for years since the 2000 election that we should not be choosing our President by an 18th century system. A movement is a foot that would allow the American people to chose their leaders by popular vote.
A recent New York Times article summed up one of the downfalls of the Electoral College as follows:
Robert Nemanich, a former elector from Colorado Springs, puts it another way. “Do we really want 538 Bob Nemanichs electing our president?” he asked. Mr. Nemanich is quick to point out his only professional qualification for the job was being a high school math teacher. After volunteering as a Bernie Sanders primary delegate in 2016, Mr. Nemanich landed the job after giving out credentials at a state Democratic convention where selecting the electors was one of the agenda items. “I was one of the few asking to be an elector, and I would say 90 percent of people didn’t know what that was,” he said.
However, there are major benefits to the 18th Century system. The Heritage Foundation layer them out here:
The Electoral College preserves the principles of federalism that are essential to our constitutional republic. The U.S. is a large country made up of people from very different regions and cultures, and federalism is an important way of preserving the differences that make us unique while uniting us behind one common federal government. Since the country is comprised of 50 states coming together to form the federal government, it is important that the system to elect the President fairly represent them.
By allocating electoral votes by the total number of representatives in a given state, the Electoral College allows more states to have an impact on the choice of the President.
ENCOURAGES BROAD COALITION BUILDING AND MODERATION.
The Electoral College prevents presidential candidates from winning an election by focusing solely on high-population urban centers and dense media markets, forcing them to seek the support of a larger cross-section of the American electorate. This addresses the Founders’ fears of a “tyranny of the majority,” which has the potential to marginalize sizeable portions of the population, particularly in rural and more remote areas of the country.
Large cities like New York City and Los Angeles should not get to unilaterally dictate policies that affect more rural states, like North Dakota and Indiana, which have very different needs. These states may be smaller, but their values still matter—they should have a say in who becomes President. By forcing presidential candidates to address all Americans during their campaigns, not just those in large cities, the Electoral College has the added benefit of eschewing radical candidates for more moderate ones.
PROMOTES LEGITIMACY OF ELECTION OUTCOMES.
The Electoral College increases the legitimacy and certainty of elections by magnifying the margin of victory, thereby diminishing the value of contentious recounts and providing a demonstrable election outcome and a mandate to govern. Since 1900, 17 out of 29 presidential elections have been decided by 200 or more electoral votes.4
In contrast, a popular vote system with just a plurality requirement could lead to the election of presidential candidates by unprecedented, small margins. These smaller victory margins, combined with the overall decrease in popular support for a single candidate, could trigger chaotic and contested elections. Furthermore, a President elected by only 25 percent or 35 percent of the American people would not have a mandate to govern, and questions about his or her legitimacy could pose grave consequences both for the nation and for any actions he or she took as President.
A MECHANISM FOR STABLE ELECTIONS.
The Electoral College makes elections more stable, and less likely to trigger contentious recounts. Every state has different procedural rules for the administration of elections, including how recounts are triggered and conducted and how provisional ballots are counted. The 2000 presidential election saw an unprecedented vote recount in Florida that was a belabored, emotional, and costly process, even though it was limited to only one state. With a national popular vote, every additional vote a presidential candidate could obtain anywhere in the country could make the difference between winning or losing a national election. This provides a strong added incentive for recounts, even on a full national level, any time suspicious activities occur in even a single district.
DISCOURAGES VOTER FRAUD.
While no system can completely eliminate the risk of individuals trying to cheat the system, the Electoral College minimizes the incentives for voter fraud because the system isolates the impact of stolen votes. Under the current system, stolen votes only affect the outcome of one state rather than the national outcome. This is because fraudulent votes may win the state, securing the electoral votes, but it would make no difference for the candidate to win that state with 100 stolen votes or 100,000 since the candidate would secure the same electoral votes regardless.5 Under a national popular vote system, though, votes stolen in one state would have an impact beyond that state’s border, since those illegitimate votes would be added to the national vote total.
Come January the Congress will have to open and certify the results of the Electoral College and make the election 100% official. There is a small chance that some Republicans lawmakers will mount a very long shot challenge then, but in the end Trump will lose and Biden will be the next President.