The (Electoral) College Dropout


As the election cycle starts to heat up, it is all but guaranteed that the Electoral College will once again become a point of contention after the Democrats announce their nominee. This will especially be the case in this presidential election following 2016, where Donald Trump ended up winning through the Electoral College while receiving only 40 percent of the popular vote. This situation of a candidate winning the Electoral College but losing the popular vote has occurred 5 times in total throughout American history, most recently and controversially in 2000 and 2016, respectively. 

   The Electoral College was established in 1804 as the 12th Amendment to the Constitution. The Electoral College consists of 538 electors, where an absolute majority of 270 electoral votes is required to win an election. The Electoral votes are assigned and spread out among each state based on the state’s population. States with larger populations have a larger proportion of the electoral votes, and thus have a larger impact on the results of the election.

   During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, there was a group of delegates who strongly opposed letting the people elect the president by a straight popular vote. They believed that 18th-century voters lacked the resources to be fully informed about presidential candidates, especially in rural areas. Additionally, they feared a “democratic mob” steering the country in the wrong direction, and the possibility of a populist president who appealed to the people directly and could command a significant amount of power.

   Personally, I find these arguments for the establishment and continued use of the Electoral College to be anti-democratic and outdated in nature. In the information age, the argument that citizens are not “informed enough” to be the sole deciders of who becomes president does not seem to be in good faith. With this assumption that the electorate is uninformed and does not know what’s best for them, those with all the power in this country get to keep that power without having to listen to the needs of the people. Simply put, this argument is outdated in our current political climate and shows how little politicians think of the majority of American citizens.

   The fear mongering of a “democratic mob” leading the country in a bad direction is an even more ridiculous and blatantly anti-democratic notion. Why should the needs of the few outweigh the many in the name of preventing “mob rule”? This idea is just as archaic and backwards now as it was in the 18th century. In my eyes, this is another way that those with power in this country can justify keeping power without appealing to the majority of voters. I find the fear of a populist president who appeals to the people and has a lot of power to be unfounded as well. Why, especially in a nation that values democracy, would a leader that appeals to the people and their needs be considered a bad thing? As long as a candidate is not appealing to hateful or regressive views of citizens, I do not see why this would be a problem. In regard to a populist president wielding too much power, the past few administrations have shown that the Electoral College does not do a very good job of preventing the commander in chief from wielding too much power to begin with.

   A more recent argument I’ve heard for keeping the Electoral College is that states with large cities like California and New York overwhelmingly vote Democrat, so citizens in less populous states would not have their voices heard in a popular election. I have two responses to that. First, citizens that live in large urban centers should not be punished and have their vote count for less because they might vote a certain way. Secondly, if Republicans are so worried about losing a popular election because of large cities, then maybe they should adopt policies that appeal to more than just 40 percent of the electorate like in 2016. 

   The notion that one’s political affiliation is mainly based on geography is quite ridiculous to me as well. There are liberals in southern states and conservatives on the coasts who have their votes count for nothing every presidential election because those states almost always go red and blue, respectively. Land should not be prioritized over people when it comes to electing the leader of our nation. While Hillary Clinton definitely had her faults as a candidate, the fact that she lost the election in 2016 while beating Trump by over 2 million votes in the popular vote (not to mention the Florida recount debacle in the 2000 election), perfectly showcases how the Electoral College fails as a democratic institution and why it should be abolished.