Let Me Convince You: The Electoral College Must Go

The Electoral College has outlived its usefulness. For the many of you who are assuming that this article is only in reaction to Trump’s electoral victory, you are exactly right. I think that the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College to prevent people like Trump from becoming President. Election day was disappointing for me, but as I went to bed the morning of the 9th, after hours of watching the initial results pour in, my only comfort was that the American people had spoken. Who was I to stifle democracy, despite my deep-seated reservations about Donald Trump?

But that’s just it. The Electoral College does not represent the voice of the people. After all the votes were counted,  Hillary Clinton received 2,865,075 votes more than the current President. That is a more votes than the populations of North Dakota, D.C., Vermont, and Wyoming combined. Despite the disparity in the popular vote, Trump received 306 electoral votes to Hillary’s 232. Why do we even have the Electoral College, if it does not reflect the will of the people?

Let’s take a look at this phenomenon. The Electoral College was created in Article II of the Constitution in 1787, with two problems in mind.  

First, the Founding Fathers wanted to balance the influence of big states and small states.  Through the electoral system they created incentives for candidates to campaign in smaller states rather than just large ones, making candidates accountable to the whole nation.  For instance, through the electoral system, 1 electoral vote in Wyoming is worth about 3 times as much as a 1 vote in California.

But rather than preserve the influence of small states, the electoral system only shifted influence to swing states, which means that most states are ignored anyway.

Second, the Founding Fathers feared the ‘Tyranny of the Majority.’ They anticipated that fickle minds and the passions of the masses could easily be manipulated by demagogues (like Trump), to the detriment of the minority of Americans. Alexander Hamilton(now a rising Broadway star) believed that the average American citizen could not make intelligent and informed decisions about who should be President. Therefore, a small group of educated men would be trusted with the responsibility of choosing a president.

Hamilton faced a different reality than the one we face. In the 1780’s, information moved slowly from place to place, literacy rates were low, and only a tiny portion of society could vote. However, in today’s world of smartphones, wifi, and flexible fingers, knowledge is only a tap away. With minimal effort, we modern humanswho form a diverse base of voterscan know the political platforms of all candidates instantly. Hopefully this allows us to make rational presidential choices.

Alexander Hamilton also argued that the Electoral College would ensure “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualification.” Donald Trump is this type of man; his arguments appeal more to our popular whims than our rationality. Hamilton stressed that “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity” would not be sufficient to gain a person the presidency; take note @realdonaldtrump. Hamilton further believed that the Electoral College would choose candidates known for their ability and virtue. I recognize that the 2016 Election was not renown for its virtuous candidates, however if a less than qualified candidate became president-elect, we should have been able to rely upon the Electoral College to prevent him or her from gaining the Presidency. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

Not only has the Electoral College ensured that a demagogue has gained the presidency, but it has done so despite the majority of Americans seeing through him. The American people passed the test. You, the people, did not choose a populist; in fact, you opposed him. You passed the test, the Electoral College didn’t. It’s time to trust you.

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Brett Sherwood

Brett Sherwood is a senior majoring in political science and minoring in Russian. He loves learning about politics and history, particularly in Eastern Europe and Russia as he feels that that area of the world is full of rich tradition, culture, and intriguing history. Brett is a huge Liverpool Football Club fan! You’ll Never Walk Alone! He loves movies, books, music, and everything else that a normal human being should enjoy. After college, he hopes to find a job in the government or with a non-profit organization, but he’ll settle for anything that provides him enough money to eat and read.

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Brett Sherwood

Brett Sherwood is a senior majoring in political science and minoring in Russian. He loves learning about politics and history, particularly in Eastern Europe and Russia as he feels that that area of the world is full of rich tradition, culture, and intriguing history. Brett is a huge Liverpool Football Club fan! You’ll Never Walk Alone! He loves movies, books, music, and everything else that a normal human being should enjoy. After college, he hopes to find a job in the government or with a non-profit organization, but he’ll settle for anything that provides him enough money to eat and read.

One thought on “Let Me Convince You: The Electoral College Must Go

  • April 10, 2018 at 10:14 pm
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    I have read two articles in the BYU political review that make, in my view, the same erroneous argument against the electoral college. While I agree for my own reasons that the popular vote should be adopted in the general presidential election, I would like to test the claim that President Trump would not have been elected under a popular vote system.

    Many people point to the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote as incontrovertible evidence that she would have won under a popular vote system. This is simply not the case. Elections are a strategic contest and for that reason an incredible amount of time, money, and energy go into devising the most effective approach to win given the rules. Differences in effective strategy exist between the current system and a system based strictly on the popular vote. Under the electoral college system for example, swing states have a disproportionate influence on the outcome of the election. These differences in the rules lead agents, both political and civilian, to behave differently than they would under a popular vote system.

    So what differences between the two systems may have changed the popular vote count had the two candidates been operating under an every vote counts rule system? I will list just two.

    1) Voters in non-swing states have drastically different incentives to get out and vote. Under the current system the millions of republicans in California and New York (as well as the millions of democrats in Texas) would be more inclined to believe that their vote might affect the outcome of the general election. This would almost certainly lead to a drastic change in the makeup of voters who turn out to the polls on election day.

    2) Campaign funding could no longer be concentrated on a select few states. Without the swing-state phenomenon, campaign strategy would have to adjust to use funding in a very different way than they do now. Advertising, stump speeches, and other campaign efforts affect voter turnout and this has a different look in a popular vote scenario.

    I would like to highlight the importance of campaign strategy with an example from the 2016 election. As is mostly common knowledge, Hillary won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes. What is often ignored however, is the fact that Hillary deliberately chose to allocate a significant amount of campaign time in California in an attempt to pad her results in the popular election. While the Clinton campaign was confident that they would win the electoral college, they were concerned that they might do so while losing the popular vote. This convinced Hillary that it would be worthwhile to cherry pick easy support in a liberal state to avoid a controversial outcome rather than spend time in swing states she thought were in the bag. This proved to be a critical strategic error that made Clinton’s popular vote total look good, without increasing her chance of winning electoral votes. Trump on the other hand campaigned hard in states that were likely to be hard fought, but winnable states in the rust belt. Not to belabor the point, Trump may very well have campaigned more heavily in high population density areas had the rules of the contest been different.

    In conclusion, the premise of anti-electoral college arguments in BYU Political Review (and many across the country) is grossly simplistic. Rules inform strategy and strategy in turn informs the election outcome.

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