Colorado recently passed a measure that, similar to those of several other states, would tie their state’s electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote. New Mexico is now in the midst of the same, joining the currently 11 states and the District of Columbia, accounting for a total of 172 electoral votes, that have adopted the “National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.”
Since 2016, when candidate Hillary Clinton lost the electoral vote to President Donald Trump while winning the popular vote, many on the left have been calling to essentially do away with the Electoral College and instead, institute a popular vote system.
These states are using their authority, as granted under the Constitution, to choose how they allocate their electoral votes to essentially reduce the Electoral College to a pass-through body. The measures these states are passing will only actually be enacted if enough states nationwide pass the same measure so that a majority of the Electoral College would swing based on the national popular vote. This means though that, at least for the moment, their efforts have not yet taken effect.
Nonetheless, this rush towards hyper-democratization is both unwise policy and an attack on a revered institution that has helped our nation avoid the tribulations and regional cataclysms that have affected so many other republics both in history and in our modern day.
The Founding Fathers created the Electoral College as a means of balancing the rabid impulses of democratic zeal with shunning closed nobility that had defined the kind of Europe they had just broken way from. They took inspiration from the political systems of ancient Rome, the Holy Roman Empire, and other republics and quasi-feudal states throughout history.
The institution they created has, besides some initial reform that reduced the actual deliberative role of the electors to a nominal one, stayed remarkably stable and unchanging in the almost two-and-a-half centuries since our nation’s founding. The closest federal attempt since was after the balkanized results of the 1968 election where there was a serious attempt to abolish the Electoral College that failed.
Yet despite all these efforts every four years electors meet in their respective state capitals across the nation and cast their votes for those that the citizenry of their states have selected. I had the pleasure, as one of the two statewide GOP Electoral College nominees in Virginia in 2016 for President Trump, to attend its ceremonies at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond that was so full of tradition, elegance, and a history that traces itself back to our nation’s founding.
The Electoral College, just like our Senate, gives primacy to states as an institution within our federal republic. It reinforces the role that states have in being distinct political entities nonetheless firmly and irrevocably united in our national system.
Furthermore, just like the Senate, the Electoral College gives smaller states a larger voice in comparison to bigger states. We see even in our modern day how many popular vote republics, whether with Catalonia in Spain, Northern Italy, or other regional separatist movements across the world how pure democracy often leads smaller regions to feel isolated, powerless and eventually oppressed.
It wouldn’t be hard to imagine how states throughout the American Midwest may feel increasingly even more outweighed and ignored by California and New York were we to move more towards a direct election system. Similarly, if the Electoral College were abolished or nullified, what would be the argument for keeping the Senate similarly the way it is structured?
Lastly, the Electoral College serves as a safeguard against any true “fluke” vote threats to the republic. Under a popular vote system, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine a situation where someone could receive a plurality, such as in a multi-candidate race vis-à-vis 1912, splitting the vote so badly and lacking a true mandate. Under the Electoral College the victor at least must receive a majority of the electoral votes or the race goes to Congress to decide, as it has in the past.
The Electoral College has often been a convenient scapegoat for various electoral controversies of the moment. Indeed Republicans for years were critical of the “blue wall” of big state electoral votes that made winning the presidency difficult. Yet despite all this the Electoral College had stood the test of time and shown remarkable resiliency.
Now that it faces perhaps its most serious threat yet to its existence, it is time we remember the great benefits it has brought to our nation throughout the centuries and the risks to our very structure of government we may face with its dissolution.