Why we need the electoral college

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by Brian Chicoine


Screen Shot 2015 11 013We have entered political season (are we ever NOT in political season here in New Hampshire?) Well, we have entered a presidential election cycle, and with it comes discussions of the Electoral College. Usually, people who are against it say things like, “it is not the popular vote,” or “we do not elect the president.” These arguments usually are intensified when a president wins the popular vote but loses the Electoral vote, and thus, the election. 

Five of the 46 presidents have lost the popular vote but won the Election, (John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, George W. Bush in 2000, and Donald Trump in 2016). The campaigns that I have been involved in have focused – and put a great deal of resources in – “swing states” that can decide an election electorally, so maybe that is why it has happened twice in five elections.  

I am personally in favor of keeping the Electoral College, but am open to possibly tweaking it. I also have no problem with hearing sensible arguments against keeping it, so long as they’re not because of political bias or to prevent Donald Trump – or someone “like him” – from winning. I want to know why the person thinks dumping the Electoral College is good for America, not just for them. 

Electoral College Makes Every Voice Count Image Credit Macrovector via FreePik scaled
Electorial College makes very voice count. Macrovector via Freepik

While the United States is a democracy, since we, the people, hold the ultimate political power, we are not a ‘direct democracy’ as we elect people to vote for us, (e.g. local councils and boards, state legislatures, Congress), we are a representative democracy. Towns that have town meetings may be more of an example of a direct democracy in some form, but in addition to direct voting, many of these towns also elect others to vote on various business of the town. So these towns often have both direct and representative forms of government. 

To me, the Electoral College aligns well with the fact that we are a representative democracy, but that is not my primary argument for keeping it. I have outlined a brief history of the Electoral College as well as some points as to why it is good.  

Basis for our Electoral College Brian Chicoine file


Historical Context and Constitutional Design

The Electoral College was designed by the framers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. They faced the challenge of accommodating state sovereignty while ensuring effective national governance. The compromise was the Electoral College, a system intended to balance the influence of states regardless of size. This reflects a foundational principle of American democracy: the balance of power not only among branches of government, but also between the states and the federal government.

Protecting Small States

One of the primary reasons to keep the Electoral College is to protect the interests of smaller states. In a direct popular vote system, candidates might focus solely on populous urban areas, neglecting rural and smaller states. The Electoral College compels presidential candidates to campaign in less populated states, ensuring that these regions receive attention and have their concerns addressed. This system prevents a tyranny of the majority by ensuring that less populous regions have a voice in the selection of the President.

Can the US Congress agree Image Credit TravelScape via FreePik scaled e1713119521553
Capitol Hill Building at dusk with light and blue sky, Washington DC.

Federalism and Representation

The structure of the Electoral College mirrors that of Congress, where states are represented in the Senate and the House of Representatives. This design reinforces the federalist system, where both the states and the people are integral to national governance. States are more than mere administrative districts, and this system recognizes that.

Balancing Popular and State-Based Interests

By design, the Electoral College balances the power between populous and less populous states, ensuring that no single area or group dominates national politics. This system allows states to retain their individuality within a union, preserving the diverse cultural, economic, and political fabric of the nation. It also prevents the domination of urban areas, making sure that rural interests are still represented at the highest levels of government.

Voting is Essential Image Credit FreePik scaled
Voting is essential. Freepik.

Ensuring Geographic Diversity

The requirement to win electoral votes from many states discourages candidates from focusing only on regions where their support is strongest. This system compels presidential campaigns to address the concerns of voters in swing states and smaller states alike, leading to more inclusive and comprehensive policy platforms.

Conclusion

While the Electoral College is not without its flaws, its abolition could lead to unintended consequences, such as diminishing the political influence of smaller states and increasing divisions between urban and rural areas. The Electoral College serves as a critical component of the federalist system, encouraging political stability, protecting state interests, and promoting effective governance.

In an era of increasing polarization and bitterness in politics, the Electoral College plays a crucial role in encouraging candidates to build broad coalitions and engage with diverse communities across the nation. Rather than discarding this system, efforts should be focused on understanding and refining it to ensure that it continues to serve its foundational purpose of balancing diverse interests in a vast and varied republic.

Still in favor of dumping the Electoral College?

Even with all of the benefits of the Electoral College, instead of tweaking it, there are those who want to totally eliminate it. If you are one of those people, here is how it can be done. 

Because the Electoral College is in the Constitution, (Article II, Section I), we would need a constitutional amendment to get rid of it. In order to amend the Constitution, a proposal must be made by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress, (or 290 congressmen AND 67 senators), or, if two-thirds of the states, (or 34 states), request one, by a convention called for that purpose. It must then be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, (or 38 state legislatures) or three-fourths of conventions called in each State for ratification, (or 26 states if 34 called a convention). Basically, a lot of people need to understand AND agree to dump the Electoral College. The same process needs to happen to tweak the Electoral College, but in my opinion, sensible, non-partisan tweaks would be more palatable for many.

As always, I welcome your comments. Send me an email at bchicoinemht@gmail.com


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Brian Chicoine is a freelancer writer.

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About this Author

Brian Chicoine

Brian Chicoine is a New Hampshire native who moved to Manchester from Raymond in 1980. While a student at Notre Dame College here in Manchester, Brian transferred to Rhode Island College in Providence, where he met his now wife, Jackie. Brian and Jackie spent the next 20 years living in Providence and Manchester, returning to Manchester with their two sons, (who are proud Manchester natives), in the fall of 2017. He and his family intend on staying in Manchester and are committed to helping make it an even better place to live, work, and play.