The electoral college was originally designed by the founding fathers to allow the minority a voice at the top, or more importantly, to ensure that 51% of the people cannot trample the rights of the other 49%. Specifically, the system was designed to prevent concentrated population centers from controlling the rest of the nation, and was designed to have a chief executive who is elected by a majority of not just the people, but a majority of regions as well.
In the wake of Trump’s loss in the popular vote, but strong win in the electoral college, liberal outlets such as Slate have called to abolish the electoral college, and replace the Presidential election with a straight popular vote count. This is rather amusing, since Slate put forward an excellent defense of the electoral college in 2012, just after Obama had won both the electoral college and the popular vote. The argument from Slate was surprisingly excellent, and I have quoted a large piece of it below:
There are five reasons for retaining the Electoral College despite its lack of democratic pedigree; all are practical reasons, not liberal or conservative reasons.
1) Certainty of Outcome
A dispute over the outcome of an Electoral College vote is possible—it happened in 2000—but it’s less likely than a dispute over the popular vote. The reason is that the winning candidate’s share of the Electoral College invariably exceeds his share of the popular vote. In last week’s election, for example, Obama received 61.7 percent of the electoral vote compared to only 51.3 percent of the popular votes cast for him and Romney. (I ignore the scattering of votes not counted for either candidate.) Because almost all states award electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis, even a very slight plurality in a state creates a landslide electoral-vote victory in that state. A tie in the nationwide electoral vote is possible because the total number of votes—538—is an even number, but it is highly unlikely.
Of course a tie in the number of popular votes in a national election in which tens of millions of votes are cast is even more unlikely. But if the difference in the popular vote is small, then if the winner of the popular vote were deemed the winner of the presidential election, candidates would have an incentive to seek a recount in any state (plus the District of Columbia) in which they thought the recount would give them more additional votes than their opponent. The lawyers would go to work in state after state to have the votes recounted, and the result would be debilitating uncertainty, delay, and conflict—look at the turmoil that a dispute limited to one state, Florida, engendered in 2000.
2) Everyone’s President
The Electoral College requires a presidential candidate to have transregional appeal. No region (South, Northeast, etc.) has enough electoral votes to elect a president. So a solid regional favorite, such as Romney was in the South, has no incentive to campaign heavily in those states, for he gains no electoral votes by increasing his plurality in states that he knows he will win. This is a desirable result because a candidate with only regional appeal is unlikely to be a successful president. The residents of the other regions are likely to feel disfranchised—to feel that their votes do not count, that the new president will have no regard for their interests, that he really isn’t their president.
3) Swing States
The winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes induces the candidates—as we saw in last week’s election—to focus their campaign efforts on the toss-up states; that follows directly from the candidates’ lack of inducement to campaign in states they are sure to win. Voters in toss-up states are more likely to pay close attention to the campaign—to really listen to the competing candidates—knowing that they are going to decide the election. They are likely to be the most thoughtful voters, on average (and for the further reason that they will have received the most information and attention from the candidates), and the most thoughtful voters should be the ones to decide the election.
4) Big States
The Electoral College restores some of the weight in the political balance that large states (by population) lose by virtue of the mal-apportionment of the Senate decreed in the Constitution. This may seem paradoxical, given that electoral votes are weighted in favor of less populous states. Wyoming, the least populous state, contains only about one-sixth of 1 percent of the U.S. population, but its three electors (of whom two are awarded only because Wyoming has two senators like every other state) give it slightly more than one-half of 1 percent of total electoral votes. But winner-take-all makes a slight increase in the popular vote have a much bigger electoral-vote payoff in a large state than in a small one. The popular vote was very close in Florida; nevertheless Obama, who won that vote, got 29 electoral votes. A victory by the same margin in Wyoming would net the winner only 3 electoral votes. So, other things being equal, a large state gets more attention from presidential candidates in a campaign than a small states does. And since presidents and senators are often presidential candidates, large states are likely to get additional consideration in appropriations and appointments from presidents and senators before as well as during campaigns, offsetting to some extent the effects of the malapportioned Senate on the political influence of less populous states.
5) Avoid Run-Off Elections
The Electoral College avoids the problem of elections in which no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast. For example, Nixon in 1968 and Clinton in 1992 both had only a 43 percent plurality of the popular votes, while winning a majority in the Electoral College (301 and 370 electoral votes, respectively). There is pressure for run-off elections when no candidate wins a majority of the votes cast; that pressure, which would greatly complicate the presidential election process, is reduced by the Electoral College, which invariably produces a clear winner.
If you take a look at the electoral college map and popular vote for recent presidential elections, you will see that they are close enough every time that around 50% of the population will feel like they don’t have any federal representation, and that the election’s winner is now able to dictate their way of life. The loser is always going to feel powerless against a federal government in Washington DC that has enough control to overcome even both houses of Congress in opposition to the President on a number of key issues, as both the Bush and Obama administrations have so aptly demonstrated.
The problem lies in an all-encompassing Executive branch. President-elect Trump has to fill 4,000 positions in his administration in the wake of his win, the majority of which wield significant power over their respective federal agencies. Wouldn’t it make more sense to eliminate a lot of these positions, and let the states govern themselves? A recent article from the Mises Institute suggested some extreme solutions, but summed up the problem quite well in a few sentences:
A weak federal government would produce little divisiveness because there is little to be divided over.
A strong Federal government would produce significant divisiveness since there is much to be divided over.
It also goes to say that an absolute government would create absolute division while the absence of government would not produce a division because there isn’t any risk of having your life dictated by distant populations.
If you take a look at what the exact description of the President’s job is, you would see the constitution outlines the following roles in the job description:
(1) chief of state
(2) chief executive
(3) chief administrator
(4) chief diplomat
(5) commander in chief of the armed forces
(6) chief legislator
The majority of these relate to the military and foreign affairs, and the role of chief legislator is subject to the control of Congress. Certainly the roles of chief executive and chief administrator don’t require millions of federal employees, and control can be relinquished to the states. The easiest way to solve the problem of half of the nation being angry about the results of the next Presidential election would be to reduce the role the decision makes in everyone’s lives, and instead return those politics to a local and state level.
Because as long as the federal government is as omnipotent as it currently is, it will be almost impossible to amend the constitution to abolish the electoral college. And, as Slate outlined in their 2012 article, it shouldn’t be abolished anyway. The system was set up to give states, geographic areas, and overall population their own levels of importance in electing the President. Whether you like the electoral college or not, it was designed to give everyone a role in deciding our commander in chief. The people clearly spoke in this election, and instead of trying to silence the voice of those who voted for the losing candidate, we should instead be working to minimize federal power, so there is not so much at stake in these elections.
If we had a popular vote election and a President Hillary Clinton, you’d not only have about 50% of the country very angry, you would have them residing in about 85% of our country’s territory. A rule by mob, with the mobs concentrated at the coasts, could easily lead to a second civil war, and it could be easily prevented by allowing states more autonomy and giving them less government intervention.