For the second time in 16 years, it appears that the winning presidential candidate will lose the nationwide popular vote while winning office through the Electoral College. George W. Bush did it in 2000; Donald Trump, another Republican, has done it again in 2016. The Electoral College was designed by the Founders as part of the Constitution, but it’s come under increasing scrutiny — with critics suggesting it’s time to replace it with a system that lets voters directly elect the president.
What to do with the Electoral College? Keep it or boot it? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
Politics makes hypocrites of us all. If Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, there’s a decent chance I’d be calling for the preservation of the Electoral College. Instead, I’m arguing for its replacement.
Then again, the hypocrisy goes both ways. Donald Trump, back in 2012, argued against the Electoral College when he thought — mistakenly — that Mitt Romney had won the popular vote while losing the presidency. “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy,” he tweeted back then.
Now? He calls it “genius.”
So here’s why we should replace the Electoral College: There is no other institution in American life where the loser of the popular vote wins the prize. None.
Defenders of the current setup point out that the Constitution has a number of “countermajoritarian” features — starting with the Bill of Rights, continuing on to the systems of checks and balances — that often restrain the will of American voters. That’s true! But here’s the key: Those features restrain the will of those voters. As a general rule, they don’t entirely usurp that will.
Here’s how Alexander Hamilton defended the Electoral College, writing in Federalist 68: “The process of election affords a moral certainty, 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 qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union.”
With Trump on the precipice of taking the White House, it’s a “moral certainty” Hamilton was incorrect.
He was closer to the mark in Federalist 22, when he wrote “fundamental maxim of republican government … requires that the sense of the majority should prevail.”
There’s no way to say in confidence that the sense of the majority has prevailed in this election. It’s time to get rid of the Electoral College.
Sixteen years after the Bush-Gore debacle of 2000, we’re still essentially a 50-50 nation. In some ways, the divisions are deeper than they were way back when. Imagine how much worse things would be if we were the pure democracy too many Americans mistakenly believe we are.
America’s Founders did not want direct democracy. Because the United States is a federal republic now with 50 different states, the Electoral College ensures that “the sense of the majority should prevail” by guaranteeing the interests of smaller, less-populated states are not overwhelmed by the larger, more-populated ones.
The president-elect, by the way, is confused about the Electoral College. During his recent “60 Minutes” interview, Leslie Stahl asked Trump to reconcile his now-infamous 2012 tweet with his position now. “I’m not going to change my mind just because I won,” he said. “But I would rather see it where you went with simple votes. You know, you get 100 million votes and somebody else gets 90 million votes and you win.”
He acknowledged, however, that the Electoral College “brings all the states into play … and there’s something very good about that.”
What’s good is that the outcome reflects the geographic and political diversity of a republic of nearly 325 million people.
As Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn explained in the Wall Street Journal the other day, the Electoral College “helps establish the ground upon which the American people must talk with each other, while ensuring that they are not ruled as colonies from a bunch of blue capitals, nor from a bunch of red ones.”
Fact is, Hillary Clinton owes her popular vote margin entirely to cerulean blue California, a state that is at once the sixth-largest economy on the planet and home to roughly one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients.
Another fun fact: About one-third of the Democrats’ representation in the U.S. House of Representatives comes from just three states: New York, Massachusetts and the aforementioned Golden State. Get the picture?
Abolish the Electoral College to enshrine a national popular vote, and the denizens of Los Angeles, Boston, and Manhattan’s five boroughs would decide the presidency forevermore. And you really don’t want that.