The Importance of the Electoral College in American Democracy

March 29th, 2019

Jacob Towers

Throughout American history there have been five instances of presidential candidates winning the presidency, but losing the popular vote. Each and every time, complaints arose from the winning candidate’s opposition, citing the “unfairness” of the electoral college. The most recent example was in 2016. Republican Donald J. Trump defeated Democrat Hillary R. Clinton by a margin of 306-232, despite losing the popular vote by 2.85 million votes (62.985 million - 65.835 million). This would provoke 2020 presidential hopeful and sitting Senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, to call for the abolishment of the electoral college three years later, in 2019. Senator Warren cited the idea that the electoral college favors some votes over others as the primary reason it needs to be replaced with a purely democratic election. This is a horrible idea. It would make our elections a lot more vulnerable to election fraud, allow candidates to focus only on largely populated areas, and allow bare majorities to bully the rest of the population.

The electoral college combats vote stealing by making it nearly impossible to seriously affect an election by stealing votes. Vote stealing can mean a few different things. An election official intentionally counting votes incorrectly to favor a certain candidate, a campaign paying people to vote, and someone voting under another person’s name are all examples of vote stealing. In a purely democratic election, it is possible that a stolen vote could mean the difference between majority and minority. One dishonest election official could change the outcome of an entire election. Under the electoral college, however, votes would have to be stolen in large numbers and in the right states for it to affect the outcome of the election at all. In addition, because states constantly change status from safely leaning one direction to another, determining which states to steal votes in is extremely difficult.

It is a fact that one cannot win 270 electoral votes without having support from at least somewhat diverse areas of the country. A candidate cannot win with only the southern states supporting them. They cannot win with only the support of people in large cities. A candidate has to appeal to a broad audience in order to win an election under the electoral college. On the converse side, under a purely democratic election system, candidates could simply depend on campaigning in large cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Houston in order to win the popular vote.

A common argument among opponents of the electoral college system is that it somehow promotes campaigning only in “Swing States” because most other states are considered safe. That logic is incredibly flawed. If it were true that “Swing States” determine elections, then-candidate Trump would not have gone on a campaign of the entire United States. The so-called “Safe States” constantly change. California, the largest state in the Union, was safely Republican as recently as 1988. The state of Texas, now the largest “Safely Republican” state, once voted all blue. New Hampshire and Virginia used to be safely blue and red states, respectively, but now both of them are considered swing states. This is evidence that no political party can ignore a state for too long without suffering the consequences of losing that state.

Purely democratic elections are genuinely Mob Rule. A candidate could have broad support from groups of farmers, veterans, unions, religious groups, activist groups, etc. and still lose the presidency because their opposition has the support of just 10 major cities in the country. Leaders cannot be expected to promote national unity when they do not even have the support of a broad base.

This is the genius of the electoral college system. Election fraud is much harder to pull off, and bare majorities are not able to get their way without the support of a larger base. Candidates are forced to gain support from at least part of every corner of the country. Under the electoral college, it is nearly impossible for people in large cities to determine the way of life of people in the “fly-over” states in the middle of the country.