Post-2016 election, discord regarding the relevance of the Electoral College has become as audible as ever. Politicians and constituents alike have called for its abolition, condemning it as an archaic tradition long past its expiration date. As a result, many have been quick to propose a seemingly more sensible popular vote. Instilling just a popular vote, however, gives rise to a multitude of new problems. After careful thought, it becomes evident that replacing the Electoral College with a direct popular vote would not suffice. We should instead seek other means of reform.
To understand why implementing a popular vote would be problematic, it is imperative to look back on our nation’s founding. Our country’s forefathers were particularly wary of direct democracy, despite its enticing simplicity. The original architects of the American republic sought to forestall the potential dangers it presented. One potential danger was the “tyranny of the majority” – the concept that, in a pure democracy, a majority can overrule a minority in all instances with no balance of powers. A popular vote was never considered in our nation, as we were founded with the intent of being a representative republic, not a direct democracy.
But before delving into the problems associated with abolishing the Electoral College, it is important to mention that the cause for concern is far from unsubstantiated – the current system has proven itself to be far from perfect. Disapproval of the Electoral College often stems from its favoritism toward battleground swing states, with one reporter even naming it a national gerrymander: “Had two state borders been drawn just a little bit differently, shifting a total of four counties from one state to another, Hillary Clinton would have won the election.”
Additionally, others find issue with the fact that there have been five occurrences in U.S. history in which the winner of the presidential election and the winner of the popular vote differed. This inconsistency causes worry that the desires of the people are being tainted by the flaws of our current electoral process.
Yet possibly the biggest concern people have with the Electoral College is its distortion of the one-person, one-vote democratic principle. With our current system, a grand majority of states are largely neglected during campaign season. The few battleground states in which neither the Republican nor Democratic parties maintain a stronghold often garner more campaign attention than the rest of the nation combined. In fact, two-thirds of campaign events during the 2016 presidential election only took place in six states. To the ill-informed citizen, this statistic may be staggering and legitimate enough to support the implementation of a popular vote. However, things aren’t quite this simple.
Our Constitution endows the right to elect a president to states through electors, not individual citizens. This practice is fundamental to some of the main tenets our nation was founded upon: checks and balances. Divisions of power are common throughout our governmental framework, and the existence of the Electoral College only further drives in this concept.
Meanwhile, a direct popular vote itself is riddled with flaws, despite its appearance as the perfect solution. Minority interests may be completely disregarded in rural areas, and the chance of a regionally-popular candidate winning the election would certainly be possible. Additionally, any close election with suspicion of a miscount would prompt a recount, a national nightmare.
Along with administrative challenges, the chances of realistically transitioning to a direct popular vote are close to none. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said herself that, though she would support eliminating the Electoral College, the process of amending the Constitution is notoriously difficult. Furthermore, convincing representatives of less populous states to support an amendment effectively lessening their impact would be especially challenging. As a result, any discussion for a popular vote appears moot.
Rather than scrap the Electoral College in pursuit of a popular vote, we should seek other ways to reform it. Currently, 48 states and Washington D.C. have a winner-takes-all process of allocating electors. Nebraska and Maine, however, use a congressional district method, which can allow for a split electoral vote. If more state legislatures reformed their allocation methods, mismatches between the results of the electoral and popular vote would be less drastic.
Mob rule has revealed itself catastrophic throughout history, and the Electoral College was wisely created to combat any destruction a fickle crowd might bring. Though the Electoral College is imperfect, the proposition to implement a popular vote is just as problematic. Rather than continue to cry for an abolition rendered nearly impossible by our Constitution, we should seek meaningful reform to our current methodology. If achieved, our republic can make a substantial step toward a truer democracy.
Yasmeen Dohan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.