Monday, November 14, 2016

The Electoral College

For the fourth time in history the candidate who lost the presidential election actually received more votes than did the winner (The previous elections in which this occurred were in 1876, 1888, and 2000).

This has caused some to question why we use the Electoral College rather than simply electing the winner by popular vote. The reason is that the founding fathers created the current system because they wanted the president to be elected by the states, not directly by the people. The founders had a healthy fear of the mob and how easily it could be swayed, so just as they set up a system of checks and balances in the government they also set up something of the same thing in the electoral process.

Josh Gerlernter writing at National Review Online points out one effect of the Electoral College:
[O]ne thing about the Electoral College that is inarguable is that it delegitimizes the popular vote as a measurement of the candidates’ popularity. There is no basis for saying that Clinton was ultimately the more popular candidate because more people voted for her. Because the Electoral College means non-swing states are taken for granted, their constituents are more likely to take the outcome for granted, and not bother to vote.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that more Trump supporters than Clinton supporters didn’t bother voting. It means that there’s no way of knowing one way or the other. Though you could argue that, since Republicans were defending 24 senate seats to the Democrats’ nine, there was more reason for Democrats to vote in likely Republican states than the other way around.

With votes still being counted, Clinton leads Trump by just under 300,000 votes. In California, where — unlike in 2012 — there was no Republican senate candidate on the ballot, Trump won 1.8 million fewer votes than Romney. Is that because Trump is 1.8 million votes less popular in California than Romney was? Maybe. But it could also be that Republicans had less reason to vote in a state whose electoral votes were never in doubt.
In other words, in a state like California where there was no chance of Trump winning and no real major office candidates on the ballot, it could well be that a lot of Republican voters simply stayed home, telling themselves that their vote wouldn't make any difference anyway. If so, the fact that Hillary had more total votes doesn't really mean that she's more popular.

Should we abandon the Electoral College? Arguments can be made pro and contra, but it would in any case be very difficult to accomplish since it would require a Constitutional amendment, and that, as proponents of the Equal Rights Amendment will tell you, is next to impossible to achieve. It would be especially difficult in this case since the current system has almost two hundred and forty years of political inertia behind it and no human rights issues are at stake. It's just easier to live with the current system than to try to change it.