This conversation happens every election season. We look at the Electoral College – 538 people chosen to cast our votes for president – and wonder, “Why? Why can’t we all just cast our ballots, count ’em up, and declare a winner?”
There’s one big reason: our founders were smart enough to prevent the tyranny of the majority.
This isn’t about protecting slaveowners’ rights, this isn’t about protecting a buffoon from becoming president, this isn’t about preventing an uneducated populace from making a stupid decision. This is all about the protection of our freedom.
Let’s think about what would happen if the popular vote decided the election.
First, candidates would only bother campaigning in highly populated areas, getting the most bang for their buck. They’d be all over California and New York…but what about Iowa? Rhode Island? A few rallies in California might turn out more potential voters than all of the people who vote in Montana. Suddenly, low-population areas have no voice.
But they don’t have a voice now! you say. Untrue. 538 is an even number, and it’s possible, though unlikely, for the electoral votes to be tied between two candidates. Even one electoral vote can make a difference. And swing states change with every election. Hillary Clinton thought she had Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin tied up this time around. Wisconsin hadn’t voted Republican since 1984! Candidates ignore states, even small ones, at their peril.
Two, each state has its own election laws. I can vote by mail in California, some states allow early voting, some ban felons from voting. To get rid of the Electoral College, you are asking all the states to come to an agreement about one voting process. But the states base their laws on what the local population wants, what works best for them. You are asking states to give up that freedom, and for everyone to bow to the pressure of the majority.
Or the states keep their different election laws…and suddenly, you have endless opportunities for lawsuits. If everyone’s vote counts in one big election, why should a felon in California get to vote, but a felon elsewhere be denied? Why should someone be allowed to vote early in Florida but not in Nevada? Obviously, this wouldn’t work.
And what about voter fraud? Fake ballots, or not counting proper ballots, would have a direct effect on a popular vote. It would be very easy to game the system. But it’s very difficult to affect the outcome of the election with fraud using the Electoral College. You would have to have a coordinated effort in the right combination of states, and this is very hard to anticipate. Just look at this election. Hillary Clinton thought she had the blue wall sewn up. Even if she had the will and the means to try to commit mass fraud, those efforts likely would have been in the wrong states.
Our founders never intended for the US to be a pure democracy. A pure democracy ignores the voices of the minority. The Electoral College is an ingenious system that gives every state, and every voter, a voice. A popular national vote does not.