Last updated on 01/31/2017

An argument for keeping the Electoral College

The Electoral College isn't all bad.
Published by Victor Cassone

The goal is this article is to create an unbiased argument for keeping the Electoral College. If we missed a point or misrepresented some facts feel free to edit the article. If you do edit, please do not try and argue for getting rid of the Electoral College. That article will written soon enough.

So why should we keep the Electoral College around? 2 out of the 5 last elections have resulted in a candidate winning the popular vote but losing the Electoral College. This happened to Al Gore in the 2000 election and Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Both times there was a public outcry to get rid of the Electoral College.

When the Electoral College was conceived, it was essentially a tool to remove voting power from the masses. The public was supposed to vote on specific electors on a district by district basis. Then, these electors were supposed to use their independent judgment to elect a president. Who ever got the most votes was the president and the second most was the vice president.

With the emergence of political parties, state electors started pledging loyalty to whichever candidate won the popular vote in their district. Since then things have evolved and most states use a winner take all approach. So in a large state like Florida, if a candidate wins by 1 vote then they get all 29 Electoral College votes.

The number of electors for a state is represented by the number of Congress members from each state. This means each state is guaranteed at least 3 electors (2 senators and 1 house representative). The total amount of electors has been fixed at 538 since the 1910s and is readjusted every 10 year based on census data.

Even though we are not using the Electoral College properly base on how it was initially designed, there are a few good reasons to keep it around. So far, the three best reasons to keep it around are the following: it creates more decisive victories, it creates more voting power for smaller states, and it can be the last line of defense against invalid or manipulated elections.

The first reason to keep the Electoral College around is the fact that it creates more decisive victories. This point is only relevant in close elections. Imagine if our president was elected solely based on popular vote. Also imagine if during that election the popular vote difference was within 20,000 votes. This would be cause for a national recount.

This type of recount would require each polling station across the whole United States to recount their votes. This would be very tedious and it would probably take multiple recounts until the loser accepted the results. This type of scenario would cause national uncertainty and the vote might not be accepted by losing candidate.

The Electoral College allows for more of a modular election since states and districts vote independent of each other. So if a recount is needed, it would only need to performed in one state, not the whole country. This would help boost the confidence of the recount. On top of that, winning the Electoral College might be out of reach based on the result of other states. In that case a recount wouldn’t even be necessary.

The second reason to keep the Electoral College is to give more power to smaller states and decrease the power of larger ones. All states are guaranteed 3 electoral votes. This means smaller states have a larger share of the Electoral College compared to their share of the national population. There are a few reasons this would be beneficial.

First, less populous states usually have a lot more land at their disposable. This excess land provides a lot of benefits to the country as a whole in the form of public parks and wildlife preserves. By giving these states a bigger portion of the electoral vote, you allow them to have an increased influence to represent the land within their state.

The second reason why this might be beneficial is that the Electoral College spreads out power from densely populated areas. Large cities in a state usually dictates how the state votes. If the presidential election was based on raw votes alone, then large cities would have more control over how a president is selected.

The problem is that the needs of the people within or near a large city are different than the needs of people who live in small cities or towns. By giving these smaller cities and states more sway, you can have a better chance of electing a president that will fit the needs of the whole country, rather than just the big cities.

The third reason to keep the Electoral College is because it could be used as a last line of defense against electing a president that won the vote because of fraud or foreign influence. The threat of hacking increases with the rise of electronic voting machines. These voting machine are very safe, however, the existence of them alone creates a non zero chance of them being hacked. On top of that, the databases that house the results could also be hacked.

This last line of defense is also important because foreign powers have incentive to help elect people they know will be friendly to them. These foreign powers have many means to do this. They could prop up a candidate by hacking the opposing candidate and providing information to help their candidate get elected. They could also have one of their own run for president. In either case, we want a president that will have America’s interests in mind, not the interests of a foreign government. The Electoral College could help prevent this from happening. If the evidence is clear when the electors vote, they could use their independent judgement and change their vote

Regardless of your opinion on the Electoral College, we are not using it as the Founding Fathers intended. Even in its current form, the Electoral College still provides some benefits. The key reasons for keeping it are; it creates a decisive election, it gives smaller states more influence, and it becomes a last line of defense against illegitimately elected presidents.

Do these reasons make it better than the other options? It’s hard to say. What we do know is that for the time being we are stuck with this system. All we can do is hope the reason we use the Electoral College is because it’s the best possible system rather than just carrying on tradition.