Some things become so predictable. Every time there’s a presidential election, I hear friends and family who say that it’s time to abolish the Electoral College and go to a popular vote. They claim that the system created by the Founding Fathers is fundamentally unfair and was created merely as a means of overcoming difficulties in travel and communication in the 18th century.
But nothing could be farther from the truth.
When the Constitution was signed, America consisted of the original 13 Colonies, nothing more. That means that traveling on horseback, one could make it from Concord, N.H., to Washington, D.C. in 16 days. Or, coming from the other direction, from Atlanta, Ga., to the capital in 21 days. That’s reason to delay the declaration of a win, but nothing more. Either way, someone has to make it from the state capitals to the national capital to carry the popular vote or carry the electoral votes.
Here’s what those who decry the Electoral College may not understand: We don’t have a national presidential election. We have 51 separate but consecutive presidential elections (Washington, D.C. is the 51st). There’s an excellent reason for that and it has to do with fair and democratic elections.
In a normal democrat election, each citizen gets one vote. If we had a nationwide election, then the votes from lower population states wouldn’t be as important as those from higher population states. Politicians would quickly realize that if they won the vote in the 10 most populous states or the 50 most populous cities, they could win the election. So, they would focus their attention on those states or cities and ignore the rest.
In a nationwide popular vote, the 5 million who live in Colorado don’t mean as much as the 25 million who live in Texas. Nor do the half million people in Wyoming mean as much to a politician as the 37 million who live in California.
So, it would be easy for politicians to ignore the lower population states, or even worse, use them to fund projects to help the high population states, robbing from Peter to buy votes from Paul in a sense.
The Electoral College ensures that all the states have a voice in the national election. It also ensures that a candidate runs a national, rather than a regional, campaign. It is impossible for a politician to gain the 270 votes needed to win the election by just concentrating on the states with the largest population or just one region. They need to create a coalition, which means that they need to pay attention to all the states — or at a minimum, most of the states.
Some ask: “But doesn’t the election come down to the swing states?”
Not really. What makes the swing states different isn’t that they are more important than other states; it’s that they are more evenly divided politically than the other states. California, which has the most electoral votes (currently at 55), is 43.9 percent registered Democrat and only 28.9 percent registered Republican. So, it’s not surprising that it’s not a swing state. The state, as a whole, votes overwhelmingly Democrat in every election, even though there was a time when California was mostly Republican.
On the other end of the spectrum we have little New Hampshire, which is a swing state. But it only has 4 electoral votes. How, then, can it be so important? Simply because prior to 1992, the state was staunchly conservative. But since 1992, there has been a shift, with citizens voting Democrat more than Republican in all but one presidential election. With New Hampshire being divided politically, it is now a swing state.
Politicians concentrate their campaigns on the swing states because those are the ones where there is a greater chance of swinging the vote one way or another. Trying to make California vote Republican or Texas vote Democrat is a major undertaking, worthy of Hercules. But Iowa, a swing state, has voted Republican twice and Democratic twice in the past four presidential elections.
The swing states are such because the vote of those states swings back and forth between the two parties. Eventually, they will likely settle one way or the other and no longer be a swing state. At the same time, other states will move away from their party affiliation to a more centrist position and become swing states.
Getting rid of the Electoral College would be the same as turning the election over to those states with the highest populations. That would mean that unless you happened to live in one of those states, your vote wouldn’t matter. Are you sure that you want to do that? After all, what’s citizenship, if you don’t have the power to vote? For that matter, what’s freedom if you don’t have the power to vote?
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