November 8, 2022

Three Reasons Why We Should Keep the Electoral College

By: Lydia Switzer

Recently, I wrote about three of the most common objections to the electoral college – the system that has elected presidents in the United States nearly since the country was founded. Those objections primarily stem from misunderstandings regarding the intent and purpose behind the electoral college—and outright ignore the ways that it protects democracy and the voice of every American. With that said, here are three of the many reasons why the electoral college is worth keeping around.

States’ Rights

Too often, critics of the electoral college point to the disproportionate influence that less populated states have in determining the winner of a presidential election. Opponents would prefer a popular vote, where the winner of most votes nationwide is elected president. The 9 most populated states in the U.S. have a higher population than the other 41 states combined – urban areas completely dominate rural areas in population. In a popular vote system, population equals voting power. This is problematic for a number of reasons; for one, the United States is built on a federalist system, where government is layered and states operate as smaller entities within the larger federal structure. For this reason, states tend to take on personalities of their own; they have their own policy priorities and culture. The electoral college, along with the U.S. Senate, protects the interests of rural communities, along with the states which harbor them. In fact, because every state contributes meaningfully to a total elector count in a presidential election, candidates are incentivized to campaign across the country – not just in large cities like New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago. As Allen Guelzo points out in National Affairs, “Clinton’s popular-vote edge in 2016 arose from Democratic voting in just two places — Los Angeles and Chicago. Without the need to win the electoral votes of Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, few candidates would bother to campaign there.”

National Unity

It might sound counterintuitive that a system which breaks up one presidential election into fifty smaller popular elections promotes national unity, but it’s true. As previously mentioned, a presidential candidate must spread their campaigns across the nation, rather than just focusing one a few highly populated areas. Candidates are forced to cater to a broad swath of the country, and when in office, must continue to take into consideration the wide variety of perspectives among various communities in the U.S. Additionally, the electoral college encourages a two-party system; while there are valid criticisms of the two-party system, it ensures that the candidate elected president has received at least close to a majority of the votes in the country. In a national popular vote system, ten candidates could run at once and each receive a significant portion of the vote—if the vote was split relatively evenly, a president could be elected with the support of only 10% of the population. This certainly does not promote democracy, or give more Americans a voice.

Election Security

Following some of the disastrous consequences of a contentious 2020 presidential election, voters are all too aware of the potential for catastrophe when election results are uncertain. While there is always the possibility of voter fraud, miscounts, and other mischief, the electoral college localizes elections and generally protects against national chaos. Concerted efforts to meddle or cheat in an election might easily sway a national popular vote; alternatively, it is far more difficult to influence election outcomes in fifty separate elections across the United States. Each state may take their own desired measures to protect against dishonesty, further complicating a widespread fraud movement. The end result is a system that lends legitimacy to the victorious candidate; the president often wins by a large margin of electoral votes.

The electoral college is a system that protects states’ rights (and, consequently, individual rights), keeps the United States unified, and promotes free and fair elections. Not only are its criticisms misguided, the proposed alternative of a popular vote would do extensive damage to the American election system. It is plain that the electoral college is a system worth praising and protecting.