Recently, the Electoral College system has come under attack from those who would like to see the President chosen by nationwide popular vote.
How much do you know about the Electoral College? Let’s play “Two Truths and a Lie.” Can you identify which of the following statements about the Electoral College is NOT true?
A. The Electoral College creates an incentive for presidential candidates to achieve broad support across different regions, states, and constituencies.
B. Adopting a nationwide popular vote could create a national recount nightmare.
C. The Electoral College is undemocratic and “unfair.”
Let’s take these statements one at a time:
A: TRUTH! To win the presidency, a candidate must cobble together a majority of electoral votes from various parts of the country. This creates an incentive for candidates to build coalitions and try to appeal to voters across party lines, particularly in key battleground states. In order to do this, a candidate must reach beyond his or her base. By contrast, to win a nationwide popular vote, a candidate need only generate high turnout in larger population centers and need not appeal to voters outside of his or her ideological base.
B: TRUTH! Although the nationwide popular vote for President is often extremely close, such outcomes are rarely contested because the winner in the Electoral College is usually clear. Likewise, voting irregularities in one or two precincts are only relevant to the final outcome if they have the potential swing enough electoral votes to change the result in the Electoral College. With a nationwide popular vote, however, close outcomes will inevitably become contested outcomes, as voting irregularities in any precinct in any part of the country have the potential to change the result. Even a single recount can be difficult to process and lead to chaos and uncertainty — remember Palm Beach, Florida? Now try to imagine if the entire nation (or a large section of it) needed to recount its votes. A decisive win in the Electoral College provides finality and eliminates the possibility of nationwide recounts.
C: LIE! The Electoral College is not undemocratic. It reflects the results of 51 separate presidential elections (one in each state and the District of Columbia). This is a democratic method of securing buy-in from a range of voters. It is no more or less democratic than one massive nationwide election, under which it would be possible to win the presidency with deep support from just a few constituencies.
The Electoral College is an ingenious system that balances America’s aspiration for democracy with its devotion to protecting the interests of the minority. By creating an incentive for candidates to appeal to a broad range of voters from different parts of the country, the Electoral College contributes to the cohesiveness of our nation. This is critically important in a nation as large and diverse as ours. And by selecting our President based on the results of 51 separate democratic elections, the Electoral College prevents the majority of the people from running roughshod over the minority, while at the same time, encouraging finality and national stability.
Read more about the Electoral College in this IWF Legal Brief.