Don’t be So Quick to Call for Discarding the Electoral College

The case against America’s idiosyncratic election system isn’t as straightforward as you think.

by Jason Willick

The Electoral College, initially designed as a check on popular will and a guardian of elite prerogative in American government, has delivered the presidency to Donald Trump, a populist outsider who campaigned on the promise to burn the bipartisan political establishment to the ground. Though he is losing the popular vote by a 500,000 vote (and growing) margin, Trump was able to obliterate Hillary Clinton’s “blue wall” in the industrial Midwest, securing a decisive advantage among the electors who will cast the ballots that actually select the President of the United States on December 19.

Democrats are seething at having lost the presidency while winning the popular vote for the second time in the twenty-first century. Liberal media outlets are publishing a flurry of pieces attacking America’s allegedly antiquated system for electing its presidents, and social media is abuzz with petitions to replace it with a national popular vote system. This reaction is understandable: Our democratic instincts tells us that all votes should count exactly equally, and that the person who gets the most total votes should win.But the case against James Madison’s original design isn’t quite that simple. Here are four points that liberals upset with the outcome might weigh against the visceral indignation of an electoral-popular vote split.First, there is no way of knowing, in 2016 as in 2000, what the vote margin would have looked like if winning the presidency required winning the most votes rather than winning the most electors. Donald Trump might have held rallies and run advertisements in the predominantly white and economically stagnant regions of California east of San Joaquin and north of Sacramento, or similar areas in the southern half of Illinois and upstate New York, driving up turnout and narrowing Hillary Clinton’s massive victories in these deep blue states. For her part, Hillary Clinton might have done more to boost her performance in demographically favorable regions of solid red states, like the Houston and Atlanta metropolitan areas. The point is that this election was decided by a razor thin vote margin under one set of rules, and it is impossible to speculate whether it would have tilted in one way or the other if those rules had been changed in advance.Second, scrapping the Electoral College, however desirable it might be in theory, is such a remote possibility (as long as the Republic survives) that liberal attacks on it merely distract resources and energy away from more realistic paths to Democratic recovery. The first route to replacing the Electoral College—through a Constitutional amendment—is hardly worthy of consideration. Even in the extraordinary event that two-thirds of both houses of Congress voted to repeal it (this has never occurred, despite hundreds of efforts, although the Congress elected in 1968 came close) there is simply no possibility of getting buy-in from 38 state legislatures. Between swing states that relish the attention presidential elections bestow on them, small states looking to maintain their outsize influence, and states that feel the current Electoral College map favors their dominant party, it’s hard to see how there will be ever be fewer than 13 states with an interest in maintaining the existing system.

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SOURCE: The American Interest

Jason Willick is a staff writer at The American Interest. Follow him on Twitter @jawillick.