Since President Trump was elected not by popular vote, but by the Electoral College, Democrats propose to abolish it. As established in the Constitution, the electors of the college, representing state voters, elect the president.
The number of electors per state equals its number of congressional districts plus two. The least populous states have somewhat more influence than in a popular vote because of those additional two. Also, regardless of their population, they all have at least one district.
Although the system was designed to protect the interests of the smallest states, currently the three most populous states have over twice as many electors as the 15 least populous (119 to 58). Thus, those three states have a much bigger influence on the presidential election. It is rare for the results of the Electoral College and popular total to differ.
In 58 U.S. presidential elections, it occurred only four times. In 1876 and 1888, Democrats in the South suppressed black Republican voters, but Republicans won in the Electoral College anyway. In 2000, the networks called the Florida race and general election for Gore before the polls closed, undoubtedly discouraging some Republicans from voting. Nonetheless, Gore’s popular vote win was by less than 600,000. The fourth incidence was 2016.
Replacing the Electoral College with a “popular vote” would require a Constitutional amendment. The means of running such an election is not clear. The top vote-getter wins a majority only if no more than two candidates get votes. Trump beat Clinton 304 to 227 in the Electoral College, but in the total national vote neither won 50 percent. Trump had 46 percent, Clinton 48 percent. Both Nixon (1968) and W. Clinton (1992) popular vote totals were only 43 percent, but each had significant majorities in the Electoral College, giving them an adequate mandate to govern.
In 2016, five candidates won over 1,000,000 votes. With five candidates, the winner could have gotten only 21 percent of the total — hardly a mandate. This is the situation in many countries, and run-off elections are held between the top two vote-getters.
Run-off election systems tend to produce multiple parties, since the party with the second most votes initially could still win the final. In their last initial presidential election, France had candidates from 10 different parties. With multiple parties, extremist views are more influential. Radical changes in policy from one administration to the next can occur. The system tends to fray with intense hostilities, as in France, where for the last seven months, voters from the far left and far right have joined forces, rioting together as the Yellow Vest Movement.
Without the Electoral College, close elections would be chaotic. Nationwide expensive and divisive recounts would be needed. Several elections have produced very close popular vote totals, including 1960, when JFK had an excess of only 0.17 percent.
Finally, the Electoral College issue is also one of political philosophy. At the time of our founding as a republic, nations the world over were monarchies or hereditary aristocracies. The idea that a people should govern themselves with codified laws (a constitution) and have inalienable rights was ancient, but its enactment started here.
In a republic, laws are designed to protect the rights of the minority against the tyranny of the majority. The citizens of individual states are minorities compared to the whole population, and have significant differences from the citizens of other states. The Electoral College (as well as the Senate) gives some — though far from absolute — protection to the minority rights of individual states’ citizens.
President Trump’s election aside, it is not surprising that Republicans are more likely to support the Electoral College than Democrats. Democrats support increasing the centralized power of the federal government, while Republicans favor protecting the rights of states, localities, and ultimately, individual citizens.
Let’s keep the Electoral College.
Pamela B. Wolfe of the town of Geneva is a member of the Republican Party of Walworth County.