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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Is it Time to Say Goodbye to the Electoral College?

In+the+2012+presidential+election%2C+Obama+won+both+the+popular+vote+and+the+electoral+college
In the 2012 presidential election, Obama won both the popular vote and the electoral college

 

 

Regardless of the pertinent issues of any given presidential cycle, one talking point never fails to circulate the punditry and media: Why do we still choose our president through the Electoral College?

To most, giving each state a certain amount of points, based on its population, and awarding the office to the candidate with the most points, instead of counting the direct popular vote, seems counter-intuitive and anachronistic. The Electoral College does indeed harken back to the early days of the country, when the president was chosen by individual state electors, themselves chosen by state legislatures.

That the Electoral College is an outdated relic of a bygone era seems to be one of those rare instances of bipartisan agreement, albeit for self-serving purposes. Democrats have decried the Electoral College as unfairly advantageous to Republicans in the influence it gives to smaller states, and the popular-vote movement reached a fever pitch following the 2000 Presidential election, in which Al Gore received a plurality in the popular vote but lost the election after delayed victory in Florida gave George Bush the edge in the electoral college.

Similarly, many Republicans began questioning the legitimacy of the current process when, during the recent election, it appeared likely that Mitt Romney would win the popular vote but not the election.

The Electoral College is roundly assailed by either side of the political spectrum; some of it salient, some of it reactionary. But frequently overlooked are the problems that would certainly arise if candidates seek votes overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, from densely populated urban areas.

Elections would depend solely on turnout in a few major cities, and politicians would be inclined to focus all their attention to cities and, more than likely, redistribute taxpayer money from suburban and rural areas to cities in order to solidify their support (A practice already employed liberally, no pun intended, by the Democratic Party.) There would be very little reason to campaign in a state like New Hampshire or Iowa, and little consideration of rural voters.

In preventing candidates from doting on cities at the expense of suburban and rural areas, the Electoral College also protects the status of the smaller states and by extension the federal character of the Union. If the presidency was decided by popular vote, a populist candidate or otherwise broadly appealing candidate could create an impenetrable “firewall” of low-information, high turnout voters who would guarantee elections in return for political favors, as is  common in mayoral and other local elections.

The Electoral College also mitigates the effects of “voting machines” that encourage massive turnout among those with little political knowledge and frequently engage in fraudulent voting practices.

In the famous Federalist Papers, founding fathers James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay warn against the dangers of direct democracy, specifically admonishing against factionalism and potential tyranny of the majority. Madison devoted the entirety of The Federalist 10 to warning against the dangers of popular rule, and suggested a number of institutions, namely divided government and a balance of power between state and federal governments, to protect the interests of political minorities.

Our system is not perfect, but the Founders prudently installed safeguards against direct democracy’s excesses, and we would be wise to heed their advice.