Electoral College Part 2

Legitimacy, Legitimacy, Legitimacy

The Electoral College allows a minority of voters to determine the course of the entire nation. This effect is well known. In fact, in a 1980 speech, conservative strategist Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority, said:

“I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populus goes down.”

A system under which a candidate can win the presidency with just 23% of the popular vote is absurd. A system under which one vote in Wyoming is worth four in California and one vote in Vermont is worth three in Texas is egregiously undemocratic.

In the beginning of our country, by the 3/5 Compromise, slave states gained the Electoral advantage. Today, by the guarantee that each state has two senators, regardless of population, small states have gained the Electoral advantage. In 1988, the total voting population (3,119,000) of the 6 jurisdictions with the lowest populations (Alaska, Delaware, D.C. North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming) held the same Electoral power (21 votes) as the 9,614,000 voting-age residents of the state of Florida. In 2016, Donald Trump won Pennsylvania and Florida by a combined margin of 200,000 votes, winning 49 Electoral votes. Hillary Clinton, however, won Massachusetts by a margin of almost 1,000,000 votes, yet earned only 11 Electoral votes. Clinton would go on to win the popular vote by a margin of about 3,000,000 votes, the largest margin of any Electoral College loser in history.

The advantage granted to small states by the Electoral College is a grave matter of legitimacy. In the words of former U.S. Senator from Indiana, Birch Bayh, in 1968:

“It is extremely important that when the president of the United States is elected… not only do the people of the world look to him as the president of the United States but of greater significance that the people of this country have faith in him as their leader. When we have an electoral college system which threatens to elect a man who has fewer votes than his opponent, we tend to erode the confidence of the people of this country in their president and in their form of government.”

In today’s America, confidence in government is at an all-time low. In 2022, only 10% of Americans said that they had a “great deal” of confidence in the presidency, while 45% reported that they had “very little confidence” in the presidency. Perhaps this is because Americans know that they have a distorted say in their leader and perhaps this is because Americans are frustrated by political inaction on the issues they care most about. In the run-up to the 2020 election, an Associated Press and University of Chicago National Opinion Research Center poll found that an

incredible 95% of Americans support criminal justice reform. What federal legislation has passed since? In 2020, Gallup found that “a majority in the U.S. say healthcare is the federal government’s responsibility.” But what federal action has there been since? In 2020, the Pew Research Center reported that 58% of Americans support abolishing the Electoral College and replacing it with a national popular vote. Three years later, the Pew Research Center finds that support for a national popular vote has risen to 65%. But what action has there been?

 

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