The Electoral College - Unnecessary Anachronism?

In 1787 the Constitutional Convention approved the electoral college proposal. This system was created to put some distance between the masses and the levers of electoral power. This hybrid system preserves some measure of power to the several states in that they are viewed as distinct units, not merely arbitrary borders that contain population centers. As such, a candidate focuses on the state’s interests as a whole, not merely those of the largest cities (at least, that’s the theory). There are various anachronisms within this system, especially in the nature by which the electors are chosen and their ability to vote in a way outside the will of the electorate.

Do we still need the Electoral College? Looking at the logistics of elections, we are absolutely able to communicate the results of a national election in nearly real-time. The lag in time that was once necessary in the 1800’s is unthinkable today. Modern information technology has empowered us considerably in this process. We are also more able to fight electoral fraud. Yes, I know we could do far better in fighting both electoral fraud and voter suppression (two sides of the same coin – gaming the system), but that ability remains.

Given the fact that we have had several Presidents elected within this system who received fewer votes than their opponents (our current President comes to mind, but so does Rutherford B. Hayes) and the fact that, per the 12th amendment, a tie is an actual possibility that would hand over the choice to an unusual Congressional vote, should we continue using this system? Is it necessary at this point? Does the basic principle of “one man, one vote” mean that we should set the Electoral College aside and simply tally the votes?

To be sure, somebody loses in any major change of this kind. There is only so much attention the candidates can pay to the voters, however they might be grouped or approached. As such this is a zero-sum game of a sort. The smallest states are ignored to a certain degree at present, save those that might swing one way or the other (New Hampshire, for example). However, the idea that a voter in Wyoming or New Hampshire might have more power in selecting our next president than would a citizen of New York or California is worrisome.

Why should something as simple as rounding errors comparatively disempower some voters and empower others? What about the question of apportionment? The census occurs but once every ten years, after all. This is a very imprecise system. The fact that we’ve been using it for a few centuries and have grown accustomed to its quirks is no virtue in itself.

I would suggest that we should move to a popular vote based system for national elections. The states would still possess significant influence via their Senatorial representation. The smallest states still would have as much power as the largest in one of the houses of Congress. I don’t know that our republic benefits from elections wherein the candidate with the most votes does not take office two months later. This isn’t a partisan issue for me. Far from it. I think the Electoral College has serious quirks that distort the will of the electorate.


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