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It is difficult to put forward an intellectual argument in favor of the Electoral College. Most people feel that the person who gets the most votes should become president.
After all, that’s how we run every other election in this country, says Jesse Wegman, author of Let the people elect the president.
“If anything, 21st Century Representative Democracy is about political equality. It’s about one person, one vote – everyone’s vote counts equally,” he said. “You do not want to convince a majority of Americans that this is not the way you should do it.”
Another way that the Electoral College is unfair, says Harvard University political scientist Gautam Mukunda, is that each state gets voters based on its representation in the House and Senate, which means small states get extra votes.
“The fact that during the presidential election, the people of Wyoming have about 44 times the power of the people of California is antithetical at the most basic level to what we say we stand for as a democracy,” he said.
But Brad Smith, who used to be on the federal election commission, disagrees.
Sure, the choice can only be decided by a handful of states – swing states that can change red or blue. But Smith, a Republican, says the battlefield is diverse.
“These states include some of the states with the heaviest minority populations in the United States, some of the states with the fewest minority populations in the United States,” he said. “They include states from all regions of the country, and that forces candidates to try to go out and have a platform that will appeal to the huge, diverse parts of America – or at least not turn them off.”
And Smith pointed out that Electoral College reinforced the popular vote in most of American history rather than contradicting it.
“Our calculation can change if pretty much every election you know, the person who won the most popular votes did not win,” he said.
The problem is that the person with the most votes has not won twice since 2000. Both times – in 2000 and 2016 – it was the Republican candidate who got fewer votes but ended up in the White House.
And even when that does not happen, Wegman sees another problem with the Electoral College system.
“Despite the 7 million vote victory that Joe Biden won in the popular vote in 2020, people overlook the fact that 45,000 votes change in the three main battlefield states, and you look at another term of Donald Trump,” he said. . said. “I mean, the fact that you could get the whole result of the election run with 45,000 votes in three random states, you’re just a huge, obvious vulnerability to any republic.”
“Unnecessary” weight of key modes
This vulnerability was in full swing on January 6, when Trump and the violent insurgents pressured Congress to overthrow Biden’s victory at the Electoral College. Without the Electoral College, it would have been much harder for them to have asked Congress to overthrow the will of 7 million voters. Instead, Trump asked Congress to cast ballots from just a handful of battlefield states.
This means that the Electoral College is putting a magnifying glass on just a few states that could have enormous control over the presidential election.
“The Electoral College means that a small number of states have unnecessary weight in the outcome of our election, and that minor manipulations can have broad national consequences,” said Wendy Weiser, vice president of democracy at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, who advocates for expanded access to voting.
What she means by manipulations is the Republicans’ efforts to change the election law in their favor.
“Voting is one way to do that – to pull voters away from voters who you think will not vote for your favorite candidates,” she said. “But this new tendency to actually take over the electoral machinery and give itself the power to run things or make decisions or count the votes is another way of doing this.”
Republican state legislators in places like Georgia and Texas have put forward bills that give lawmakers new powers to fire election officials and overthrow elections.
Democrats do not have the votes in the states or in Congress to stop these laws, so Democrats are trying to build public pressure against them. Republicans say their goal is to fight future election fraud. The 2020 election was declared the safest ever, but Trump continues to push the lie that the election was stolen from him.
On the other hand, Republicans do not have to convince the public. They have votes to adopt voting restrictions, and in some cases they have never held public hearings.
“This is the essence of the minority rule position, right?” Said Harvard’s Mukunda. “You do not have to convince the public that the system is fair. You just have to convince them that it is not so unfair that they should overthrow the system.”
And for Republicans, the system, with all its minor features – the Electoral College, the U.S. Senate, the Filibuster, the partisan gerrymandering – is working, at least for now, to their advantage. But perhaps it is not good for democracy when a party does not have to try to win the most votes in a presidential election.
A warning from the Republicans
Smith says this is something that other Republicans should consider.
“They are still losing the overall referendum,” he said. “Republicans are not getting enough votes, and that’s why they are losing most presidential elections. And you know they have to think about how do we appeal to more people?”
In the run-up to the January 6 uprising at the Capitol, 12 House Republicans issued an extraordinary statement warning of the death of the Electoral College.
“Republican presidential candidates have only won the national referendum once in the last 32 years,” it said. The signatories then begged their colleagues not to vote to reject voters from battlefield states, as Trump asked them to do.
“Even when viewed from a narrow partisan lens, this process or objection was potentially dangerous for the Electoral College,” the Michigan rep said. Peter Meijer, one of the Republicans who signed the letter.
And that would be a bad thing for Republicans because they depend on the Electoral College. As stated in the statement: “We want to delegitimize the very system that led Donald Trump to victory in 2016, and it could provide the only path to victory in 2024.”