This became an issue for our generation when Al Gore won the popular vote for the 2000 election, but lost the Electoral College. Voters felt disenfranchised. I was recently reminded of this by a comment from a family member.
I consider understanding of the purpose of the Electoral College a litmus test of a person’s fundamental understanding of the purpose of the U.S. Constitution. Most people fail this litmus test, which explains why so many in our country take the freedoms we have for granted.
So, what is the purpose of the Constitution? It’s an insurance policy against tyranny. It’s a Balance of Power. It’s a design to keep absolute power from forming in any one political group. The Founders understood the dangers of tyranny. They understood that there are those among us who are narcissistic and those are the people attracted to power. And they understood that tyranny can take several forms that are dangerous to the population on whole. Tyranny can take the form of a dictator like Hitler. But it also can take the shape of a simple majority rule. The Roman Empire was run for the benefit of Rome, which led to its demise as those outside of Rome grew tired of being pawns to serve the city. It’s the “two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner” scenario.
You’ll notice this country is called the United States of America (emphasis added). It’s not called the United Peoples of America. It’s not a pure democracy. There’s a geographic balance of power granted to the states to help prevent the tyranny of majority.
That balance of power shows up in several places. It shows up in the Senate, which grants each state two votes on legislation – no matter the size of the population of the states. It shows up in the Electoral College which gives each state one set of votes for president based on population and then two additional votes from each state to mirror the power structure of the Senate. It’s these two additional votes from each state that makes people mad. Finally, the Constitution grants certain powers to the state governments.
The House of Representatives is the pure democracy part of the Federal government. We elect Representatives based on popular vote and the number of representatives from each state is based on state population. So, the population of California with it’s 53 Representatives has a lot more power in the House than Iowa with its 5 Representatives.
However, we balance that popular power of the House with in the Senate and the President. We elect Senators based on popular vote, but each state has equal power in the Senate so the California population can’t steamroll the Iowa for its own gain. Finally, we balance the people power in the House and the state power in the Senate with a President that is elected that is based on a combination of the power of people and the power of the states.
In summary, popular vote elects our Representatives and our Senators. It does not elect our President.
For all of those wanting to abolish the Electoral Collge, I haven’t yet heard one cogent argument to support their position. But, that’s understandable. To have a cogent argument you would first have to understand the purpose of the Electoral College.
A cogent argument would first have to convince me that there isn’t a danger in the tyranny of majority and if it were successful at doing that, then to be consistent we may need to consider abolishing the Senate as well, or explain why it’s important to reflect the State power in the Senate but not in the Presidential election.