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The Obvious Indefensibility of the Electoral College


Jamelle Bouie has an excellent column attacking fundamentally sentimental and ahistorical defenses of the Electoral College:

None of this has changed. The Electoral College routinely threatens or produces perverse outcomes, where the will of the voters is thwarted by an ill-considered 18th-century electoral device. It has no place in a democracy that strives for a standard of “one person, one vote.” And most Americans still don’t like it. In a 2018 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, 65 percent said presidents should be elected by popular vote.

The simplest solution for circumventing the Electoral College is the National Popular Vote interstate compact I mentioned earlier, which would take effect once the member states made up a majority of electoral votes.

Americans worried about disadvantaging small states and rural areas in presidential elections should consider how our current system gives presidential candidates few reasons to campaign in states where the outcome is a foregone conclusion. For example, more people live in rural counties in California, New York and Illinois that are solidly red than live in Wyoming, Montana, Alaska and the Dakotas, which haven’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in decades. In a national contest for votes, Republicans have every reason to mobilize and build turnout in these areas. But in a fight for states, these rural minorities are irrelevant. The same is true of blue cities in red states, where Democratic votes are essentially wasted.

Candidates would campaign everywhere they might win votes, the way politicians already do in statewide races. Political parties would seek out supporters regardless of region. A Republican might seek votes in New England (more than a million Massachusetts voters backed Donald Trump in 2016) while a Democrat might do the same in the Deep South (twice as many people voted for Hillary Clinton in Louisiana as in New Mexico). This, in turn, might give nonvoters a reason to care about the process since in a truly national election, votes count.

The most obvious tell that this half-assed compromise, intended to overrepresent slaveholders and limit democracy, is an anachromism is that no other liberal democracy uses anything like it. Another is the fact that defenses of the Electoral College virtually always involve flatly erroneous claims about both its historical origins and its effects.

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