Five times in American history, a candidate for president has lost the national popular vote, won the Electoral College and become President of the United States.
This has led some to question if the Electoral College is relevant today and if we should even use this system to elect a president.
Why Does the Constitution Require the Electoral College?
When the founders were ratifying the Constitution in 1787, the process of picking a president was one of the most contentious issues before Congress. Some wanted an amendment that would require Congress to choose the chief executive. However, this didn’t sit well with many after fighting the Revolutionary War to rid themselves of a tyrannical king and overzealous colonial governors.
No other country in the world at that time elected its chief executive and there was a deep mistrust of executive power in the new country. The concern was it would open the doors wide to corruption between the legislative and executive branches of government.
However, there was another influential group in Congress who was deeply opposed to the people voting directly for a president. Their biggest concern was that a large group of people could speak for everyone and empower a populist president to command a dangerous level of power.
The Electoral College was a compromise between these two camps.
What Is the Electoral College
The Electoral College is a process, not a place. Every 4 years, the Constitution requires that a temporary group of electors, equal to the total number of representatives in Congress, is to be selected.
The 12th Amendment to the Constitution was passed to give the states the responsibility of appointing “electors” who would cast the ballot for president. It’s these electors who actually vote to determine who will be president, not the American people.
Over the years, the Electoral College has been shaped by the two-party system. Today, it’s the two parties in each state who decide who will be appointed as electors. When someone is voting for president, they are actually voting for a Democrat or Republican elector who will vote for the party’s candidate.
The first candidate to get 270 of the 538 total electoral votes wins the presidency.
Why Is the Electoral College Important?
Today, the Electoral College serves as an important reminder of how the “United” States was founded. In 1787, each state was considered its own country, represented by its own constitution. The federal government served to unite them for the purpose of foreign diplomacy, raising money and debt, fighting wars and taxation.
As such, no state was to be given more power over another in determining who would yield the power of the presidency. The number of electors is determined by the number of representatives for each state in Congress. Delaware and Rhode Island have the same proportional weight in the Electoral College as New York and California.
That’s why it’s possible for a president to lose the national popular vote and still win the Electoral College.
Why Do We Still Use the Electoral College?
There are three dominant reasons we still use the Electoral College and it likely won’t change.
First, the founders felt deeply that the popular vote could turn into a “mob rule” mentality. Since each state is its own entity, has its own culture and has its own sovereignty — a minority of states with large populations should not dictate to the whole country their agenda through the power of the presidency.
For example, there can be no question that beliefs and culture are different in Oklahoma than in New York.
Second, the founders made the Electoral College a part of the United States Constitution in the 12th Amendment. It would require a two-thirds majority in Congress plus ratification of three-fourths of the states to change the Constitution. The majority of states are not going to give their power away to a few to decide for them who they have to live with as president.
Third, there are many benefits to the Electoral College. One is that there is no chance for a runoff election or drawn-out national recount. In an article in the Washington Times, Columnist George Will wrote of the 1960 presidential campaign:
“John F. Kennedy’s popular vote margin over Richard M. Nixon was just 118,574. If all 68,838,219 popular votes had been poured into a single national bucket, there would have been powerful incentives to challenge the results in many of the nation’s 170,000 precincts.”
The Electoral College was a compromise that placed limits on the selection of the presidency to control unbridled power and a mob rule mentality. It has ensured every 4 years a peaceful and smooth transition of power from one president to another.
It’s a vital part of our Constitution and while some don’t like that it minimizes the popular vote, it ultimately protects the rights of the individual states and their independent sovereignty.
It’s a vital part of how we elect a president and it has worked since 1787. Now’s not the time to change it and to be honest — it may never be the right time.
Copyright 2019, TargetLiberty.com