After much speculation, Donald Trump has officially been elected president. While the important vote was held on November 8th, the official vote happened on December 19th when the electors voted (mostly in line) to represent their states.
Since Donald Trump won the presidency, yet Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, there are once again calls for the elimination of the Electoral College. Many people – some for political reasons and others naively – ask why we simply don’t use the popular vote.
As a libertarian, I am not a big fan of the U.S. Constitution. The Articles of Confederation was a better document in terms of liberty. The Constitution centralized power, and centralized power we have gotten. I don’t think the advocates of the Constitution could have imagined what a behemoth our national government would become.
Still, the people who drafted and installed the Constitution were not dumb either. While they sought to add more power to the national government, most still wanted relatively strict constraints on its power.
The United States came into being as a federation of states. We still have a federation of states in a sense, but there is no longer much separation. The states were supposed to be like little countries with a common goal of mutual defense and free trade. Most of the laws were supposed to be at the state and local levels.
As a side note, the United States used to be referred to in the plural.
“The United States are a great place to live.”
“The United States is a great place to live.”
This slight difference in verb usage is huge. The United States “is” one entity now because of the dominance of Washington DC.
The states are supposed to be different. There are different cultures and different needs. And they are meant to compete in a sense. A state can experiment with a new law. If it seems to be working well, then maybe other states will follow. If it doesn’t seem to be working, then the damage can be limited to that one state.
It would have been a lot better if Obamacare had just been enacted in a place such as California. Romneycare was already in effect in Massachusetts. 325 million people did not need to be subjected to this disastrous experiment.
So why all of this discussion about states?
This is why the Electoral College is so important. Each state is supposed to have its say in who is elected president. Back when the Constitution was drafted, there were debates about representation based on population or states.
The smaller states didn’t want it based on population or else they would have virtually no representation. On the other hand, the bigger states didn’t want equal weighting because a state with a much larger population should have a bigger say than a small one.
The compromise was the House of Representatives and the Senate. Each state would have at least one member in the House, but the number beyond that was based on the census. In the Senate, every state would get two representatives, meaning that every state would have an equal say.
The number of electors in the Electoral College is determined by adding the number of representatives in the House and Senate for each state. Therefore, every state gets at least three. In addition, the District of Columbia gets three electoral votes.
While states’ rights have largely been violated, they aren’t completely obsolete. Many crimes are still prosecuted at the state level. There is also a lot of spending and other regulations that are decided by the state governments.
If you abolish the Electoral College, then you essentially eliminate federalism. It would be one more step in eliminating the entire concept of states. In fact, just imagine how unfair it would be if everything weren’t completely nationalized at that point.
If you think the unrealistic promises by politicians are bad now, imagine how bad it would be with a national popular vote. The presidential candidates would be making most of the promises for a handful of states (California, Florida, New York, Texas). They would be promising beach restoration projects because a large portion of the population lives on the coast. They would be making specific promises to specific states. And most of the campaigning would take place in the big cities.
It would quickly make a joke out of states’ rights, and it would likely just eliminate (officially or not) the whole concept of the states.
Of course, the whole idea of majority rule is bad enough. It becomes a game of Bernie Sanders politics of who can make the most promises of “free stuff” to the most people. A national popular vote would just exaggerate this whole process.
To understand the necessity of the Electoral College requires an understanding of states’ rights and decentralization. While the Constitution itself was a centralizing document, this mechanism within it was meant to prevent too much centralization.
There is one other important argument against a national popular vote that is not grounded on libertarianism. I don’t know if the people who drafted the Constitution thought of this, but it is still a big reason anyway. The Electoral College is a major guard against fraud.
Can you imagine a recount of votes nationwide? It was bad enough in Florida in 2000 with the hanging chads and everything else. Imagine recounting 120 million or more votes.
If you have widespread fraud in one big city, at least it is confined to that one state. Or think about California where non-American citizens were being encouraged to vote. At least it was limited to California. In fact, if there were a national popular vote, then the U.S. government would then have to set the same standards everywhere. It just opens everything up for more corruption.
Having each state represented with the Electoral College does not eliminate the possibility of fraud deciding the election. But at least it would have to be close. At least the fraud is limited to certain areas. If there is massive fraud with a national popular vote, then it would become much more likely that a candidate wins based on fraud who otherwise wouldn’t have won.
Most of the people currently calling for the Electoral College to be banned are just bitter. They don’t like the results. If the Electoral College really mattered that much to them, they should have been talking about it before.
Luckily, I don’t think the Electoral College is going anywhere any time soon. The U.S. government has centralized power a lot over the last 2 centuries. But there are still some remnants of liberty and decentralization left.