Last week, Hillary Clinton’s new book, “What Happened,” was released. In the book, she blames several different factors for her loss in the presidential election, including James Comey’s letter, Russian interference in the election, Bernie Sanders, and sexism, among others.
In an interview with Anderson Cooper, she added the Electoral College to the list. In the interview, she called for an end to the system and argued for a “one person, one vote” system. Since she won the popular vote in the election, the “one person, one vote” system would have delivered her the presidency.
Many people over the years have attacked the Electoral College, calling it an anachronism or saying that it stifles democracy. Calls to reform the system this year mirror similar calls following the 2000 election, when Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush won the electoral vote.
However, there is often very little attention paid to the positives of the system. People have focused on just the drawbacks when attacking it, without realizing or pointing out the necessary roles that it plays.
First, the Electoral College gives a quick and definite answer regarding the outcome of the election. During the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote kept growing for many days following the election. And despite that, the Electoral College ensured that we knew the victor of the election just a few hours after the polls closed. If the “one person, one vote” policy were in play, the results would be changing for days, even weeks after the election.
Second, many people disliked that the 2000 election came down to a recount in Florida (though it ended up somewhat not coming down to that recount thanks to the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision). However, in close presidential elections, the “one person, one vote” system could cause nation-wide popular vote recounts. And depending on the vote-counting laws under that system, such recounts could be triggered automatically. Most state recount laws call for automatic recounts if the margin is within .5 percent. In the 1960 presidential election, for example, the margin was just .17 percent.
Along the same lines, many presidential elections would likely require runoff elections. In the current system, if no candidate wins a majority (due to a tie or more than two candidates receiving electoral votes), the House of Representatives would select the President. Likely in a “one person, one vote” system, if nobody received 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election would occur between the top two candidates. If that system were in place, four of the last seven elections would have gone to a runoff election, which would’ve been just more spending and campaigning, and likely lower turnout.
Finally, the Electoral College represents everyone in the state, even those who cannot vote or choose not to vote. The number of electoral votes enumerated to each state is based on the population of that state according to the census. That population includes people under the age of 21, people who choose not to vote, and non-citizen residents. Therefore, those people do have an impact on the election even if they do not vote. In the “one person, one vote” system, only those who can vote and choose to vote are represented.
Some people have proposed an alternative system to the current electoral college system and the “one person, one vote” system. The third proposal would be to have each state award two electoral votes to the winner of the state, and one vote for each congressional district a candidate wins. This system is already used by Maine and Nebraska, but some have proposed adopting it across the entire country.
However, this proposal leaves the presidential election up to gerrymandering of congressional districts. This is inherently undemocratic, especially since the task of drawing district lines is decided by the state legislators. This would mean that the state legislators would have a much higher impact on national politics, even though most people cannot name any of their state legislators. Also, this would make it more likely for regional candidates to develop who could appeal to voters in specific congressional districts, likely increasing the prospects of an election being decided by the House of Representatives.
The Electoral College should be protected, not abolished. There are benefits to the system that would cause major issues if the system went away. Even though Clinton may feel like she deserved to be president since more people voted for her, the better way is to stick with the Electoral College.