Recently there has been a lot of talk about ending the Electoral College and instead move to a popular vote. These talks have been brought on lately due to several of the more recent Presidential races ending with an Electoral victory and the popular vote going to the different candidates. Most recently President Trump won an Electoral election and lost the popular vote.
This seems to be a significant issue, until one thinks clearly about why the Founders chose this approach. All Presidential candidates know that they must win an electoral victory in the election and so they all run a race with that in mind. The fact that they win a popular vote shouldn’t even be an issue because the race isn’t run with the popular vote in mind. It is run with the idea of winning enough states to claim the Electoral College victory.
Our Founding Fathers were forward-thinking in how they set up the governance to our country. They knew, over 200 years ago, that in a popular election race, the candidates would spend almost all their time in the populated areas and the candidates would not venture out to the more sparsely populated areas. It is the nature of the race, after all. The candidate must go where they receive the biggest bang for the buck.
Those same Founding Fathers were universally opposed to founding a true democracy because it failed in both Athens and Rome. In fact, the word democracy is not anywhere in any of our governing documents. On the counter to that, the word Republic is. Benjamin Franklin described a democracy as two wolves and a lamb voting on what they would have for lunch. Using that analogy, a majority, in that instance would be having lamb, while the poor lamb’s rights were “eaten away”. The Founders realized the majority isn’t always right and as such they could trample the rights of the minority and become tyrannical. Thus, the Democratic Republic that we now “Pledge Allegiance to which it stands” was formed.
The Founding Fathers chose to keep the election of our president in the hands of the states, through their population. The Founding Fathers were very alarmed at a strong central government and thus they decided to spread the power to a strong state-run government. With just a popular vote, the Founders knew that an election could be won by visiting just a few populated states (today as few as 10, and some say 4), which would shutter the voice of many others. To equalize the population advantage and encourage candidates to visit a larger group of people the Electoral College was formed.
The candidates can still choose to campaign in the more populated states and ignore the less populated states, but the potential of winning the popular vote and losing the electoral vote is always there, just as has happened in 2016 with President Donald Trump.
Despite the belief of many, the popular vote has not chosen the winner of the Presidential election several times in our nations’ history. Besides 2016 when President Trump won the Electoral vote but lost the popular vote, the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections won by Bill Clinton were not won by a majority popular vote. In both of those elections President Clinton was able to obtain the 270 votes needed in the Electoral College to win. The President in three other elections were decided by electoral college votes whereas lost the popular vote.
This debate will likely surge ahead again in future elections but the current system is a sound one with backup systems in place in difficult situations and it will likely survive the test of time. On the surface, it sounds good to pick the winner based on the most votes, however, this type of election would put over 75%of the nation at a disadvantage in choosing the next President.