Debate Club

The Electoral College Ensures All Voices Are Heard

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The Founders would doubtless be surprised that their presidential election system is so controversial. They were proud of it. Yet modern Americans often think the Electoral College is merely a relic of a time when communication was less efficient.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Founders did not create checks and balances in their Constitution because the Internet hadn't been invented yet! Instead, they knew that power corrupts and humans are fallible. Constitutional checks and balances such as the Electoral College were designed to protect against these tendencies of human nature and the shortcomings of pure democracies.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

As a matter of history, pure democracies implode because of the dangers of majority tyranny. As it has been said: "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch." The small states, especially, could not be safe in such a world. The Founders sought something quite different.

The Electoral College gives us a unique combination of democracy and federalism. America conducts 51 purely democratic elections every presidential election year (50 states, plus D.C.). These elections determine which individuals (electors) will represent their states in a second phase of the election. This latter election is a purely federalist one among the states. A majority (270 electors) can select a president.

This dual system incentivizes presidential candidates to create national coalitions. Candidates must win many states simultaneously; they can't win with isolated support. A variety of Americans, across regions, must vote for them. The existence of "swing states" does not defeat this argument. First, swing and safe states are constantly changing. Even California used to vote Republican. Second, a currently "safe" state is not unimportant to the election; it is just a state that has already made up its mind based on the prior four years of governance.

[See photos from the 2012 Presidential Campaign Trail.]

A direct popular election would not create the same incentives. Instead, candidates who obtain the most individual votes—even if they are obtained exclusively in one region or in a handful of urban areas—can win the presidency.

America is a large and diverse country. It deserves a unique election process, ensuring that all voices are heard in the election of its president. The democratic-federalist Electoral College has served the country well in this regard. It should be kept.

Tara Ross

About Tara Ross Author of Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College

Tags
2012 presidential election
Electoral College
Constitution

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