For years people have complained about the electoral college system that actually determines our presidential elections. Many people have called for choosing our president solely on the bases of the popular vote. Such a change isn’t likely to improve elections, however, as it will create new problems.
Under our Constitution, the Electoral College is managed by each state’s legislature, which empanels the voters and directs them on how to vote. This became apparent in the recent election, where some state’s electors were asked to ignore the popular vote and support a particular candidate. To their credit, none of them did so.
Politics often influences how each state’s electors vote, however. Most of the time, the candidate who wins the most votes in a state belongs to the same party as a majority of the state’s legislature. In order to support their party, therefore, most states use a winner-take-all system of assigning Electoral College votes. Any candidate who wins the plurality of votes — even if it a single vote — is awarded all of the state’s Electoral College votes.
That’s how it is done in Texas, and the legislature has the power to change the allotment to reflect the percentage of popular votes each candidate receives. Given the political ramifications of such a change, however, don’t expect such a change.
Thus, winning a state is paramount to winning the popular vote in most of the country. Five times in our nation’s history the presidential candidate who won the popular vote didn’t win the Electoral College Vote, most recently in 2016.
When that has happened, those calling for a change predominantly belong to the party of the losing candidate. It’s like, though, that if the votes had gone the other way, those who now defend the system likely would be defending it, and the current defenders would want the change, as it would be in their political interests.
Historians indicate that the Electoral College originally was a compromIse between those who supported the popular vote, fearing that allowing Congress to choose the president could create a corrupt system of political patronage, and those who believed that the majority of the public weren’t well-enough informed to cast the best votes.
Both sides had a point. Even today, when so much information — and misinformation — is available, many people vote without reviewing the information thoroughly and base their votes on name recognition, party or other factors.
Other defenses of the Electoral College have arisen over the years, such as the assertion that it gives smaller, less-populous states a voice in the process. Indeed, the Iowa caucus remains one of the most important primary events in current presidential poltics. It’s safe to assume that under a system based on the poplar vote, candidates likely would focus their campaigns on major population centers and ignore the smaller states and communities.
The Electoral College probably offers a cleaner and faster resolution of contested elections. Close vote margins in recent elections have led to frequent recounts. With the current system those recounts have bene isolated to specific states, and even specific regions of the state. We can only imagine the time, and headaches that might result from a nationwide vote recount.
Would elections be more fair if our state lawmakers decided to apportion electoral votes according to each candidate’s percentage of the popular vote? Perhaps — but only if every state chooses to do so.
There is no perfect way to choose our president, and with very few exceptions the current system has brought us some exceptional heads of state who have helped establish our country as one of the strongest, most successful and stable countries on earth. With state legislators just as beholden to their parties as to their constituents, don’t expect the system to change anytime soon.