After the Constitutional Convention that created our nation, Benjamin Franklin famously said we have “A republic, if you can keep it.”
A republic is a representative form of government. Democracy is nothing more or less than mob rule—majority wins. The lessons of history teach us that freedom doesn’t survive in a democracy; sooner or later, democracy turns to tyranny. In a democracy, where one person = one vote, the 51% have total control over the 49%. But in a republic, every faction and voice is heard rather than being drowned out by the noise of the majority.
We could look to the archives of history for examples—democratic socialism birthed the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and the Nazi party gained power over Germany through the election of 1932. But a case closer to our minds today is Venezuela—yes, the modern crisis of socialism may be traced back to an election in which democratic socialism was advertised, but a dictatorship was sold. In the election of 1998, Hugo Chavez appealed to the people as one who would represent their interests. In his inaugural speech, however, he announced political revolution. Riding the wave of popular support following his election, he violated the Venezuelan constitution by establishing a Constituent Assembly that possessed absolute power to rewrite the constitution and dissolve the democratically-elected Congress. The rest, as they say, is history—a tragic history of government corruption, failed social programs, poverty, widespread power outages, violence, mass migration, and what is becoming an international military affair as Russian military advisors are already on the ground.
Our Founders hated democracy because they knew its fate; they knew the people’s propensity to cast votes based on empty promises, and the susceptibility of the powerful to corruption. That is why they gave us a republic, not a democracy.
One of the most important guardians of the republic is being stripped of its effectiveness. There is a movement in our nation to eliminate the electoral college, in function if not in fact, and therefore eliminate one of the most important safeguards to liberty that our Founders established in the Constitution.
In short: We’re not keeping it.
Elizabeth Warren called for the end of the electoral college; she advocated “a constitutional amendment that protects the right to vote for every American citizen and makes sure that vote gets counted.” But the 15th Amendment already protects the right to vote, and the electoral college is what makes sure those votes get counted. All Senator Warren did was prove that Americans don’t understand the power and importance of the electoral system.
Maybe the electoral college wouldn’t work in a democracy… good thing America is not a democracy. Far from depriving the populace of their power in the presidential election, the electoral college is the very thing that preserves the voice of the people.
The Founders sought balance of power. No individual, office, or faction could gain disproportionate power, lest the nation be destabilized and fall into tyranny. That is the reason we have two houses of Congress, three branches of government, the careful system of representation for each state and district, and the checks upon the power of each branch and level of government. And that is the reason they established an intermediate body to elect the president.
Many would seek to subvert the balance of power in our nation, and as we move into what’s shaping up to be an insane 2020 campaign cycle, it’s critical that we understand the original purpose of the electoral college and why it’s so vital to the health and strength of our nation.
The American Founders feared giving too much power to the people, correctly believing that at least 51% of the popular vote could be easily swayed by empty promises. They sought to tread a fine line between populism and elitism, tyranny of the majority and tyranny of the powerful; and though there were both populists and elitists present at the Constitutional Convention, all agreed on the Constitutional design that was established in Article II, Section 1, Clauses 2, 3, and 4, and expanded upon in the 12th Amendment.
In Federalist No. 68, Alexander Hamilton describes the oh-so-delicate balance. To guard against bias and corruption, no government officeholder could be chosen as an elector. The body known as the electoral college is assembled for one purpose—choosing the president—and then disbanded; this was to leave the election in the hands of the people, rather than any pre-established body such as the Congress. However, as Hamilton recognized, it was critical that the body of electors be small enough to allow for discussion and deliberation: “A small number of persons, selected by their fellow citizens from the general mass…” would be most ideal.
The choice of several to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community, with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of one who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each state, are to assemble and vote in the state, in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place. (Hamilton, Federalist 68)
The electors were to be chosen from among the people of each state, and then would convene within that state to determine and convey the will of the individual state to the House of Representatives. This maintained the integrity of the system of checks and balances while defending the unique voice of each state. A popular vote—abandoning the intermediate, state-level vote of the electors—silences the votes of the smaller states and therefore the people in them.
The number of electoral votes per state is determined by the population of that state; the number of electors matches the state’s congressional delegation. Thus, the most populous states have the most electors, and the least populous have the fewest, but no state may have fewer than 3 electors. In 2016 for example, California had 55 votes and Texas had 36, while Colorado had 9 and smaller, less populous states like Wyoming and Delaware had only 3. Electoral votes are reapportioned every census.
When the Presidential election is held in November and you cast your vote for president, you help determine which Presidential candidate receives your state’s electoral votes. Most states have a “winner-take-all” approach that awards votes to the winner of the state’s popular vote; Maine and Nebraska award votes proportionately.
The purpose of the electoral college is to balance voting power across the nation so no state or region can gain disproportionate control. If “majority wins,” a candidate who is wildly popular in California and New York could ignore flyover country completely—and in case you hadn’t noticed, the Midwest has vastly different political opinions than the coasts. Likewise, a candidate beloved in Texas and a few key midwestern states wouldn’t need the support of east or west. Anyone would only need 51% of the votes. Think about the possibilities. They should scare you.
In 2016, 138 million Americans cast ballots. That’s about 58% of eligible voters. Assume the 58% was split roughly equal between Republican and Democrat. Both of those 29% coalitions could be easily outnumbered by the 42% that didn’t cast ballots. In a hypothetical world where the electoral college doesn’t exist and a simple majority wins, any candidate, including a third-party, could make lofty promises to the 42% of the population that doesn’t normally vote, motivate them to get to the ballot box, and suddenly earn 42% of the national popular vote while no other candidate gets more than 30%. It sounds like a crazy, unlikely scenario—and it is, unless the electoral college is abolished. An America without the electoral college is an America where empty promises truly can win elections, without any roadblocks.
And by the way, without the electoral college, flyover country might as well be wiped off the map. Let’s do the math here. Compare California, the most populated state, with Wyoming, one of the least populated. Without the electoral college, Wyoming’s less than 600,000 people have absolutely no voice up against California’s nearly 40 million; California boasts more than 12% of the total U.S. population, while Wyoming is home to less than 1%. It wouldn’t matter even if every single person in Wyoming voted. With the electoral college, the vote of an individual Wyoming resident is proportionately more powerful than that of a single Californian; but together they still have only 3 electoral votes vs. 55. The magic of the electoral college is that it leverages the voice of more rural, less populated states so that they are not completely drowned out by densely populated, urban states. Further, where there are massive economic disparities between states, such as between California and Wyoming, the electoral college forces the halls of power to listen to states that have no other reason to be heard.
My home state of Colorado recently passed a law that ties electoral votes to the national popular vote instead of the state majority. It is part of a national movement towards democratic election of the President—a popular vote system which becomes a tyranny of the majority and in which minorities no longer have any say. The electoral college incorporates both a popular vote and the power of the states in choosing the president, and it’s the only way every vote really matters.
Why does Colorado’s legislature want Colorado electors to be beholden to forces outside of Colorado? The law effectively silences Colorado voters, sending the message that they just don’t matter. I disagree. Colorado isn’t Wyoming—the population of Denver alone is greater than the whole state of Wyoming—but it is one of the smaller states, with 9 electoral votes. The argument behind is that every vote should be counted equally. But that’s exactly what the electoral college does—protects every voice.
The battle over the electoral college highlights the hypocrisy of the Left; they claim to protect the little guy and make every voice heard, but in reality, their policies consistently strip protection from the small and silent. If the Left wants to increase voter participation, maybe they should be campaigning for better civic education in schools—instead of seeking to destroy the one thing that best equalizes voting power.
Yes, the electoral college system is more complicated than one person = one vote, but that’s a good thing for all of us. If a presidential candidate must win the electoral college rather than the popular vote, even someone who is popular in one region must appeal to a broader number of states to win the election. Thus, an electoral win actually signals far more popular support for the new president than a power play in which 51% of Americans matter and 49% don’t.