Don't tamper wth the Electoral College

  • 17 November 2016
  • NormanL
Don't tamper wth the Electoral College

It ought to come as no surprise, but some Democrats are now calling for the abolition of the Electoral College because it has deprived Hillary Clinton (who is still ahead in the popular vote) from claiming the presidency. The Wall Street Journal argues that such calls are nonsense, and ignore the genius of the College in selecting presidents, and in shaping how presidential candidates run their campaigns:

The fact that Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote may console Democrats, but if that were the measure of victory we would have had a different campaign. Both candidates would have parked themselves in populous states like New York, and Mr. Trump would have spent weeks in Texas. As it is, the Republican nominee didn’t compete in Illinois or California, allowing Mrs. Clinton to pile up big majorities. Mrs. Clinton’s advantage in California alone—more than 2.7 million votes—accounts for more than her projected margin of victory of about two million.

One feature of the Electoral College is that it picks a decisive winner as early as possible. Mr. Trump’s victory across the Midwest gave him a solid majority in the Electoral College that everyone acknowledged. There was no waiting for absentee ballots or recounts. If you think a recount in one state like Florida in 2000 was corrosive, imagine a tight popular vote with contested results in 50 states and thousands of counties. The opportunities for fraud, or claims of fraud, would be endless.

The system also tends to narrow the field to two candidates who have a plausible path to 270 electoral votes. This is a weakness when the major parties produce two unpopular nominees, but that is an argument for the parties choosing better candidates. The Electoral College reduces the relevance of fringe candidates who could otherwise force themselves into importance in a national poll. Most voters in the end abandon third-party candidates so they won’t “waste” their vote. That’s what happened this year as voters moved away from Gary Johnson or Jill Stein.

Democrats gripe that their candidate won the popular vote in six of the past seven presidential elections but won only four. Yet before Tuesday they were saying Mrs. Clinton had the Electoral College advantage even if she lost the popular vote. They could be right in the future. The point for the country is whether the Electoral College helps elect a clear and legitimate winner, and this year it did so again.

The Founders had numerous reasons for creating the Electoral College. We should not tamper with one of their most subtle and ingenious creations because it's inconvenent for Hillary Clinton.