In our new column, “Both Sides Debate,” contributors from the left and right tackle the same topic, so that you, the reader, can see the arguments from both sides.
On Thursday, Ed Hanratty discussed the drawbacks of the electoral college.
Today, Bobby Pardo offers an analysis of his own.
Read his competing perspective below.
The abolition of the electoral college has become an increasingly popular idea due to the combination of advances in technology making voting more accessible than ever before and a notorious election in 2016. The idea is not without merit; several of the major issues that our Founding Fathers had with the popular vote just do not exist in our current era. Considering their worldview, it is almost unimaginable to think of how difficult it used to be to become informed on topics, especially politics. This fact is one of several reasons why the Federalist Papers were so influential during that era and are such important historical works. As such, these are writings that are no doubt to be examined when discussing this topic. In a world of misinformation and fact checking, the more important question is not whether one can become informed, it is where did that information come from? Due to its formative effect on our fledgling country, I believe the Electoral College plays an integral part of government and should continue.
Many people seem to start their argument for maintaining the Electoral College with a statement of adhering to tradition. In any business, if you ask someone as to why they operate in a certain way and the response is that is the way it was always done, then that is a policy worthy of immediate scrutiny due to a significant chance that it is outdated. Instead, let us investigate some of the reasons why we implemented the Electoral College.
Proponents of eliminating the electoral college often cite the Three-fifths Compromise to tie the Electoral College directly into being part of the system of slavery. It would be naive to not take that into account, even if the electoral college was the only reason Abraham Lincoln won despite having earned less than forty percent of the popular vote. The writer of Federalist Paper No. 68, The Mode of Electing the President, (a paper written specifically to promote the benefits of the electoral college) was none other than Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton, who has achieved recent fame through the incredible Broadway musical of the same name, was portrayed as a stout abolitionist in the Broadway run. This is a fictional mischaracterization; he did point out that of every aspect of the Constitution, the Electoral College was the least argued about because even if it did not approach perfectly, it was, at the very least, excellent.
One of my favorite aspects of the Federalist Papers is that they were originally written to convince readers of approving a strong central government. However — due to the style and the time in which they were written — much of it was explaining how, in the new system of government, the federal government could not attain too much power, so they need not fear a future monarchy. The Founding Fathers had several fears, but among the greatest of them was the fear of mob rule, and the Electoral College is part of a system that ensures that just because someone is popular for a short time, they cannot change the entire system to benefit them. I think, today, that is something that many people in this country are very grateful for. In the end, our country is a Republic, and our federal government was built for long-term stability, and not quick change. Every part of our government is prone to potential gridlock — this is to say that it is built so that spontaneity and mob rule would not lead to drastic change. Hamilton, like many of the founding fathers, believed that extreme democracy would limit the liberty of the individual. And as John Jay famously stated, “Pure democracy, like pure rum, easily produces intoxication, and with it a thousand mad pranks and fooleries.”
Speaking of Alexander Hamilton, there is another aspect of Hamilton that often gets glossed over, and that is that he may have been the original East Coast elitist. If there were a progressive out of New York during that time period, it would have been the man who shot him, Aaron Burr — a loud advocate for both feminism and abolition in a time where those ideas weren’t necessarily popular. As someone with a degree in economics and lives in a major east coast city, I have always loved that aspect of Alexander Hamilton, and yet I still understand that I don’t want a couple of cities on the East Coast and California to decide every president for the foreseeable future.
The Electoral College forces us as a nation to listen to places that would never get attention from the national spotlight. The most recent election had the highest voter turnout in 120 years: 66.7% of eligible voters voted. In a resounding loss, Trump was the second highest vote recipient of all time at over 74 million votes — Biden attained 22% of that number from New York and California alone. This is not what won him the election though; instead, it was a push in states that were either forgotten or written off by Hillary Clinton that won him the election. Clinton lost several of the states like Michigan and Pennsylvania because she assumed that she didn’t need to worry about them, and her campaign never even tried in others like Arizona and Washington.
The Electoral College made it important that not only these states get listened to but that presidential candidates address the issues that were simmering to the point where voters flocked to the polls for Trump the first time around. Issues that many east coast elites and those in major municipalities would never consider or may even laugh off. This will become even more important in the future as major municipalities continue to grow at an overwhelmingly faster rate than many other parts of the country. Two presidential election cycles from now, if we were to get rid of the election process, you could potentially see campaigns that never leave major municipalities as they would be able to achieve all the votes they need there.
The Electoral College also happens to be a largely effective cost saving method for presidential elections for multiple reasons. By providing a clear rule as to how a president gets elected, there is no need for national run-off elections until there is someone who has attained a majority. According to the advisory committee for Los Angeles county voting, the 2016 general election cost LA County 42.5 billion dollars to coordinate 988 precincts with 4,523 polling places. On a smaller scale, the Electoral College also limits recounts to smaller areas, thus reducing the costs of any potential recount. The Wisconsin recount alone would have cost the Trump campaign 8 million dollars, but if a recount is required, the government would bear the cost of a national recount.
There is also a side effect that I hadn’t much considered prior to this past election, which, after following the data, became one of the reasons I most strongly believe in the Electoral College. The Electoral College is a natural check on voter fraud. No system will ever be able to completely rid the potential of voter fraud, but due to the isolation of votes across the country, the ability to impact the vote in any considerable way would require coordination in multiple isolated systems where different parties are running the election. Committing major fraud in a singular place like LA or NY, where it may be easier to mask the numbers required to make the fraud worthwhile, means nothing in the current system, as they only impact the Electoral College votes of that state. One of the reasons it was so easy to laugh away the voter fraud antics of the Trump administration is that even if they had been able to prove voter fraud in one location, say Georgia, the statistical difference it would have made in the general election would have been minimal. Further, the ability to pull off that level of fraud in multiple states where it could have a meaningful impact on the election was of such a low probability it was considered completely negligible.
The Founding Fathers made several mistakes both in their lives and with the country as they created the most original and impactful system of government in the modern era of history; the Electoral College was not one of them.