With the 2020 elections fast approaching, the electoral college, America’s method of choice for electing its president, has recently become a popular target of criticism. In 2016, President Donald Trump won the electoral college vote against Secretary Clinton 306 to 232, despite losing the popular vote by a margin of 2.1%. Supporters of the electoral college will make the assertion that being able to win the presidency without winning the popular vote is an intentional mechanism of our electoral system; presidential candidates need to win a coalition of states, rather than simply appealing to the major population centers, right? Well, according to opponents of the electoral college, this is a fatal error in our democracy; anyone who wishes to represent our nation in its entirety needs to represent a majority of its citizens, not a handful of sparsely populated states. Empty land doesn’t vote, after all.
So, who’s right? Should we force our candidates to appeal to a wide variety of communities, and by extension, states, through the electoral college? Or, perhaps, we should select our commander-in-chief through the popular vote, as to make sure he/she represents the outright majority of America’s (voting) population. Well, the way I see it, neither of these choices are desirable.
First off, the electoral college is no longer effective in representing communities of interest. In today’s America, cultural differences between states seem to be fading into obscurity, rendering state lines ineffective in dividing the nation into different, culturally homogeneous voting blocs. For example, two families living nearby each other on opposite sides of the rural Kentucky-Tennessee border are highly likely to share common political interests. Yet, the family on the Kentucky side of the border is electorally bound to the families up north in urban Louisville, who tend to have drastically different political interests than those of the rural Kentucky family. Why group the rural and urban Kentucky families together inside the same voting bloc, and not the two adjacent rural Kentucky and Tennessee families? Because states are outdated methods of dividing the country into unique cultural sectors.
The popular vote system has its problems, too. Although cliché, there is a valid point to be made that communities of interest need to be represented fairly in our elections, even if their respective populations aren’t fully equal to each other, and wouldn’t be under a popular vote system. Farmers in upstate NY, and white collar workers in Portland have drastically different political interests, and each deserve a proper, independent voice in our elections. Under a popular vote system, however, some of these communities may be disadvantaged by their size (in population) in comparison to other American subcultures, and could end up being ignored. A popular vote system, also, makes our elections more vulnerable to being swayed by voter fraud or voting machine malfunctions. Under the electoral college, illegitimate votes (intentionally or accidentally) cast are less likely to sway the election one way or another, seeing that votes cast in each state only impact that states outcome. 5000 illegitimate votes cast in Alabama are much less detrimental to an election under the electoral college system than the popular vote system.
Now, having identified the problems, what’s the solution? Here’s an idea: 435 separate districts, all equal in population, drawn by an unbiased, independent redistricting commission every 10 years, each district casting 1 vote for president. Some districts would cross state lines if necessary to accurately represent different communities of interest. West Virginia and Maryland panhandle coal miners in one district, white collar New York residents in another. Every American subculture has a voice, none being disproportionately or otherwise unfairly favored over another. This satisfies the purpose of the electoral college by maintaining the importance and validity of communities of interest, while also meeting the demands of those opposed to the college, as it makes each voting bloc equal in population, and therefore influence.
Although this proposition has its flaws, such as its districts being vulnerable to gerrymandering, even when using an independent redistricting commission, it’s something new. The point of this article is to prove that there are more than just two solutions. There are countless possible methods we, as a nation, could use to our advantage to fix our broken system, and, yet, nobody seems to be talking about them. Read up on some other proposed solutions, and come to your own conclusion. Don’t let politicians define the solutions for you— they’re elected by you, so make sure they serve your interests.
Very interesting article. While no solution is perfect, I would posit that the Electoral College still makes the most sense. As a nation of sovereign states, we don’t hold any national popular votes. In fact, as originally designed, the only popularly elected politicians in the federal government were the Representatives. POTUS was elected by the electoral college. SCOTUS was appointed by the POTUS. Senators were appointed by the state governments. Representatives were elected by the local districts, the smallest blocks of voters possible. The point was to completely avoid national popular elections. All we have done since then is screw it up by electing senators. Let’s not screw it up even further.