Why We Need To Fix The Electoral College
Though it may feel like it in the wake of a presidential election, the push to elect our next President by popular vote is not a partisan campaign designed to favor one candidate or political party over another. We believe that the next President should be elected by popular vote as an issue of fundamental fairness. The Electoral College causes significant problems and electing our President by popular vote would fix those problems. Let’s consider a few of the primary problems caused by the Electoral College.
The Electoral College Artificially Inflates Voting Power in Swing States
There is no good reason why a vote for President in Ohio or Florida should be worth more than a vote in Oregon or Texas, but the Electoral College artificially gives voters in states like Ohio and Florida more power than voters in the majority of states. Due to the Electoral College, every four years the presidential election comes down to about a dozen swing states. Those states aren’t necessarily big or small, or rural or urban; what they are is politically divided.
In safe states where one major political party generally has more support than the other, individual votes are not very valuable because one vote or even one thousand votes has virtually no chance of tipping the election in that state. In California, which is staunchly Democratic, four million Hillary Clinton voters could have declined to vote in 2016 and Clinton still would have won California’s 55 electoral votes. As a result, voters in California do not have a strong incentive to pay close attention to the presidential election or get involved in their local campaign effort because individual votes in California matter very little.
By contrast, voters in swing states like Florida know that their individual vote matters a lot. In 2000, George W. Bush beat Al Gore by just 537 votes according to the official tally. Floridians know that their vote really could change the result of the presidential election and that gives them a strong incentive to follow the election closely and vote for their preferred candidate. And while that’s great for Floridians and residents of other swing states, it’s unfair to everyone who doesn’t live in a state that happens to be politically divided. Electing the next President by popular vote would solve that problem.
When the President is elected by popular vote, every vote carries equal weight regardless of where it comes from. Residents of New York and Alabama will have just as much incentive to vote as residents of Pennsylvania or North Carolina. Electing the President by popular vote is simply more fair than using the Electoral College. That’s why you rarely hear anyone complain that we elect our governors, senators, and representatives using a popular vote–because there is inherent fairness in that method.
The Electoral College Pressures Candidates to Focus on Only a Few States
In the final three months of the 2016 presidential campaign, approximately 90 percent of candidates’ events were in just 10 states. Candidates visited Florida 31 times and North Carolina 26 times while visiting California only 3 times and Texas only twice. This bizarre outcome is entirely the result of the Electoral College, which forces presidential candidates to focus on swing states while ignoring most states in the country.
It’s isn’t just that candidates don’t visit safe states as much as they visit swing states; candidates also pick their running mate for Vice President, cater their message, and support policies based on what will appeal to swing state voters. The Electoral College gives candidates an incentive to appeal to about a dozen swing states and be far less concerned with how their message might appeal to voters in safe states. By doing so, it artificially narrows the focus of a national election to a fraction of the states in the country. Once again, the popular vote will help solve that problem.
When every vote in every state carries equal weight, presidential candidates will be rewarded for widespread appeal. They will have an incentive to campaign in different states and different types of communities, while appealing to different types of voters. Supporters of the Electoral College may argue that if elected by popular vote, presidential candidates would spend most of their time in major cities, but there are a few good responses to that argument.
First, candidates spend most of their time in major cities now. Even in swing states candidates generally campaign in the most populated areas. Electing the President by popular vote would at least encourage candidates to campaign in a wider variety of major cities than they currently do under the Electoral College.
Second, there is nothing wrong with candidates spending more of their time in areas where more people actually live.
Third, if the President is elected by popular vote, candidates will have an incentive to campaign in the states with the most voters. The ten states with the most voters are actually a fairly a diverse representation of America, meaning that candidates would have a diverse focus on different types of states and different types of people. The list of the top ten states includes coastal states like California and New York, southern states like Texas and Georgia, and states in the middle of the country like Ohio and Michigan. In some states most people are concentrated in cities while in others people are spread out over more rural areas. Taken together, it is difficult to see how narrowing campaigns to a few swing states that are primarily in the Eastern United States is better than focusing them on a diverse group of states all over the country.
So while there are those who may support the Electoral College because it rewards their state in the presidential election, fairness, equality, and diversity are all points in favor of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
The Electoral College Deters Civic Engagement
The United States is a representative democracy and a representative democracy only works if citizens are politically engaged. We must stay informed and hold our elected officials accountable. Otherwise, there is an increased risk that our representatives will not do what is in our best interests. By devaluing votes in the majority of states, the Electoral College deters citizens from being informed and involved, weakening the very foundation upon which our country is supposed to stand.
Voters who live in safe states have less incentive to vote because their vote is less likely to impact an election than a vote in a swing state. By creating safe states and swing states, the Electoral College can deter voter turnout. But it gets worse.
Because their state’s choice for President seems like a forgone conclusion, voters in safe states have less incentive to speak with people who may disagree with their political views. In a swing state like Ohio, voters have a good reason to try to get involved with a campaign or persuade friends, family members, and colleagues to support a certain candidate because it’s possible that convincing a few friends to change their vote could change the outcome of the election. Voters in swing states have a good reason to be politically engaged.
Voters in safe states do not have the same incentive. A voter in Los Angeles would have to travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles to speak face to face with a voter in a swing state. The Electoral College makes it unnecessarily difficult for many Americans to effectively participate in a presidential campaign. That perverse result can deter the kind of political engagement necessary to ensure that our government truly represents We The People. Once again, the popular vote offers a solution to that problem.
When every vote in every state matters, voters have a stronger incentive to actively support the presidential candidate they prefer. Electing the President by popular vote can encourage people to come out of their bubbles, be more willing to listen to others, and be more politically engaged as a whole. The Electoral College does not lead to the same positive outcomes and that is one more reason to support the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
If you want to see our President elected by popular vote, please support our efforts to support the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact by making a donation today!