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Abolishing the Electoral College was once an outrageous suggestion. But with 15 states and counting supporting an interstate agreement to grant their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote for president, the idea is gaining traction nationwide.
Critics call the Electoral College outdated, and see it as an 18th-century relic. This is dead wrong: The Electoral College is vital to the American system of self-government.
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Yet, their consternation is certainly understandable, considering recent electoral history. In the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore narrowly beat George W. Bush in the popular vote but narrowly lost the electoral college majority. Meanwhile, in 2016, Donald Trump received nearly 3 million fewer total votes than Hillary Clinton but won the vote of the Electoral College nonetheless.
How is this fair?
Well, the reasoning behind the creation of the Electoral College is more relevant than ever. The founders considered a national popular vote but deliberately rejected it. Ultimately, they dismissed this idea in favor of the Electoral College, a system in which each state’s population votes and is then assigned electoral votes based on its number of representatives in the House (which varies according to population) and in the Senate (which is fixed).
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To understand why this process remains important today, we have to recognize why the framers chose it in the first place:
1. It protects the liberty and role of diverse states.
The Constitution assigns states presidential electors in the same way it does representation in Congress — providing for popular participation while protecting the various constituencies, in this case the states, through which that consent is reflected. And that protects the diversity of interests and opinions in states, especially small rural ones in the face of large urban ones, whether it be socialism in Vermont or conservatism in Wyoming.
2. It stabilizes national politics.
The founders were concerned about fractious disagreements threatening the stability of the union. The Electoral College discourages regional radicalism and encourages political moderation by forcing candidates to draw support from a broad swath of the country rather than just a few, wealthy, vote-rich areas. Without the Electoral College, candidates today would focus almost exclusively on New York, California, and Texas, ignoring Vermont, North Dakota, Wyoming, and all the other small states, possibly threatening the cohesion that maintains the United States.
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3. It limits contested elections and fraud.
An important advantage of the Electoral College is that it keeps election fraud and errors contained within individual states. The 2016 election elevated fears of hacking, fraud, and foreign interference, all of which will only continue to expand with the growth of technology. Right now, all that is contained and mitigated by the Electoral College.
Imagine the criminal chaos of Broward County, Florida, amplified across the entire country. The National Popular Vote scheme encourages such deception by allowing fraudulent voting anywhere to determine the outcome everywhere, and that means more recounts, more litigation and more disputed elections, only further undermining the legitimacy of our electoral system.
And what’s next for opponents of the Electoral College?
They argue that the system is undemocratic. But if they succeed in defeating it, surely the Senate must go as well. After all, Wyoming gets the same number of senators as California but has far fewer people. Why not just abolish the states altogether?
And what about the Supreme Court? Are there any minority rights that a simple majority does not have the right to override?
Make no mistake: An attack on the Electoral College is an attack on the Constitution. Before we get swept into the frenzy of the moment, let’s consider what we are throwing away, and defend the Electoral College.
Matthew Spalding is associate vice president and dean of educational programs for Hillsdale College in Washington, D.C.
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