By Elad Hakim
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., recently introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that would eliminate the Electoral College. This was obviously done in response to the fact that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election despite winning nearly 3 million more votes than President Trump. According to Cohen, the Electoral College is outdated and distorting.
In a recent Fox News article, Cohen was quoted as saying, “Americans expect and deserve the winner of the popular vote to win office. More than a century ago, we amended our Constitution to provide for the direct election of U.S. Senators. It is past time to directly elect our President and Vice President.”
Cohen’s position is clearly partisan, will almost certainly fail, and will face stiff resistance from many smaller states.
According to HistoryCentral, “[t]he Electoral College was created for two reasons. The first purpose was to create a buffer between population and the selection of a President. The second as part of the structure of the government that gave extra power to the smaller states.” The first reason revolved around the possibility that a candidate could manipulate public opinion to such a great extent that it would lead him to secure the presidency. In other words, the Founders did not believe that the citizens could make the right decision on their own. Therefore, the electorate served as a system of checks and balances. This does not appear to be as much of a concern today.
The second reason, however, is still relevant. Generally speaking, the number of electorates in a given state directly correlates to the number of congressional representatives in the state. The minimum number of electorates for a given state is three. Therefore, the “value” of a vote in a smaller state with a lower population would “count” more than it would in a state with a higher population. For example, if a state had 90,000 votes and had three electorates, each electorate would represent 30,000 votes. On the other hand, a large state with 10,000,000 votes and 54 electorates would mean that each electorate would represent approximately 185,000 votes. Therefore, this system was initially used to appease the smaller states.
Moreover, Cohen’s proposal would likely be rejected by smaller states because it could invalidate the importance of their votes and dissuade people from voting. It could also allow a small number of densely populated cities to determine the outcome of an election. According to BrilliantMaps, in the 2016 election, Trump won approximately 2,600 counties to Clinton’s 500, or about 84% of the geographic United States. Clinton, on the other hand, won 88 of the 100 largest counties (including Washington, D.C.). Without these, she would have lost by 11.5 million votes. These numbers are consistent with historical trends. Many of the densely populated metropolitan areas in states like New York and California tend to vote for Democratic candidates. This explains why Cohen and other Democrats would push for an amendment to abolish the Electoral College.
While Cohen’s proposal may find support from Democratic colleagues, it is unlikely to succeed. First, the Electoral College is established in Article II of the Constitution. Therefore, to abolish or ratify it would require a two-thirds majority in the House and the Senate and three quarters of the states. Given the potential impact on various states, including smaller ones, this is unlikely. In addition, there are alternatives to abolishing the Electoral College, such as eliminating the “winner take all” system, which deals with the method of how the states vote for the Electoral College and not with the Electoral College itself. Finally, if the popular vote decided an election, what would happen if a candidate didn’t win a popular majority (more than 50%) and won only the plurality? Given the prevalence of third-party candidates, this is quite likely, as was the case with Bill Clinton, who won only a plurality (43%) of the popular vote, and Hillary Clinton, who also won a plurality (48%) of the votes. Would we then elect our president based on plurality, as opposed to a majority vote? This could lead to problems down the road.
While the Electoral College is not perfect, it is the most legitimate system. It is in line with the intent of our forefathers, protects the smaller states, and helps to protect against the possibility that several very densely populated cities will decide the presidential election for the entire nation