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It is difficult to make an intellectual argument in favor of the Electoral College. Most people think that whoever gets the most votes should become president.
After all, that’s how we run every other election in this country, says Jesse Wegman, author of Let the people choose the president.
“On the contrary, representative democracy in the 21st century is about political equality. It’s about one person, one vote – everyone’s vote counts, too,” he said. “You are not going to convince a majority of Americans that this is not the way to do it.”
Another way the Electoral College is unfair, according to Harvard University political scientist Gautam Mukunda, is that each state gets voters based on its representation in the House and Senate, which means small states get votes. additional.
“The fact that in the presidential election the people of Wyoming have about 44 times the power of the people of California is antithetical to the most basic level of what we say we stand for as a democracy,” he said.
But Brad Smith, who sat on the Federal Election Commission, disagrees.
Of course, the election can be decided by a handful of states – swing states that can turn red or blue. But Smith, a Republican, says the battlefield is diverse.
“These states include some of the states with the largest minority populations in the United States, some of the states with the fewest minority populations in the United States,” he said. “They include states from all parts of the country, and that forces candidates to try to come out and have a platform that will appeal to the vast and diverse sections of America – or at least not grossly discourage them. “
And Smith points out that for most of American history, the Electoral College amplified the popular vote, rather than contradicting it.
“Our calculation could change if just about every election, you know, the person who won the most popular votes wasn’t winning,” he said.
The problem is that twice since 2000 the person with the most votes has not won. Both times – in 2000 and 2016 – it was the Republican candidate who got fewer votes but ended up in the White House.
And even when that doesn’t happen, Wegman sees another problem with the Electoral College system.
“In 2020, despite Joe Biden’s 7 million vote victory in the popular vote, people are forgetting that 45,000 votes are changing in the three key states of the battlefield, and you are considering a second term for Donald Trump. “, did he declare. mentionned. “I mean, the fact that you can have the full result of the election campaign out of 45,000 votes in three random states is, you know, just a huge and glaring vulnerability for any republic.”
“Unjustified” weight of key states
This vulnerability was fully visible on January 6, when Trump and the violent insurgents pressured Congress to overturn Biden’s Electoral College victory. Without the Electoral College, it would have been much more difficult for them to ask Congress to overthrow the will of 7 million voters. Instead, Trump called on Congress to reject the electoral votes of a handful of states on the battlefield.
This means that the Electoral College is putting a magnifying glass on a few states that could have enormous control over the presidential elections.
“The Electoral College means that a small number of states carry undue weight in the outcome of our elections and that smaller manipulations can have broad national consequences,” said Wendy Weiser, vice president for democracy at Brennan. New York University’s Center for Justice, which advocates for expanded access to ballots.
What she means by manipulation are Republicans’ efforts to change election laws in their favor.
“Eliminating votes is one way to do it – take voters out of the electorate who you don’t think will vote for your favorite candidates,” she said. “But this new trend of taking control of the machinery of elections and giving yourself the power to run things, to make decisions or to count the votes is another way of doing it.”
Republican state lawmakers in places like Georgia and Texas have introduced bills that would give new powers to legislatures to fire election officials and overturn elections.
Democrats do not have the voice in states or in Congress to stop these laws, so Democrats are trying to exert public pressure against them. Republicans say their goal is to fight future election fraud. The 2020 election was declared the safest ever, but Trump continues to push the lie that the election was stolen from him.
On the other hand, Republicans don’t have to convince the public. They have the votes to pass voting restrictions and in some cases they have never held public hearings.
“That’s the essence of the minority position, isn’t it? Harvard’s Mukunda said. “You don’t have to convince the public that the system is fair. You just have to convince them that it is not so unfair that they should overthrow the system.”
And for Republicans, the system, with all of its minority characteristics – the Electoral College, the US Senate, filibuster, partisan gerrymandering – is working, at least for now, in their favor. But maybe it’s not good for democracy when a party doesn’t have to try to win the most votes in a presidential election.
A warning from republicans
Smith says it’s something other Republicans should consider.
“They continue to lose the aggregate popular vote,” he said. “Republicans don’t get enough votes, and that’s why they lose most presidential elections. And, you know, they have to think about how we attract more people?”
In the run-up to the Jan. 6 uprising on Capitol Hill, 12 House Republicans issued an extraordinary statement warning of the Electoral College’s demise.
“Republican presidential candidates have won the national popular vote only once in the past 32 years,” he said. The signatories then implored their colleagues not to vote to kick voters from the battlefield states, as Trump was asking them to do.
“Even looking at it from a narrow partisan perspective, this process or objection potentially jeopardized the Electoral College,” said Michigan Representative Peter Meijer, one of the Republicans who signed the letter.
And that would be a bad thing for Republicans because they depend on the Electoral College. As the press release says: “We are going to delegitimize the very system that led Donald Trump to victory in 2016, and which may be the only path to victory in 2024.”