Do You Understand the Electoral College?

Do You Understand the Electoral College?

September 18, 2019 57 By Ronny Jaskolski


I want to talk you about the Electoral College
and why it matters. Alright, I know this doesn’t sound the like
most sensational topic of the day, but, stay with me because, I promise you, it’s one of
the most important. To explain why requires a very brief civics
review. The President and Vice President of the United
States are not chosen by a nationwide, popular vote of the American people; rather, they
are chosen by 538 electors. This process is spelled out in the United States Constitution. Why didn’t the Founders just make it easy,
and let the Presidential candidate with the most votes claim victory? Why did they create,
and why do we continue to need, this Electoral College? The answer is critical to understanding not
only the Electoral College, but also America. The Founders had no intention of creating
a pure majority-rule democracy. They knew from careful study of history what most have forgotten today, or never learned: pure democracies do not work. They implode. Democracy has been colorfully described as
two wolves and a lamb voting on what’s for dinner. In a pure democracy, bare majorities
can easily tyrannize the rest of a country. The Founders wanted to avoid this at all costs. This is why we have three branches of government
— Executive, Legislative and Judicial. It’s why each state has two Senators no matter
what its population, but also different numbers of Representatives based entirely on population.
It’s why it takes a supermajority in Congress and three-quarters of the states to change
the Constitution. And, it’s why we have the Electoral College. Here’s how the Electoral College works. The Presidential election happens in two phases.
The first phase is purely democratic. We hold 51 popular elections every presidential election
year: one in each state and one in D.C. On Election Day in 2012, you may have thought
you were voting for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, but you were really voting for a slate of
presidential electors. In Rhode Island, for example, if you voted for Barack Obama, you
voted for the state’s four Democratic electors; if you voted for Mitt Romney you were really
voting for the state’s four Republican electors. Part Two of the election is held in December.
And it is this December election among the states’ 538 electors, not the November election,
which officially determines the identity of the next President. At least 270 votes are
needed to win. Why is this so important? Because the system encourages coalition-building
and national campaigning. In order to win, a candidate must have the support of many different types of voters, from various parts of the country. Winning only the South or the Midwest is not
good enough. You cannot win 270 electoral votes if only one part of the country is supporting
you. But if winning were only about getting the
most votes, a candidate might concentrate all of his efforts in the biggest cities or
the biggest states. Why would that candidate care about what people in West Virginia or
Iowa or Montana think? But, you might ask, isn’t the election really
only about the so-called swing states? Actually, no. If nothing else, safe and swing
states are constantly changing. California voted safely Republican as recently
as 1988. Texas used to vote Democrat. Neither New Hampshire nor Virginia used to be swing
states. Most people think that George W. Bush won
the 2000 election because of Florida. Well, sort of. But he really won the election because
he managed to flip one state which the Democrats thought was safe: West Virginia. Its 4 electoral
votes turned out to be decisive. No political party can ignore any state for
too long without suffering the consequences. Every state, and therefore every voter in
every state, is important. The Electoral College also makes it harder
to steal elections. Votes must be stolen in the right state in order to change the outcome
of the Electoral College. With so many swing states, this is hard to predict and hard to do. But without the Electoral College, any vote
stolen in any precinct in the country could affect the national outcome — even if that
vote was easily stolen in the bluest California precinct or the reddest Texas one. The Electoral College is an ingenious method
of selecting a President for a great, diverse republic such as our own — it protects against
the tyranny of the majority, encourages coalition building and discourages voter fraud. Our Founders were proud of it! We can be too. I’m Tara Ross for Prager University.