An apparent new litmus test has appeared among the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls: abolishing the Electoral College.
Calls to abolish the Electoral College are not new, but the debate surrounding the practicality and effectiveness of the Electoral College has quite possibly never been so robust as it has been in the nearly three years following the 2016 presidential election.
Earlier this year, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren stated her wish to abolish the Electoral College. “I believe we need a constitutional amendment that protects the right to vote for every American citizen and makes sure that vote gets counted,” she said. Sen. Kamala Harris has alluded to the idea of “fixing it,” and Mayor Pete Buttigieg said to the Washington Post, “It’s gotta go.” Sen. Bernie Sanders told the Post, “I believe that it is hard to defend the current system in which one candidate receives 3 million votes less than his opponent, but still becomes president.”
Their positions are clear: the Electoral College does not accurately and effectively represent the will of the American people and that not all votes are equal under the current system.
Some states have banded together, establishing the “National Popular Vote Interstate Compact,” whereby the states included would award all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. As of today, 15 states have joined the cause, with the District of Columbia creating a total of 196 electoral votes, or 36.4 percent, still very shy of the 270 needed to elect the president.
Because of this, it is important to take a look at the purpose of the Electoral College and why the Founders decided on such a system for the presidential election.
Debate surrounding the presidential election begins at the Constitutional Convention. Initially, under the Virginia Plan, Congress was to elect the president. Issues of potential reliance of the president on Congress as well as corruption were immediately conveyed and addressed. Delegates James Wilson of Pennsylvania and Gouverneur Morris of New York supported a popular vote for electing the president. The idea was almost immediately dismissed by several delegates over fears of “Public ignorance, passions winning the White House, and demagoguery.”
Charles Pinckney of South Carolina argued that a popular vote system would allow only a few of the larger states to decide each presidential election. Eventually, the delegates voted in favor of electors, from each state, voting for president to provide a combination of state and popular government – an argument that James Madison made in “Federalist No. 39.”
Alexander Hamilton, in “Federalist No. 68,” also defended the concept of the Electoral College, where he noted that the Electoral College ensured that the will of the people would be accomplished through the state electors.
In “Federalist No. 1,” Hamilton argued that the Electoral College would protect against electing someone ill-equipped for the office as the electors would be credible in choosing the best possible candidate.
Most notably, in “Federalist No. 10,” James Madison argued against an “overbearing majority” and the threat of factions to the survival of the United States. A representative democracy, he argued, coupled with federalism would protect against the ills of factions.
The current calls by some Democrats for abolishing the Electoral College in favor of the popular vote would not solve the issue of weighted votes. Instead of creating a system in which each state has power in the election of the president, the popular vote rather would give extreme weight to largely populated states and urban areas.
Dr. DePlato is an assistant professor of science at Robert Morris University.
Mr. Matthew Markulin is a law student at the University of Pittsburgh.